I get asked quite a bit about the legality of selling the Limited Edition prints I have been offering the last few years. Having just got back from Comic-Con, the issue of selling images featuring characters you do not have the copyrights to is an obviously major one. Walking through the exhibit floor, you see booth after booth selling products based on or featuring characters they do not own the rights to. Professional comic book artists do private commissions of Superman, Spider-man or whatever character they are asked to draw. Sort of professional artists sell posters or prints of Batgirl or the Walking Dead players or other characters they do not own the rights to. The big question is, is this legal? The answer is very simple. No, it absolutely is not legal. It is copyright infringement. Unless you have been granted permission by the copyright owner, you cannot draw or sell images of their copyrighted characters. That is the letter of the law.
The reality of how these laws are applied it is little bit different.
The above video is a presentation by Josh Wattles, who is the adviser in chief to deviantART and a lawyer who has done a lot of work on copyright issues. It’s very long, but the information in it is invaluable for understanding why people at Comic-Con and other places get away with what they get away with, and the legal precipice they are balancing on by doing that they do. The short version is they get away with it at the whim of those who do own the copyrights, who could choose to put the legal hammer down if they so wished, but they do not with the understanding that good will among fans and the copyright owners is worth more to them than taking the legal action they are entitled to take.
How does this all apply to what I am doing? If there is a loophole in copyright law it is parody, and because what I do is making fun of the characters and commenting on them through visual humor, my prints are defensible under the parody exception. That’s why I do not include any trademarks in the art I do, like the Doctor Who or James Bond logos. I also don’t use any trademarks in the name of the print. It’s all visual humor and caricature. Finally, these are limited edition prints, not open ended poster products. That’s an important distinction when it comes to the claim of parody with any property… limited edition prints are considered “fine art”, and that is an acceptable form of expression opinion. Products like T-shirts, coffee mugs or mousepads are not.
So, are my parodies of copyrighted characters ok under the letter of the law? No one knows for sure unless the case goes before a court and they decide. Having a decent defense argument does not guarantee you win that court case. It’s certainly a lot more defensible than someone selling realistic drawings of Captain America as posters. The industry has a tolerance for this kind of thing, but it is definitely “swim at your own risk”.
If you are interested in hearing a real life view of these copyright issues, the hour of time this video takes is well spent.
I’m currently en route back some from sunny San Diego and the big, loud and sweaty frenzy known as San Diego Comic-Con. MAD had a panel last Thursday where editor John Ficarra had the room
thoroughly bored waiting for the free swag in stitches with highlights from this past year’s issues of MAD, and the MAD website. They also announced some new book projects, starting with the newest release from their “MAD’s Greatest Artists” series… this one featuring Don Martin! The other big announcement was the start of a new series entitled “MAD’s Greatest Writers”, the first of which will feature Frank Jacobs!
Head on over to MAD’s website for their big Comic-Con Wrap-up, complete with some pictures credited to my daughter Victoria!
Q: It’s been fun to see your reports from the San Diego Comic-Con. I have noticed you are doing quite a few comic-cons all of a sudden, whereas you used to do very few if any. What changed?
A: I’ll probably never do a big circuit of conventions like some artists do, but yes I am doing quite a few more than I used to. Up until this past year, I really only did two—San Diego and the smaller MCBA cons in Minnesota. I did San Diego because the National Cartoonists Society has a booth there, and they wanted members to come and spend time at it. I did the local Minnesota cons because they were local and I wanted to support the local cartooning industry.
There are three reasons why I started doing comic-cons:
First and foremost, I actually make some money at these things. There is no way I could take time out of the studio if I did not. I don’t make a lot, but it’s enough to justify my time away from other work.
Second, I actually have something to sell and promote at these shows. Once I had the book done, that became something I could always have a pile of and sign for people. Then I started doing the prints, which was another thing that I could have for people to buy and get signed, or at least to look at. I do a lot of drawing at these shows as well… that has surprised me a bit. There are actually quite a few artists doing caricatures at these cons, but people still seem surprised they can get themselves drawn as opposed to some comic book character. I draw them as their favorite character, or in some theme/topic, but with a humorous bend. Of course I also draw Alfred, or “Alfred as…” upon request. I change a reasonable amount of money for these, and stay pretty busy drawing.
