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The Return of Sherlock Holmes!

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Sunday night The Lovely Anna and I watched the third season premier of “Sherlock”, the updated re-imagining of the classic character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… it was great as expected. As a Sherlockian myself, I love this show. I wrote a review of it when I posted the above drawings as a Sketch o’the Week a while ago. All of what I said in that review stands true in the new episode, which bodes well for the rest of the season. I especially love the nods to some of the original canon in a few of the side stories and quick moments… among those in this past episode was the brief appearance of Mary Sutherland and her step-father from the 1891 story “A Case of Identity”.

Possibly the most fascinating thing about the show is how much it demonstrates both the timeless nature of the Holmes characters and stories, and how little our world has really changed in its fundamentals since the late 1800′s. Nearly everything that was important about the original stories fits neatly into our world of today, even though 126 years have passed since the first Holmes story appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. Holmes is once again a celebrated and famous amateur detective thanks to the writings of Dr. John Watson, but his magazine and newspaper articles have been replaced by a blog. The wires and multiple postal deliveries that made up modern communications in the Victorian era are replaced by texting, but essentially serve the same purpose and in the same manner. Hansoms are now mini-cabs on the London streets. Holmes’ network of poor, anonymous, and ignored street urchins, the “Baker Street Irregulars” are now the poor, anonymous, and ignored homeless people of the city. Holmes’ vast indexes and newspaper clippings from the multiple newspapers of the day are replaced by the internet. It’s all there, but defined by 21st century technology.

I find it amazing that, despite the obvious advances in technology in the last 125 years, that so much of what we have today was essentially there in the late 18th century… albeit slower and more cumbersome in its delivery and execution. The Victorian era was a time when science and technology began to change the lives of even ordinary people… the proliferation and inexpensive availability of newspapers and other mass-communication publications, convenient public transportation and the slow but growing education of the public filled the time with glowing optimism even in the face of great poverty in some areas of the world. Holmes was one of the catalysts in that great public intellectual growth… and “Sherlock” delivers the same wonder and fascination the original stories did for those readers who were so outraged when Conan Doyle killed off his Great Detective that their outcry eventually brought him back.

Now, “Elementary” on the other hand… >:(

Dreaded Deadline Demon

Friday, January 17th, 2014

The Dreaded Dedline DemonIt’s been a while since we saw this guy…

Right of Publicity and Parody

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

I got this email the other day from caricaturist Mike Giblin:

I’ve been reading extensively on your blog (and other sources) about Caricature and the Right of Publicity, and though a lot of it still has my brain in knots I’m beginning to see the distinction in what’s advisable and what’s not.

My question is to do with subject matter, specifically citing your Secret Agent Man artwork as an example. I understand that by offering the illustration as original artwork AND a limited edition print run, you’ve made a solid case for the fine art angle – and as such, there are no likely legal repercussions. However in one of your posts you mentioned that there must also be some kind of ‘parody’ element to a caricature illustration (i.e. your Tiger Woods example) in order to avoid a potential call from the lawyers. In this case is it Moore’s kung fu, Pierce’s panties, Daniel’s dishevelment etc what makes this illustration more than a straightforward portrait of the various James Bond actors – or is there some other loophole that I’m overlooking?

I thought this would make a good article, as opposed to a simple Mailbag Q&A. First, let me preface this by saying that I am not a lawyer, and I don’t even play one on TV. My comments here are based on my own research into these issues, precedents set in prior court cases and advice I’ve gotten from real lawyers who know about this sort of thing. Don’t mistake anything you read in this post with real and specific legal advice.

Doing a piece of caricature art of a famous individual or a cast of a TV show or movie and then attempting to sell reproductions of that art can bring either copyright or an individual celebrity’s “right of publicity” into consideration of having been infringed upon. Copyright is the protection of the earning power of a piece of creative work or intellectual property. You cannot draw a picture of Mickey Mouse and sell it on T-shirts, that infringes on Disney’s copyrights. Right of publicity is the right of a celebrity to protect the earning power of his/her image. You can’t produce a T-shirt with a photo of Elvis Presley on it without the permission of the Presley estate (even if you had taken the photo years ago). It isn’t even necessarily about selling what you create, but more about protecting the infringed party’s rights to profit from selling something similar.

