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Darby Pops Off: “Why Artists Should Not Sell ‘Fan Art'” by Joel Rivers

Written by Kristine Chester | 38 Comments | Published on January 1, 2016
The content that follows was originally published on the Darby Pop Publishing website at http://www.darbypop.com/darby-pops-offs/darby-pops-off-why-artists-should-not-sell-fan-art-by-joel-rivers/

Art exists in a gray area. Anyone who has ever been to a convention has run across a booth that sold unlicensed fan art: art prints, posters, or on the spot sketches of our favorite characters from pop culture. The question is, when money exchanges hands, is the artist being paid for the work they put into the piece or for the character they “borrowed”? Taking one side of the discussion, our guest for this week, Joel Rivers, presents a multi-faceted argument for why artists should not sell fan art.

Should artists sell fan art or not? Tell us your opinion on Facebook (facebook.com/DarbyPopPublishing), Twitter (@DarbyPopComics), or in the comments below.

Until next time,



As anyone who has attended or exhibited at a comic convention can attest, there is no shortage of artists out there drawing pictures, sketches, pin-ups, etc. of Deadpool, Batman and/or Spider-Man. As someone who’s often working a dealers’ table covered with all-original comics and characters, I can personally attest to the fact that watching those items – especially prints – sell like hotcakes at $20-$50 a pop gets old pretty fast.

Is this me chewing on sour grapes? Probably; I’m the Wilford Brimley of comics. However, what I do is also LEGAL. I own the copyright to my stories and characters. If another writer/artist’s original designs are cooler and plotlines better than mine, so be it: the market has spoken. But, this particular game is rigged, and instead of discovering new concepts and the people who bring them to life, too many fans are engaged instead in something altogether less special, in my not-so-humble opinion. Wait NO, it’s not my opinion… it’s the LAW. If you are replicating someone else’s creation, you’re stealing. And you’re probably giving some people the false impression that you currently draw Spider-Man for Marvel. To those same young and impressionable souls, you are masquerading as something awe-inspiring to them – something you are NOT. We are all ambassadors of comics, and need to take responsibility as such.

Will the monster corporations that actually own all these characters come after the black marketeers anytime soon? Probably not. But, you never know. For my own enjoyment, I often sketch my comic faves. Sometimes I’ll even gift someone a one-of-a-kind piece of original art featuring an icon. But, you will find no mass-produced material for sale at my table if I don’t own the copyright in it. (Yes, I’ve passed up a lot of easy money!). There are so many other subjects from folklore or legend that could serve as inspiration. No one owns Krampus, for example. That is to say, the Nation of Germany or some other country might argue that I am appropriating its culture, but no one company owns the “rights” to Krampus, D’Jinns, Angels, or Zeus. Unlike Mickey Mouse or Tarzan or Bilbo Baggins or the Marvel version of everyone’s favorite hammer-wielding Norse god, Thor.

Question: is it different if the artist in question has WORKED for Marvel and drawn art for dozens of issues  – maybe even designed the costume of a beloved character? He/she should be able to sell prints, right?

Well, no.

If the artist was employed as a “work for hire”, he or she was a hired gun. He/she was most likely paid a “page rate” to draw/duplicate a character which is owned by someone else. Kirby went to his grave not owning Ben Grimm. Or, take the case of writer Gary Friedrich, who famously tangled with Marvel recently, even though he created Ghost Rider. The case was settled with Marvel retaining all rights to that character. Legally, you have no rights to your art after you sign that “Work For Hire” agreement. That is what “Work For Hire” means. Is it fair? Probably not. But, it IS the law. And that legal precedent was applied to an artist – Gary  – who actually worked on the book in question. What about the rest of us?

Well, the short answer is that we have even less business drawing other people’s characters AT ALL, let alone charging fans at a con when we do so. The Graphic Artist Guild suggests, mostly to deaf ears from the looks of it, that no artist should ever work “for hire” for this exact reason. But, people want to draw comics for a living, so the pattern remains. I have, do, and will work “for hire”, because I like to eat food and, without a roof over my head, it might get really tough to draw funny books. Should I? Should we? A topic for another time, methinks.

I’m not arguing for some abstract ideal here, or just for myself. Whenever we go to a comic convention, it should be crystal clear WHEN we’re meeting the actual person who created and/or owns one of these wonderful flights of fancy vs. an imposter. It costs a lot of money to attend and exhibit, and creators sweat blood to bring their small independent books to life. Our characters end up being our children. And after all this effort, we often end up sitting next to “Mr. or Ms. Pinup.” Folks crowd around, not even glancing over at the weird guy with his little books that no one’s ever heard of; the very same “weird guy” that Eric Powell (of The Goon fame) or Robert Kirkman (of The WalkingDead) used to be.

