Sunday, February 3, 2013

Not at liberty to discuss copying Campbell

This post was started before Bleeding Cool featured the copied picture, which has since been removed from Dark Phoenix Publishing's Facebook and Google+ along with all discussion. It still warrants analysis, for reasons revealed below.

Take a good look at this picture. It shows the artwork Dark Phoenix Publishing posted, alleging their artist (who is really "Mykal Lakim") did all by his lonesome (click for full-sized version):

Reflection is a very interesting turn of phrase there...

Now take a look at this:

I can't stop staring at the sunglass-shaped spot on her head

That's Jeff Campbell's cover for Gen13 #12 on the left. It's an iconic cover - I'm not a comic book person, but I had a very good friend who was. I remember seeing this as a poster in the comic book shop next door to a game store we used to frequent.

You'll notice a few things. One, the images match up exactly in terms of the pose, outline of the hair, position of eyes, nose, ears, fingers. But there's more to it than that. Lakim's version includes a sunglass-shaped empty spot where Fairchild has sunglasses. The z-shaped folds in the crotch match up exactly. The garter belt is identical. The line for the negligee matches the line of Fairchild's sarong-thing . The detail-lines on the abdomen match. This is a direct copy of Campbell's cover. The only noticeable difference is that the Lilliana image is longer - except that versions of the cover exist which are longer than the color comic book cover. 

Lakim's own words are the only adequate way to get across the utter irony of his response to this:

"I didn't do it" has long been established to not live in my household.

Yes, actually...yes.

All I have to say about the first statement is, people accuse others of tracing when the image is obviously traced or copied from another image. Removing the color, drawing some frills and changing a couple lines is not "reflecting your artistic vision". I'm sorry if it hurts your delicate sensibilities or threatens your self-image, but if you don't want people asking you if something was traced become a better fucking artist so your stuff doesn't look traced.

The second statement references this:

I can totally see the guy has a gun and the other a sword. Case closed.

The image on the left is from the Hunter: the Vigil role-playing game. The one on the right is the cover of the Capcom video game Devil May Cry 3. Mykal is right - that happened. Nobody is denying it. Including White Wolf. The fact is White Wolf commissioned the artwork and were unaware of the copying until it was pointed out. They were roundly criticized for it, in more than one forum, and Ethan Skemp addressed the issue - without denials or excuses, in a very straightforward manner - in this thread. All indications are that White Wolf came to a settlement with Capcom and blacklisted the artist.

The difference between White Wolf's situation and Mykal Lakim's is there isn't a buffer between the artist and the publisher. There's no art director trying to find commissioned artists who can produce the desired pieces, and has to review dozens or even scores of them. It's possible for something to slip by in that case, because the director isn't looking over the artists' shoulders. That's an important distinction - because, were Mykal Lakim to actually admit fault, it would be admitting to using that specific image as a reference (at the very least) and reveal the whole "my vision" thing as bullshit. It's not Mykal Lakim's vision, it's Campbell's vision that Mykal Lakim modified for his own ends.

But, instead of  addressing that the piece was indeed a thinly-veiled copy of Campbell's iconic cover - something that is as obvious to anyone looking at it as the Hunter image - Mykal Lakim's response was to claim it was a common pose, and how could it be helped if his vision matched that of a completely unrelated comic book cover? Yet, he can totally see that the Hunter and Devil May Cry images are near carbon-copies. That is some hardcore cognitive dissonance there.

"I really wanted Billy's toy, so I just took it, because it matched my vision of me having his toy."

That is a fundamentally different statement than "We didn't realize the artwork was so close to somebody else's. We really should fix that." It seems that, when Dark Phoenix Publishing's unauthorized use of DeviantArt user WildSpiritWolf's tattoo design as well as other swipes of text (documented by +Steven Trustrum  in an album) are taken into consideration, "fair use" for them really means, "If I want to use it, that's fair."

UPDATE 02/27/2013: Since this post was put up, Dark Phoenix Publishing has put up a "Meet Mykal Lakim" page which has several pieces of art, including the copied Gen13 piece, with explanations of the references were and an admonition that he never claimed to own the copyright on the original images. Except that's not what the problem was, it was the fact it was not just referenced but pretty much copied, and he tried to defend it as an original work. That's sort of like having someone fix your plumbing, and and saying you did it all yourself because you tightened up the last pipe. Campbell did all of the preparation to create that image. From the original idea, to rough sketches, to drafts, to finding a model (assuming he used one) - he did the work. This is in addition to all of the hours Campbell has put into perfecting his art. Lakim may have physically drawn his image and made minor adjustments to it, but the "vision" of the image is all Campbell's.

Tracing and copying are an important tool for artists to learn. The key word there is learn, not lean. Good artists who start from references don't blindly copy the reference. They use it as a stepping stone to evolve into something that is totally their own. Removing the color from an image (or starting from a black and white version), removing detail, using a fill, and then adding a couple minor details isn't really what I would call "evolving beyond the original." That just plain laziness, and dishonest to boot.

UPDATE: Just for any of the "haters gonna hate" people out there, here is a comparison of another piece that Mykal Lakim just copied without adding anything of his own:

The irony of that being an almost entirely white wolf is not lost on me

SECOND UPDATE: These images are somewhat old news, and the werewolf one was removed due to excessive nagging about its lack of genitalia (I'd take it down too if people were so focused on's enough to make you feel kind of inadequate). But here are two more "shinning" (to quote Vampire: Undeath) examples:
Making the drawing so crappy the source isn't obvious would have worked if it wasn't for those meddling kids!

Werewolf lacks nads because there weren't nards to trace
UPDATE THE THIRD: It never ends, does it?

Because starting from the middle and working your way out is the way most people draw

UPDATE, EPISODE 4: The werewolf image above was created by Paul Mudie. Paul had this to say on the matter:

You don't know the half of it, man
Apparently, that is what prompted this from Mr. Lakim:

If you didn't ask for permission, beg that you don't get sued

Because Mykal Lakim has blocked and deleted pretty much everything calling his material and methods out, I am also using this post to make sure he understands where I stand with certain statements he and his cohorts are making. With the removal of the image and the thread devoted it to it from Dark Phoenix Publishing's Facebook page, a string of accusations against +Matt McElroy+Steven Trustrum  and myself ranging from defamation to theft to what amounts to conspiracy (in the sense we are "competitors" and are seeking to discredit Mykal Lakim on that basis) have disappeared. His friendly neighborhood sock/shill Mark Smith has since helpfully stepped up with the exact same message directed at Steve Trustrum (UPDATE: and Matt McElroy, too). Both he or Mykal Lakim (if they are different people) should take heed and think twice about what they're saying. Accusations of theft or libel that are unfounded are actually defamation. If he consulted with legal counsel who is telling him otherwise, I'd suggest finding counsel that didn't find their bar exam in a cereal box.

Speaking of cereal box lawyering, the trainwreck came full circle with Mykal Lakim supposedly sending out DMCA notices because of the composite image, on the basis of a toothless disclaimer he put on them about no unauthorized distribution. It's all very Donna Barstow. But, of course, the first recourse of someone who misunderstands free expression and copyright is to try to stifle criticism by using the legal system:

This is also a great example of the Garfield minus Garfield atmosphere in his comment sections
In return for the expected DMCA notice (I'm going to frame it, should I receive one), I offer up my own "vision" of one of Mykal Lakim's works. Unauthorized duplication or copying is highly encouraged.

"Damnation, What a Waste!"  Trollface and text overlayed by Soren, finished using GIMP. 30 minutes. Protected by fair use as satire. If you don't like it, go eat a bag of dicks.