There are certain situations where you could create a piece of art featuring someone famous or containing some copyrighted material, and not be infringing on anybody’s rights. MAD does it all they time with their TV and movie parodies. It’s depends on a lot of factors including how it’s presented, where it’s presented, its content, etc. You can read this post of mine on the different issues involved, but I’m going to focus primarily on doing caricatures and selling them as prints, like the “Secret Agent Man” art I did a few years ago Mike cites as an example:

Parody is one of those “situations” where you can create something that incorporates copyrighted images and celebrity likeness and arguably not be infringing on copyrights and right or publicity. Having the ability to make fun of something without fear of legal repercussions is one of the fundamental rights we have in this country, but what constitutes “making fun of something” is very much up to interpretation. That’s why people occasionally go to court over this sort of thing.What the courts seem to look at in these cases is if there is a legitimate editorial commentary being made and if the artistic part of the equation is a significant part of the appeal of the artwork.

What constitutes some sort of editorial commentary? In the case of the Bond print, I added touches that comment on the different treatments of the character by each of the different actors. It doesn’t necessarily need to be critical, just editorializing. My theme is this piece is: here are six actors playing the same role, and here are the things they did to make their take on the role different. Some of the things I pointed out are critical, like the goofy kung fu pose of Moore, or the overwrought seriousness of Dalton, and some are statements on the franchise as a whole, like the fact that only Craig of all the Bonds ever seemed to get hurt in his fights. Enough editorializing? I don’t know.

Another factor is the value of the “art” part of it. Andy Warhol was able to do what he did as his portraits had an “art value’, meaning that his artistic vision and interpretation has a value that was independent of the subject matter. Recently caricaturist David O’Keefe created a series of “tribute” fine art prints of the casts of movies like “The Godfather” and “Caddyshack”, among others:


Artwork © David O’Keefe, www.davidokeefe.com


Artwork © David O’Keefe, www.davidokeefe.com

Editorializing? Not really. The personalities of the characters are certainly there but he’s not comparing them to other films or making some statement about the movie, the genre, the industry or any other thing that I can see. However David has created a unique look with his art, and has established a collection of this sort of fine art approach with very different subjects. He’s selling them as limited edition prints and that establishes a legitimacy as a fine art piece and not a “product” (although I see he sells them on T-shirts also… not sure how he’s getting away with that). The real question is “is the art style itself a large part of the appeal of this work, or is the subject matter all that matters?”. I’d say in David’s case, like Warhol’s, the art aspect of it is unique enough that people would want to own it to have “an O’Keefe” and not necessarily because it’s of the Godfather or whatever. David’s been selling these for a while and while I do not know if he’s heard from any of the copyright holders or celebrities depicted, you can bet some of their lawyers have seen these. He’s still selling them, so they must be okay with it.

On a much smaller scale I have established a series where I depict actors who play the same character but in different ways, which makes it a commentary on that sort of practice. I’m no O’Keefe or Warhol, but I do have some notoriety as a caricature illustrator as well as a recognizable “style” and people will buy these pieces not necessarily for the subject matter but for my art, so that could be argued if it comes to that. Plus I do have an element of parody with my prints, and that adds another layer of legal insulation.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course. One can be sued whether the lawsuit has considerable merit, no merit or some question the parties will ask the courts to decide. It is all very ambiguous. I won’t sell individual prints of many of my park style caricatures for the simple reason that I do not think they are “fine art” enough nor necessarily editorializing enough for a strong case against infringement of the subject’s right of publicity, or in the case of a cast the copyrights of a show or movie. Some do, but others do not.

I do have plans for more of this series of prints, by the way. So stay tuned for that.