So, for God’s sake, stop drawing stuff you don’t own! Let’s get back to creating our own characters and telling our own stories and stop selling bootleg art! Let the good books rise and the bad ones fall. I’m not against competition; I’m all for it. But, our efforts need to be more transparent if the comics industry is going to be around for the long haul. Respect the law, not because you might get dragged into court and have to hire a lawyer (which IS a good reason!), but because it’s the right thing to do. And don’t completely financially smother us little guys who actual want to share new characters and new creations. With less diversity and the loss of new voices, comics threaten to become a monoculture. None of us want that, especially me and my fellow independent creators, whether we see eye-to-eye on this particular issue or not.

I’m sure there are folks… professional folks with much longer lists of achievements than me, who will disagree. And I truly welcome what is sure to be a respectful dialogue to follow (wink, wink).

See you on the convention floor,

Joel Rivers

Santa Fe, New Mexico







Bio: Joel Zain Rivers is a comic creator, freelance illustrator, storyboard artist, and writer. His Xeric Grant-funded 6-issue black and white miniseries, Along the Canadian, was self-published in 2004-2006. He has gone on to collaborate with Sillywood Animation, an independent animation house. He was 1/3 of the artistic team Out For Justice formed in 2102 in Portland, Maine. He currently illustrates The Girl From Hollywood, a webcomic on the Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. website, and stares at the ceiling at 2 AM thinking about his own comic book stories. He currently lives with his wife in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Title Here? says:

Finally, someone else out there spreading some common sense. The legal aspect is important, but let’s not forget how badly you undermine genuinely creative people when you’re blasting out copyright infringing fan fodder next to all the hard working people who have chosen not to steal to make a living.

Also, to address some comments. Just because I worked for McDonald’s doesn’t mean I should get a royalty on their sales the rest of my life. I don’t have the right to go there and make myself free breakfast whenever I want. You’re not some victim because you work for a major publisher and possibly don’t have rights to sell prints of characters belonging to the company you work for, the company that has invested millions in promoting those characters. If you have a problem with working for hire, don’t work for hire. It’s a hell of a lot easier to go to work and get a paycheck than to make it as a freelancer.

Besides a clear lack of understanding of copyright law in general, there seems to be more when it comes to “transformative” use… which if you’re banking on that to allow infringing behavior, you’re 100%, making a mistake. That is based on the guidelines discussed by a single justice to be used by a single circuit as a means in helping to determine fair use. It has nothing to do with copyright and fair use LAW, and it will almost never validate any infringing behavior. Additionally, when you compare this to song covers, well… don’t. Song covers don’t fall under fair use or any dumb thing like that. The law allows someone to cover a song without getting permission from the copyright owner, HOWEVER, you are still REQUIRED to pay a royalty to a licensing company for distribution of that cover, and that money makes it back to the original artist. It’s not my area of expertise and I don’t remember why you don’t have to get permission, but covering songs still legally means the artist is getting paid for your use of their material, unless you’re not paying the legally required couple of cents per view (or whatever the amount is).

The style of a piece of work isn’t protected by copyright, so you’re version of Batman isn’t unique just because it’s a different style. All derivative work is the exclusive right of the copyright owner anyway, another thing to remember when you go reaching for that “transformative” use crap.

On the idea that copyright infringement is too big a problem to solve, so f*** it. Are you kidding me? That attitude is the fu***ng problem! Also, con exhibitor agreements, especially for big cons, clearly state (in very small print) that you agree not to sell or display unlicensed work and that they are not liable if you do. However, I agree that they need to be more proactive about it.

For the several of you who you mistakenly believe that a commission of an unlicensed character is legal, that’s wrong. I choose to believe you know that’s wrong and you’re just trolling, not a complete moron, but it’s absolutely not true.

For those of you saying fan art is not illegal and is protected by fair use. You’re absolutely right. If you draw for your own personal enjoyment and development, and you never sell your fan art, or DISTRIBUTE IT IN ANY FASHION, like on DA or Facebook or who cares, than yes, it is legal. You can legally sit in private and draw fan art until you pass out. It’s the distribution and/or commercial use of copyrighted material that is illegal.

If you can’t tell if art and story are good, or if you like it, unless it features a licensed character, I’m afraid you’re probably an idiot! Like straight up, should not be allowed to be unsupervised in the tub, because how would you be able to decide if you were drowning unless a ninja turtle told you so. And just because you’re an a***ole that doesn’t care about the laws that protect original artists, and you don’t care if you buy from copyright infringers or not, it doesn’t mean no one should.

A few of you can’t seem to process the simple truth that the rights protecting visual arts don’t apply to things like nature, functional designs, public spaces, buildings, landmarks, etc. That’s unfortunate, but that and the general lack of understanding about the importance of copyright law and protecting original work could be one of the most significant factors contributing to this issue.

I just want to stress again, because it’s so deeply troubling that anyone could believe this – If someone comes up to you and asks you to draw Spider-man (or whoever), and you don’t have a license to draw Spider-man (or whoever), that’s illegal. Flat out. There is no law that specifies copyright infringing with commissions is okay, but copyright infringing with prints is bad. That’s basically fu***ng ridiculous. And again, no, there is no law that says you can’t draw Spider-man (or whoever). The law says you’re not allowed to distribute, use commercially, or personally fiscally benefit from the use of copyrighted materials without permission from the copyright holder. And since it seems to be a unclear to some people – distribute means share, or publicly display.

