Pipeline

Tue, January 20th, 2009 at 2:28pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

PIPELINE'S OBAMA CASH IN - COPYRIGHT AND IMAGERY

Everyone else is cashing in on Obama-mania, right? Why not Pipeline? I hope the front page link to this column is a good tight close-up shot of Obama's face. He needs to be on my cover, too, after all. I hear that generates controversy these days. I might be stealing that idea from someone, or maybe I'm just hoping to sell out. I don't know. It's comics. Whatever works for you!

Seriously, though, an interesting point came up last week in another world I have a foot in: photography.

We all know that iconic Shepard Fairey poster of Obama, with the red and blue cast over a black and white line image of the man. It's led to a zillion imitations, a Mac Phone Booth plug-in, and even a web application or two to help you mimic the look, yourself.

Someone finally tracked down the source for the basis of Fairey's poster, and it turns out to be a Reuters wire photograph. Not surprisingly, the photographer is not upset. He's happy to have been a part of the Obama campaign. Besides, Reuters owns the image.

This raises an interesting question over on the Photo Business News and Forum. Is this copyright infringement? That is, should Fairey share copyright on the image with Reuters? Should Reuters sue Fairey for unpaid usage of their copyrighted imagery?

This is an issue photographers (and comic creators) have been dealing with a lot, particularly in light of the Orphan Works Bill that died in Congress recently. Fairey's sticking to his story that he found the image on Flickr and that, we presume, it was marked as Creative Commons or just had no EXIF information (embedded meta-data) attached to it to explain its origin. If that's true, the very least that should happen is a take down of the image on Flickr by whoever posted it, assuming it was Reuters' photo.

What about the Obama poster? Is it a case of copyright infringement? I'm of two minds with this, neither of them particularly legal. Remember, I am not a lawyer. I'm sure there's a lawyer or two in this audience who can explain this all properly with writs and citations and signed dotted lines.

My first issue is as a photographer. It's always upsetting when someone misappropriates your work. That happens a lot on the web these days. There's a lot of ignorance on the internet, and a lot of assumptions that if it's there, it's free for the taking. There's an innate lack of knowledge about what is fair or fair use. Blog posts and the material therein get copied without attribution or credit all the time, often by spam sites hoping to game the search engines or those who typo on a website's name. It can even be less insidious than that, but it's still not right.

I'd hate, as a photographer, for someone to take one of my images and create something with it without getting my permission first.

But, on the other hand, I like the idea of the creative commons and being able to derive new works from existing works. Music mash-ups are a prime example of this. I love to hear the ways talented music editors can smash two disparate songs together into one new one. But I also recognize that they don't own the copyrights on those songs and their new product is technically illegal. But should it be? Isn't the mash-up just an advertisement for the original songs?

Let's bring this back to comics. There is a link here. We've seen it happen already. Amy Grant sued Marvel over a Jackson Guice "Doctor Strange" cover twenty years ago. More recently, another Marvel cover appropriated an image of European royalty and had to be scrapped. There was even a thing with a David Mack Avengers cover last year.

Just look at the state of comic art today: How much of it is entirely based on photo reference? How many characters look just like Tommy Lee Jones or Clint Eastwood or Brad Pitt, et. al.? Is that legal? Is it legal to freeze frame through a movie and grab a shot? Is it fair to use publicity photos from the studios? After all, those were meant to be seen wide and far. Maybe the comic artist is just helping them out by using one so obviously. Are pics from the red carpet more open to legal loopholes?

Does it matter how closely the art resembles the original? If Greg Land redraws a "Victoria's Secret" catalog shot for a Marvel cover, would it be worse than if, say, Sergio Aragones redrew that image for a Groo panel? Is one "reference" and the other "swipe?"

Is Fairey's poster far enough away from looking like the photograph that he's off the hook?

Obviously, works done in conjunction with the rights holders should be OK. If you're doing a "Lost" comic and you use stills from episodes to base your drawings off of, you're well within your rights. But if you use an image of Matthew Fox lifted off his personal website, are you in the clear? Is your work derivative?

How far isn't far enough?

In the case of the Obama poster, I'm torn. Yes, the image is based on the picture, but it's far enough away from it -- in that it's a black and white drawing at its core and not a full color photorealistic reproduction -- to be a new work, albeit one based on another. And I'd hate to see comic artists get shut down for this kind of thing, even if it might be a boon to the industry, quality wise.

But as a photographer, I say the image is clearly lifted off a photographer's work without any kind of credit.

Maybe there's a middle ground here. Perhaps it would be enough to credit the original work without usurping any rights? If Fairey fessed up to the original image he worked off of, I think I'd give him a pass.

What do you think?

(And did I mention AugieShoots.com, my photoblog? I'll take an Obama Bump over there, too. Thanks!)

GETTING RID OF THOSE COMICS

I can't believe we've gotten to the point where this column is focusing on all the ways to economize my collection. I'm beginning to think it's a generational thing. I was listening to a recent episode of Comic Geek Speak after I wrote the column last week, where they devoted a good bit of the time talking about how they can get rid of vast chunks of their collection. We're all on the same wavelength here (Bryan wants to trade comics for Legos; I'd love to swap comics for camera gear), but I suspect we're all in our thirties, as well, with a young family. Is it the wife-and-kids path in life that takes us away from comics? Is it general maturity? Is it the way we look at money in our lives after we hit 30? Or is it just that we've all been collecting comics long enough at this age that they become a major hassle?