Sunday Mailbag

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Q: You write in your book and on your blog how important it is that everything in an illustration has the same style, look, and feel, for instance background people. How do you make something part of your universe, when you’ve never drawn it before? For instance a camel or a horse (like on the splash page of The Hunger Pains)? Do you need a lot of extra sketches or can you just draw everything right away with the help of some photo references?

A: That’s a good question, I hadn’t ever really thought about it before.

First off, the oft-given advice referred to above is this: When doing a single piece of illustration, and in particular for me when I do MAD parodies, it’s important to be sure everything I draw looks like they belong together. In other words it makes no sense to draw detailed caricatures of the stars of the show and then do goofy cartoon people for the extras… there should be a cohesive feel to both sets of characters. Ditto the backgrounds and other objects. I wouldn’t want to draw a very realistic car in a parody with my more cartoon-like caricatures, nor go the other way and draw a “Roger Rabbit” type cartoon car with other less cartoonish elements. What I am talking about is a cohesiveness of style in a given project. A Jack Davis drawing of a chair, or a foot, or a ham sandwich, looks like a Jack Davis drawing… that’s cohesive style.

It’s entirely possible to draw in different styles, of course. Artists do it all the time. I guess the answer as to how to make sure you draw in the same style in a given project is to use the eyeball test and see if something looks out of place. I get into a mindset when I’m working on something like a parody, and no matter what I have to draw it just comes out in the style I am working in. I think it takes an effort to get out of that style in that sort of situation. I sometimes do that for effect, like when I need to draw a cartoon character in a cameo or something, but actually my MAD parody style lends itself to being able to believably sneak in a Bugs Bunny or similar and not have it seem too out of place. It’s just cartoony enough for that to work, and of course the color helps with that.

I don’t have to do multiple sketches to get a horse or camel or whatever to look like it belongs with the other objects and characters in a parody, for example. I just draw it (If I don’t know what it looks like, I get a reference of some kind) and it usually works out. I’d have to make a conscious effort to push it toward the more outlandishly cartoonish or the more realistic to break away from that cohesive style. That’s probably a function of having done hundreds of pages for MAD, but I think most cartoonists have a natural style, or one they have cultivated, and it’s not too hard to “see” whatever they are drawing in that particular style.

Thanks to Dominik Zeillinger 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!

MAD (The Magazine) about MAD (The TV Show)

Friday, January 10th, 2014

A MAD Look at MAD Final

Clicky to Embiggen…

The MAD show on Cartoon Network aired their 100th episode in November, and to commemorate the event the show’s creator Kevin Shinick commissioned me to do a MAD Magazine style splash page in the “A MAD Peek Behind the Scenes of…” tradition featuring the show’s creative team. Everybody got a print of it for Christmas, and Kevin got the original inked art. Kevin wrote the jokes and gave me information on each of the folks in the scene to work with.

This was a challenging project, because I had to to the layouts, header graphics and text and box placement as well as the art. The next time I privately curse the MAD art department because the layouts I get are tough to work around, I will be using slightly fewer four-letter words as it’s a pretty damn hard thing to do (the layouts, not the swearing). Plus I had to draw caricatures of a bunch of animators that can draw circles around me… no pressure.

I love working on the show, even though I only do a few segments per year, because the creative team is super-talented and the show is great. It’s a real privilege to work with them….

… now the MAD art department on the other hand….

The Copyright is Afoot!

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

A blog reader emailed me the other day to ask if I’d heard about this news story concerning the copyright regarding the Sherlock Holmes characters. I had, in fact. Being a Sherlockian myself (#1 in Minnesota, #9 in U.S. in Holmes Trivia on “QuizUp”… just sayin’), and someone who has a vested interest in things like copyrights, I found it to be a very interesting turn of events.

