Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kirby and The New Yorker's familiar Tale

Plagiarism is nothing new in the world of publishing, and we all know that comic creators not getting their due is an original sin as old as the industry itself. But if you're going to rip someone off at least have the smarts not to ape someone as well-known as JACK FREAKIN' KIRBY!

According to the New York Post, a cartoon published in The New Yorker for its Cartoon Caption Contest wasn't meant to be a rip-off, even though it looks like a straight lift from 1962's Tales to Astonish #34. After contacting artist Harry Bliss, the magazine says the image was supposed to be a "tribute" to the original — and iconic — "Monster at My Window" cover by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.

The magazine is trying to fix things by having the Web site credit updated to read, "Drawing by Harry Bliss, after Jack Kirby," and normally this wouldn't bother me all that much — people try their hand at referencing Kirby all the time, with varying degrees of success.

But there are a couple of things that bug me about this episode. First, Bliss' image goes beyond a simple reference or mimicking of style. The monster, the background, practically the same guy in the window — there is nothing original about it. Secondly, this quote from the New Yorker spokesperson jumped out at me:

"Harry did it with all good intentions. He thought it was an overt reference, and not an attempt to plagiarize. He thought it was a tribute," Cassanos said. "To people in the comic world, it's a recognizable image."

Sure, comic book fans and people in the industry would recognize the reference (or at the very least, the style), but what about all the other people who read The New Yorker who aren't comic book fans? The majority of whom, I would guess, are not hardcore comics geeks. It seems a little disingenuous of the magazine to offer up the pretense that the average New Yorker reader would instantly realize the image was based on someone else's original work. Generally speaking, it is an "overt reference," but that doesn't necessarily make it a "recognizable image."

I don't think Bliss composed his cartoon with any malicious intent — but if he's enough of a fan to draw something as an homage to Jack Kirby, he should also have enough respect to give him the credit he deserves.

What do you think?

Panels taken from the New York Post Web site


Khairul H. said...

It's only an homage if you get caught doing it. "Hey, I didn't crib this and passed it off as my own. No! It'''s an homage! Yeah, that's it! A frikkin' homage!

chris said...

I think we should call in Elaine Benes and get her opinion...

Maxo said...

Khairul: Right? And the way people "take responsibility" nowadays, I half expect the artist to announce he's going into rehab. Or joining a reality show. One of those.

Chris: It's a Ziggy!

Siskoid said...

I don't think that cover is so well-known as to be an immediately recognizable classic even TO comic book fans.

So I'm with you on this. A botched homage at least.