I think it's a little bit of all of that. I heard from a lot of people who've had successes pushing their comics out of their houses. I've already said I'm not terribly interested in eBay, since that's just begging to be annoyed by nit-picky purchasers who expect mint grade comics, even after being told that the ones you're selling aren't. Plus, I've taken some delight in recent months in tracking eBay's fall from grace on my blog. Putting eBay aside, here are some other options:

* Craigslist. Not a bad idea, depending on your area. In my case, I'm in a pretty densely populated part of the world. I'm sure there's a large number of comic fans on the 'List looking for bargains. It would also save the shipping problem if I sold locally. The more personal interaction is also either (a) really scary or (b) more satisfying, depending on your point of view. I'm not that much of a people person, but if it got rid of two or three long boxes in one fell swoop, I'm willing to embrace my fellow man, big time.

* Book binding. Here's an idea I first heard about on the aforementioned Comic Geek Speak show. (And here's a nice review.) I've been wanting to toy with it for a long time now, but I haven't pulled the trigger. Granted, it won't get rid of any comics, but it might help organize them and give you something to put on a bookshelf, instead of lost or hidden in the back of a box in the corner of the closet. Send the book binder your run of John Byrne's "Namor," for example, and he'll put a hardcover binding on it, stitching all the pages together. The negative? You might lose some art in the margins along the center line of a thicker book.

But the price is right -- around $20 plus shipping -- and the idea is interesting. I need to try one of these.

* College Libraries. Someone suggested giving them away to a school that specializes in design or visual arts. Not a bad idea. I think the Joe Kubert School has enough comics already, though. A local community college might be interested.

Along those lines, the VCU Comic Library might be accepting donations. I hope mentioning them doesn't suddenly overwhelm them with offers of others' refuse. . .

* Prison Libraries. It would seem that prisoners like reading things other than the legal libraries and texts from their newly-discovered religion of choice. Go ahead and donate Ed Brubaker's "Daredevil" run to the incarceration facility nearest you today!

One other idea I'm thinking about in a hurry: The New York Comic Con is coming up in a couple of weeks. I'll be attending it on Saturday. I can carry a box of books over the Hudson River with me. Maybe I should put out a list of books I want to sell and meet buyers at the con? Sell the comics on-line, deliver them in person? I'm considering it, but we'll see if there's any time to pull it off.

Who needs a table at a con when you have guaranteed sales with a little advance planning?

MOST ANTICIPATED OF 2009

Alan David Doane recently surveyed the comics blogosphere for lists of the 5 most anticipated graphic novels of 2009. After much hemming and hawing, I sent in my list, which you can read amongst the others on Comic Book Galaxy.

And now for the bad news: Chris Marshall is reporting that Top Cow is changing formats for the "Midnight Nation" hardcover. The good news is that it will be "oversized." The bad news is that they're throwing in a slipcover, a poster, and another $65 added onto the price tag. "Absolute Midnight Nation" isn't necessarily a bad idea. It is a 12 issue series, after all. But the new price point will no doubt throw it outside the realm of affordability for a lot of people.

Top Cow is using the same format for their "Broken Trinity" book, as well.

In happier news, "Absolute Promethea" is now official (albeit for September), as is the third volume of the "Starman Omnibus" series. Good news, indeed!

PIPELINE PODCAST FOR 14 JANUARY 2009

Last week's releases included a new Chuck Dixon series, a TwoMorrows favorite, a Brian K. Vaughan interview, and lots more. You can download it here for the princely sum of 5 megabytes of download.

Here's the top ten:

  • 10. "Rough Stuff" #11, $6.95
  • 9. "Walking Dead Omnibus" Vol 2 HC
  • 8. "Bone: Crown of Horns"
  • 7. "Hulk Visionaries Peter David" TP Vol 6
  • 6. "Fables" #80
  • 5. "Final Crisis" #6
  • 4. "Wonderful Wizard Of Oz" #2
  • 3. "G.I. Joe" #1
  • 2. "Comics Journal" #295
  • 1. "Parade With Fireworks" TP

That "Parade With Fireworks" trade is a handsome volume. The cover is a nice stock, the paper the story is printed on is a solid white, and everything pops off the page. The colors look great.

Next week: I have a Punisher review in the works. Perhaps it'll show up next week. That would be fun. It's a great story. . .

AugieShoots.com is still photoblogging every day! I've made it twenty straight days of daily updates now. I'm well on my way to 365! (The preceding statement works best for large rounding errors.)

Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items this week. It's the best of my daily feed reading, now with commentary!

The Various and Sundry blog carries on, though still a little slowly in the new year. I'm working on finding ways to update it more frequently again. Stay tuned.

My Twitter stream is like my public e-mail box. I check it daily, looking for responses and new conversational threads. Heck, you're more likely to hear back from me if you ask me something on Twitter than my own e-mail box.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 800 columns -- more than eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

TAGS:  pipeline, obama, shepard fairey

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