Some background: Sherlock Holmes has been in the public domain in Britain for years, but not completely so in the United States. The holdup in the U.S. has been the ten stories that Doyle published after 1922. Thanks to the US Copyright Act of 1976, authors or their heirs could reapply for copyrights to works that had entered the public domain but were produced after January 1, 1923. Those re-established copyrights could then extend until 2023. In 1981, Dame Jean Conan Doyle, the last surviving child of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, applied for such registration of the copyright to “The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes,” Doyle’s last collection of stories first published in the U.S. in 1927. Ten of the twelve stories in this collection were created after 1923, and U.S, copyright law applies to them after her successful registration.

The Doyle estate has argued that, although the four Holmes novels and most of the 56 short stories Doyle wrote might be fully in the public domain in the U.S., the characters themselves were protected by copyright because there had been “significant and on-going development” of the characters in those last stories that were inseparable from the characters themselves, and therefore no one could create new works with those characters without violating their copyright.

The story linked above says that a U.S. judge has ruled that the characters of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson and most related characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are in the public domain here in the U.S., and that creators like filmmakers, artists, writers and such are free to produce Holmes related works without having to pay a licensing fee to the Doyle estate. Illinois Judge Ruben Castillo rejected the Doyle Estate’s argument, saying that only the specific plot elements, dialogue and new elements from the later stories are under copyright protection, not the characters themselves.

This is a fairly big deal. It means that anybody can make a film, write a story, or do a comic book about Sherlock Holmes without paying a licensing fee to the Doyle Estate, so long as they avoid the specifics of the stories still under copyright. I have no idea what kind of money those licensing fees amounted to, but I am sure the Conan Doyle estate isn’t happy about it. The rest of the world? Yes! I’ve actually always wanted to do my own comic book versions of the “canon” stories. Maybe now I will in my spare time (snort).

The Doyle estate is already planning an appeal, of course. I’m not sure they’ll be able to get it overturned, though. One can certainly argue that the characters themselves were well established before the post Jan 1, 1923 stories, and to try and sell the idea that no one can create something new with the characters without using the very few new backstory elements in those later stories is ridiculous.

Personally I don’t mind the idea of copyrights on a character living beyond the creator of that character as long as the copyright holders continue to do something with that character. Disney, for example, hasn’t been sitting around and collecting licensing fees from “Steamboat Willie”. They have actively grown and used the Mickey Mouse character and brand for decades upon decades. As far as I know, no one in the Conan Doyle family has done anything except milk their ancestor’s original 60 stories for all they are worth. If they aren’t creating with it, it should be released to the world to do some creating… like my forthcoming Complete Holmes graphic novel series! The best part is, the copyrights for the later stories expire in 2023, and as I won’t be half done with the older stories by then, I don’t have to worry about any copyrights! :P

Dogbert vs. Rat

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014
YouTube Preview Image

If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s worth a look. This is a promotional video for Wacom’s portable devices featuring Dilbert‘s Scott Adams and Pearl Before Swine‘s Stephan Pastis. It shows you how the guys and gals behind the comics are often just as funny in person (or on video).

BTW, I originally saw this on The Daily Cartoonist, so a tip o’the hat to Alan Gardner and that terrific resource.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

newyear14Here’s wishing everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014!

Rare Personal Commission

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013


Regular readers of my blog know that I almost never accept personal commissions. This has nothing to do with my not wanting to do them, it’s a simple question of not having enough physical time in a day to do it all. Every once and awhile the stars align and I am able to accept something of that nature… a lull in my work on the drawing board coupled with a stretch of my not traveling anywhere and a commission subject that is intriguing plus a client who is not in a hurry to get the art.

