Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Sincerest Form of Imitation

Every once in awhile, it's nice to see homage paid to earlier comics art when a later artist duplicates a pose of a character. Even though sometimes it may not even be homage. If it is, there's an awful lot of homage being paid out there, brother. For instance, artist Rich Buckler--a very, very talented artist in his own right--was once in the habit of re-pencilling a considerable amount of former art on Fantastic Four that mimicked the original panels by artist Jack Kirby almost precisely. One publication that noticed it even went so far as to accuse him of plagiarism, which Buckler initially responded to with legal action.

Eventually, the practice crossed so many lines that a term for it--"swiping"--has gained usage, no doubt distastefully. (The only noninsulting use of the word "swiping" that I can think of is for credit card transactions.)

A long time ago, I can remember bringing Buckler's "coincidental" panel similarities to the attention of a Marvel writer or artist in an online forum (his name escapes me), who initially met my claims with skepticism. It was only when I pointed out specific panels of the issues in question that he agreed that I might have a valid point on the subject. This was only knot-untying discussion between us at the time--nothing we were getting up in arms about, just trying to clear up something that seemed very odd, given its frequent occurrences. Since then, of course, there have been blog postings that have documented it in some detail.

The distinction between swiping and homage should be a clear one, though there have been times when it's a bit blurry. For instance, artist Ron Frenz does a great deal of mimicry of the styles of different artists, which at times includes outright duplication of prior artwork. Take this panel originally done by Sal Buscema:

Which Frenz appropriates for a cover of Thor, leaving no room for doubt as to its duplicated nature:

Nor was this an isolated incident. Yet Frenz's work would seem to indicate that he was making more of an attempt to give his run on Thor a Kirby "feel," more than anything else. In that respect, you could say Buckler was doing the same on Fantastic Four, with the exception that Frenz made a greater effort to give the panels more of a new artwork presentation, as opposed to virtually hand-stamping former artwork into a new issue.

And for an interesting addition to the mix, here's one curious instance where artist Sal Buscema mimics a segment of a battle scene drawn in an earlier issue of Thor by, of all people, his brother, John, who illustrated Thor battling Durok, the Demolisher:

When Sal later has Thor battling the Hulk, you can't avoid a sense of déjà vu:

You'd think that Thor would avoid sticking with tactics that got his ass handed to him, wouldn't you?

From some of the interviews I've read on these instances, it remains a touchy subject with those artists who have indulged in the practice, either sparingly or blatantly often. Perhaps it should be. If you're paying homage to another artist, why not give credit where credit is due, and make a point of telling readers that's what you're doing? Surely that would occur to at least the book's editor(s), as the last set of eyes to see the work before it goes to press. Though for all intents and purposes, the buck really stops with the artist in question, who seems to be making the odd choice of declining to leave their own mark on the industry in favor of presenting someone else's technique--"presenting," or "coasting on," depending on how carried away the artist gets. And sooner or later, a very uncomfortable question might arise for that artist: if their work is made less distinctive by this practice, what are the chances that another artist will someday wish to pay homage to them?


Super-Duper ToyBox said...

another great post! i'm unsure if comic book artists are more secretive about homage to fellows in the industry than regular fine artists or musicians- the Stones & the Beatles seem unrepentant about it for instance. presonally i like seeing it, and is a point of interest for myself

Comicsfan said...

I'm not sure it's secrecy for them, so much as perhaps the line simply blurring. To the artist in question, it may be just an unspoken, professional nod to a previous artist's work, and feeling nothing more than that is needed; after all, they're paying tribute, and their heart is in the right place, and so on. Yet we're talking about more than the occasional isolated incident--I mean, it's unlikely a term like "swiping" would have been coined for it if it weren't happening well above the radar.