UnConventional Episode #3 - It's ALL Fan Art!
Here's the gist of this one: To erase the divide between self-publishers and creators of fan-art, I've ruled all that we do AS fan art. Everything we produce ALL stems from us being fans of the medium, a certain story, a character, a writer, an artist, etc. No aspect of our creative ventures is without some part of us being a fan.
The WHOLE reason I decided to get on this subject is FOR YEARS now, I've heard people complain how fan art was choking out comic book sales at conventions. Now, because I tote the line of fan-art/self-publisher, I overtly get a pass -- but there are others that are looked down on for their work! And often times its under the guise of validation or some such non-sense ("Well, that's not REALLY comics…"). That's not something that sits well with me -- I mean, frankly, this is how some people eat -- are we really trying to nitpick at it because it's successful?
So, there's already been this established view, predominantly FROM small-press creators, that somehow in the hierarchy of comics, fan-art rates BELOW their efforts. This sort of, "rolls down hill" mindset is rather bothersome, to say the least, as it used to be the same perspective leveled at self-publishers (from the mainstream side of the fence) and still is at comics as a whole (with regards to other forms of art AND literature).
But if its ALL Fan-Art what's the issue?
Fan-art, as it's commonly broken down, is the unlicensed production of commercial work (prints, stickers, artbooks, etc.) that feature characters from popular branches of mainstream media. Aside from the undertow of it bleeding money out of convention-goers so that they can't support small-press comics (an attribute also aimed at media guests and entry prices at conventions), the biggest complaint that Fan-Art gets is that its a shady and illegal practice since its a blatant act of copyright infringement!
Er…wait. That's not right. It's NOT copyright infringement at all. Copyright protects the authorship of a physical item -- so that wouldn't apply to the intellectual property of a comic character, but the physical artwork itself…which legally belongs to the "offending" artist.
No, the only offense that Fan-Art COULD BE guilty of is Trademark Infringement: the unlicensed use of a registered trademark (image/word/etc) to sell your MASS PRODUCED product (prints, t-shirts, artbooks, etc) -- NOTE, original artwork (pages, sketches, commissions AREN'T protected under this! But…here's the rub. Trademark is an elective process -- its not something inherently bestowed upon you for having thought, drawn, written or published anything. You have to file a REQUEST for trademark registry and if the your request features the correct conditions, then you may obtain the registry so you may protect your new trademark. But YOU must actively protect it. The PTO DOES NOT do that for you! You basically must police any infringements of your trademark all by yourself -- scouring for its use, in whatever capacity you may find.
Because if you don't…it's NOT trademark infringement! That's right -- unless the bearer of the trademark acknowledges an infringement, there is NO infringement. No third-party, unless operating under the instruction of the trademark holder (like a lawyer), can deem an act an infringement. So, as long as publishers like Marvel/Disney or DC/Warner Bros. don't enforce their right of trademark, artist who create awesome pinups and prints of their characters are doing ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong!
But let's play devils advocate for just a minute -- even if these artists were licensed -- how would you know? Is there a sign they wear when exhibiting? Maybe there's a special stamp made with custom ink? No? There's no actual way a layperson could know whether an artist has license to use a character or not. So all the hubbub about shady practices could very well be unfounded! And it's STILL Fan-Art!
Now, having eliminated the moral/legal issue of Fan-Art, what else could be the problem?
Honestly, I'd say misplaced ego. If everything we do is Fan-Art, then there is an aspect of being a derivative work that creators don't want to acknowledge. They feel their story is WHOLLY original (which applying the label of derivative works, by definition destroys).
Now, I'm as full of myself as the next creator, but I can't consider any work I do within a medium I didn't create, a format I've yet to innovate, in a genre type I've loved for DECADES -- original. Not wholly. I believe that there's a level of derivation that occurs in EVERYTHING we do -- but having a unique or original source isn't what's cool -- it's execution of it! We can have the same ideas (and many of us do) but HOW we execute them is what will make that character, that story, that art piece our own!
I'll give you proof, pulling work from just ONE MAN'S wide body of work: Alan Moore.
Here is a man who makes no beef about his appropriating others' creations and making something wonderfully new and fantastic with them! Let's look at his work on…
Supreme! With beginnings at the hands of Rob Liefeld, Supreme was one of the first Superman-esque characters to emerge from the Image imprint (characters like Mr. Majestic, Invincible, Omni-man and Captain Dynamo would follow in the years after). And oh what a superman he became! Under Moore's careful hand, he crafted the character into a commentary on the state of comics, breaking the fourth wall and delving deeply into the meta-textual conceits of the Silver Age! Teamed up with cover artist extraordinaire (who added his own Superman symbolism to Supreme's design -- check out that "S" across his chest!), Moore's first run on Supreme won an Eisner -- AN EISNER!
And then there is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Moore took characters from popular Victorian-era books and just put them all together as a super-team. No name changes, no visual revamps. And it was a fantastic ride, spanning at least three graphic novels, covering everything from an invasion from Mars to James Bond's grandfather!
So let me express, once again and without any hesitation -- being a derivative of something ISN'T BAD! If you feel it cheapens the work, then you're operating with a HUUUUUUUGE chip on your shoulder and it needs to be SHOVED off ASAP! Being able to divine from something else doesn't mean you haven't given some sincere effort to what you've created -- to a degree, you may have put in even more to make sure that what you've done ISN'T where it came from. Execution will always be the better judge than origination -- just look at our phones: Apple didn't invent the cellular phone, but the iPhone is by far and away MUCH BETTER than the earliest models.
But if Fan-Art is Fan-Art and self-published books are Fan-Art, is that where it stops? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Fan is as far reaching as the fans themselves -- up to, including and beyond: Cosplayers, Nerd-Core Rappers, Film Shorts, Flipbooks -- THE LIST GOES ON AND ON AND ON!
So, to close, lets stop using these titles as a means to either look down or envy one another's contribution to this medium that we ALL love and cherish so much!