This all happened a few weeks back when I was contacted by someone who was unhappy that I had (long since) sold out of my “Secret Agent Man” James Bond print, and wanted to commission me to do an original, hand painted recreation of the art. This was something I wanted to do at some point anyway because I disliked the caricature of George Lazenby in the original, and wanted to take another try at him. Also, I had several “mistakes” pointed out to me by 007 experts that I could also correct. The resulting painting is seen above. For those interested, here is a list of the mistakes in the first one:

  • They are wearing wing-tip tuxedo shirts. Apparently Bond wouldn’t be caught dead in a wing-tip shirt.
  • The ruffles in Lazenby’s shirt are supposed to be vertical, not horizontal
  • Roger Moore‘s hair part and mole are on the wrong sides of his face (I must have used a reference picture that had been flipped horizontally)

I actually had a lot of fun doing this, not just because I got to fix all those problems, but because it was fun to drag out the old watercolors and do some physical painting for a change. In fact, it was so much fun, I have made it an available commission to order from me at the Studio Store! For a mere $900 (cheap) you can commission me to recreate this artwork in ink and watercolor. It’s 13″ x 19″ on Strathmore 500 series board. Visit here for more details.

Reviewed: Cedric Hohnstadt’s “Sparkbook”

Friday, December 27th, 2013

I have been meaning to post a review of this innovative sketchbook from illustrator and cartoonist Cedric Hohnstadt for some time but just keep on not getting to it. Today I rectify that oversight.

Cedric is a fellow Minnesota based illustrator and National Cartoonist Society member, and has a lot of experience in animation character design, creating cartoon characters for advertising, storytelling and illustration in general. Back in August Cedric did a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of a unique kind of sketchbook he calls a “Sparkbook“. Cedric sent me a copy for review.

First off, if you are looking for a book of instruction on drawing or even creating characters, this is not it. It does contain some pages (32 plus according to the back cover) of “instruction and inspiration” with short sections on such things as using thumbnails as experiments and studies, thinking outside the box, setting up contrast and conflict in character design, and other important concepts… but this is only a small aspect of the whole. The Sparkbook is supposed to get you to starting thinking about the personalities and “life” of the characters you are creating by getting you to think about story when you draw.

The book really is primarily a sketchbook, but each page or spread has an “assignment” printed along the bottom. These assignments give you a direction and goal for your character design sketches that pertains to creating personality through action, reaction, emotion, or other expressions of acting with your characters. It’s designed to get you thinking like a storyteller, and putting the kind of expression and emotion into your drawings and characters that creates a narrative visually… without the need for words. It’s a spiral bound sketchbook using drawing paper stock.

I’ll be honest, my initial thoughts when the concept was explained to me was that there was not going to be much to this book. It didn’t seem to me to be very hard to come up with a 100 different scenes that required some storytelling thinking and efforts. However after spending a little time with the Sparkbook, I think there is method to Cedric’s madness. The scenes he challenges you with are well conceived in that they require different combinations of storytelling skills to accomplish… some need slapstick action, some are more slow-burning and demand subtly of expression, others require distinctive body language, and many combinations of these and others. They are distinctive enough that few people, I think, would come up with such challenges on their own, and when artists do try to do something like that they tend to make choices that play to their strengths and comfort zones. Here Cedric forces you to exercise many different storytelling muscles. It’s a bit addictive, coming up with solutions to the assignment challenges—like puzzles that need solving. The book doesn’t teach, but it does make you think about a specific goal with each sketch, and presents you with real challenges in storytelling.

The printed Sparkbook costs $25, and ebook versions are $10 for the original and $15 for the expanded version. There are also social media connections like the Sparkbook Gallery on Facebook, where you can post your drawings from the assignments and get feedback from other Sparkbook artists.

I think this is a worthwhile purchase for anyone looking to get some direction when it comes to character design. I’d certainly recommend several animation books first, most of which Cedric himself recommends in a back “resources” page, but there is something great about having someone else give you an idea to run with in your sketchbook. It’s close to the kind of dynamic you’d be getting in a professional project dealing with storytelling, whether it be in comics, animation or even illustration. These kinds of exercises strengthen your perception and ability to create narrative in your drawings.

My only complaint about the book is that the paper in it is too smooth, I prefer a little more tooth in my drawing paper. That’s a small complaint, though. Cedric has a very innovative concept here and I really do think it’s a good one.


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