Third, the NCS and its charitable arm the NCS Foundation wants to step up its presence at conventions, and I am helping with that by making connections and finding the conventions it makes most sense for us to go to. Right now the NCS only does San Diego, but we’d like to have a booth in Chicago, New York, and other areas around the country where we can bring in members from that area to meet and greet fans and promote the art of cartooning.
Finally, it’s fun to meet people that enjoy your work. That never gets old.
Thanks to Ben Hovart for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!
Day one at Comic-Con was extremely frenzied with The Tenacious D signing at the NCS booth as well as the general craziness. Here are some photos:
Reporting live from the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con! Last night was preview night, which was the usual crazy frenzy since there are no panels or presentations going on to thin out the crowd on the floor. I will be at the NCS booth (#1307) today from 10 am-4 pm doing drawings, selling books and MAD originals and my Sherlock Holmes print. Tonight at 5:30 is the MAD about MAD panel in room #4.
The image you see above was a special commission I was tasked with by a collector prior to coming to San Diego. I seldom have time to do this sort of thing, but in this case I was actually able to do it all while I was here and unable to work on any of the projects I have on the board at the time. The only thing I did ahead of time was the sketch of Adam West as Batman that I posted as the SotW yesterday. Ink and watercolor. I thought it was a fun concept, doing the three most icon TV versions of these superheroes. Sorry for the poor image, but it was taken with my smartphone in my hotel room this morning.
I promise more pictures and better reporting from the Con itself tomorrow and Saturday.
Tags: San Diego Comic-Con
Holy Faber Castell… Not another caricature of the Caper Crusader by this Scandalous Scrawler of Sketches! What could this Peccant Pusher of Pencils be up to? Will our hero get DRAWN into a grisly, GRAPHIC fate? Is he in LINE to be further ridiculed by this Despicable Doodler? TOON in soon for the SKETCHY details, citizens! Same MAD time, same MAD channel!
The NCS Foundation has really been firing on all cylinders lately, starting several initiatives that are going to be terrific resources fro pro an aspiring cartoonists alike. They and the NCS just announced one of those new initiatives today, the free digital magazine, The National Cartoonist!:
From the NCS Website and NCSF President Steve McGarry:
The NCS is delighted to announce the launch of our new digital magazine, The National Cartoonist! We’re really excited about this new publication and hope you will be, too!
Published by the National Cartoonists Society Foundation, it is a free magazine celebrating the best in cartooning, past and present, with extensive interviews, in-depth features and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the world of cartooning and comics, as well as beautiful reproductions of rare and, in many cases, previously unseen original art from some of our greatest luminaries! We hope it is a publication that will be enjoyed by all cartooning fans, from the casual reader to the seasoned professional.
To celebrate the launch we are giving away thousands of print copies of the debut issue of The National Cartoonist this coming weekend at San Diego Comic-Con. It’s a souvenir that collectors will want to treasure, so if you are attending SDCC, make sure to stop by The National Cartoonists Society booth, #1307, and grab a copy!
Meanwhile, enjoy the digital version and be sure to subscribe. It’s FREE and it’s fantastic!
Steve McGarry (NCSF President)
Holy 50/50 cotton polyester blend, Batman! This year’s official NCS Comic-Con T-shirt is in honor of the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of the Caped Crusader! With artwork by Bill Amend, Sergio Aragonés, Jim Borgman, Jack Davis (!!), Jeff Keane, Rick Kirkman, Patrick McDonnell, Bill Morrison, Mike Peters, myself, Stan Sakai, Jerry Scott and Garry Trudeau, this is going to be a hot seller! The NCS will have them in both white and yellow, with a long sleeve option that has the illustrations also going down each sleeve! Visit the NCS booth #1307 at the San Diego Comic-Con and get this one before they are sold out!
… and all you blog readers thought my Adam West Batman sketch from the last week or two ago was for a Batman print I was doing! Incidentally, here’s a close up of my contribution:
In honor of the National Cartoonists Society having Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D (along with illustrator Luke McGarry) signing autographs at the NCS booth on Thursday at the San Diego Comic-Con, here’s a look at all my art for the parody of “School of Rock” from MAD #438, Feb. 2004:
Clicky any to embiggen…