COMICS 101: PLAGIARISM

by Douglas Cellineri

WHERE DO YOU GET ALL THOSE IDEAS?

Has anyone ever asked you that question? If you are in the business of writing comic strips then most likely you will. Comic artists invest hours everyday for approximately ten seconds of entertainment, only to repeat this task all over again tomorrow. A comic strip artist must write a joke, compose comic panels, draw characters, colorize work, and combine all this within a personally identifiable style.

Very few comic strip artists can sustain this daily test, and precious fewer are consistently entertaining. But if you wish to try you should be congratulated on being part of a select group of people who can even qualify. Styles are varied, humor is diverse, and the rewards can be personally and financially exciting, but if you make the mistake of passing someone else’s work or ideas as your own you run the risk of being accused of plagiarism – a cheater. And removing that label is like trying to unring the town bell.

What is plagiarism (IE: Copyright infringement)? The simplest definitions of plagiarism are:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own.
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit.

 

TYPES OF PLAGIARISM (for comic artists)

As we begin discussing plagiarism concerning comics I wish to separate it into three categories
(for purposes of this article, not legal substitution):

VISUAL - WRITTEN – CONCEPT.

andy-warhol-marilyn-monroe

Andy Warhol's Marilyn

Visual plagiarism is usually very rare because it is so obvious. For instance, you can imagine someone trying to submit the image of Spiderman as their own creation – preposterous. Let’s call this type Visual plagiarism because only images have been copied, not words.

Written plagiarism is easy enough to understand. Imagine drawing a comic strip without words, then heading over to someone else’s comic website, copying their exact words and then pasting them as your own dialogue for characters you drew. Let’s call this type Written plagiarism because only text has been copied, not images.

Concept plagiarism In other words: “Hey! You stole that guy’s entire concept! … That’s wrong!” Again, this is not a legal article, just a general discussion about plagiarism. When something isn’t Written and isn’t Visual plagiarism, but you believe something wrong has occurred, let’s call this type Concept plagiarism.

Concept plagiarism is usually defended by the accused as “paying homage,” “unconsciously influenced,” or “didn’t do it intentionally.”

It is also difficult to accuse someone of Concept plagiarism simply because it is often in the eye of the beholder, as we will see later. Ultimately what makes Concept plagiarism so confusing are its subtle changes rather than in-your-face conclusive evidence of plagiarism.

 

“No plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate.”

– Billings “Learned” Hand (Supreme Court Justice)

Plagiarism is legally prosecuted under Copyright infringement using terms such as “derivative work,” “fair use,” and “transformativeness.” It is serious business and I truly believe artists can do so much better than copying another’s work, or worse, purposefully aiming for legal loopholes to ensure a career of copying.

Imagine if you were hired to create a new superhero. A few days later you submit an idea for a character who was bitten on the hand by a spider, develops a ‘spider sense,’ can climb walls, wears a blue and red body suit, and shoots web material from his wrists as he combats crime. Your new superhero’s name? Spiderman. Impossible to do? Maybe not.

What if you changed a few things? Your superhero character was born able to climb walls, his body suit wasn’t a suit but cellular skin changes that mimic black hairs, eight eyes reveal themselves instead of two, he can jump more than 10-stories high, and his name is Arachniphobic.

Welcome to the difficult world of Concept plagiarism. Ideas are not protectable, only the expression of an idea can be protected. Spiderman is only an expression of the idea that someone could have spider-like traits to use against crime, not the only one. Most likely the altered Spiderman concept didn’t pass your personal ethics test though; hence our term: Concept plagiarism for this article.

If you doubt people would risk embarrassment by plagiarizing then you should read how Nick Simmons and his manga-style comic book Incarnate got into so much trouble with Tite Kubo’s comic Bleach in 2010 (some images below).

Kubo's Bleach Simmon's Incarnate plagiarism

incarnate plagiarism bleach.jpg

 

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