I’m generally not engaging on the matter of what the fan art landscape looks like. I’m not discussing a culture of acceptance by fans or companies. I’m not commenting on the value or benefit of copyright infringement, or if it can outweigh the risks. Distributing and/or selling unlicensed fan art is illegal. As a freelance professional artist and designer, I’ve studied copyright law for nearly a decade, so if you’re thinking about “setting me straight”, I’m not interested in what will most likely be an idiotic response and most likely cite an unreliable source. Just stating the obvious for anyone who has doubts.

For the record, I personally feel that the private creation of fan art is a hugely beneficial endeavor for personal enjoyment and development. It doesn’t mean everyone (read, “anyone”) needs to see it. For the record, I think the sale and distribution of unlicensed fan art at conventions hugely undermines every genuinely creative vendor exhibiting and is a selfish, manipulative exploitation of the attendees. I think the lack of accountability by the con and/or copyright holders for fraudulent behavior is the reason there is so much confusion and/or misinformation about copyright law and fan art. For anyone who had questions or doubts, I hope I helped. For anyone I offended, that’s because you’re either ignorant of the law or just a terrible person, but feel good knowing both of those things can be resolved.

Dan Hosek says:

To Eric Armstrong: You’re right that there isn’t a law against drawing a picture of another person’s character. The problem is when you make money from selling pictures of another person’s character without their permission. That is absolutely against the law. The purpose of a copyright is to protect creators and allow them to make money for themselves before the property moves into the public domain. Now, we can have a debate about the ridiculous length that a copyright lasts, but that’s a whole other argument.

Eric Armstrong says:

It isn’t the law. There is no law against drawing a picture of a character. The law is against telling a story with someone else’s character.

Ethan says:

What you say is true, but you have to play to the market and the people are engaged in an endless circle jerk with popular media and will not show interest in anything new until it has been deemed cool by the masses. Being a geek is mainstream after all and mainstream has always been about wanting to fit in.

I lose my ass selling just my own work. I’m starting to think that cons should 100% enforce a no-licensed-character ban at all times! We’d have to choke the artist alleys down to half their size and also have cheaper tables, but it would be better quality.

Roland says:

Excellent article and some very good responses.
To: Nassar:
There is a difference between an original piece of art (sketch or drawing or whatever you want to call it) and PRINTS. If a fan walks up to you and asks you to draw a Spider-Man in their sketch book OR asks to buy the original you have on your table…that isn’t illegal. However, if you have PRINTS of Spider-Man for sale at your table, THAT is illegal. You do not have the right to make those prints.
To: 2fvch8:
A “local” band can play Led Zepplin in their garage or at a bar and that is legal. They can NOT, however, RECORD that same song without acquiring the proper rights.

MANY artists have been hired by Marvel and DC by just “doing their own thing.” It’s usually a STYLE of art that the editor looks at. Often what then happens is said editor would request “sample pages” from that artist to see how they might handle a given character. Almost no artist, however, ever gets hired because of their ability to do pin-ups.

Dave says:

Artists draw and paint buildings designed by architects, Cars and clothes by designers, a land scape you could argue if religious was created by god lol as long as it the artists hand and take on the subject is true and unique to the ability of the artist I don’t see a problem with Fan art. People have to start and learn somewhere from some world occupied reference.

I make original comics and I do really well at Conventions. I sell roughly 100 issues per. Con. I also normally have my tables sponsored so I’m not paying for the table. I also have national distribution that makes my cost per unit much lower than most of my peers. But I’ve been on the other side of that too. And when you’re paying $2.49 plus for a 20 page comic you’re going to sell for $3.99 (to be competitive) and you have to pay for your table ( which costs are ridiculous now a days) along with food lodging etc. even IF you’re selling 100 books per convention you’re gunna lose money.

Now a fan artist, and I know a LOT and I’ve done it a few times to bring in extra money pays $1.25 on a print they’re gunna sell for $15.00. And most of them aren’t even going to put an original spin on it. They’re just going to straight copy and sell. Is this right? No. Does it work? Yes. Is that what 80% of Artist Alleys are filled with? Yes. Is anyone going to stop it? No.

Let’s say they did. Suddenly everyone enforces their copyright. No fan art, and all those professional Cosplayers can’t sell pics of themselves dressed as everyone’s favorite characters. Attendance goes down a little, not much, because people go mostly to see the celebs, and they’ll still be able to buy licensed Merch of all their favorite characters. Price will go down on Artist Alley tables for sure. So then you’ll just be competing with other Indy artists right? No.

People are going to buy what they wanna buy regardless of the competition. Your stuff that isn’t selling now probably wouldn’t sell much better under these new circumstances. Why? I don’t know, I haven’t heard your pitch or read your comic.

Fan Art and Cosplayers and all of my competition don’t bother me. Please please please come at me with everything that you’ve got! I want to outsell you, I want to make a better product than you. That’s how I get better. But that’s just me.

Some guy says:

You equivocate ‘law’ with ‘good’ without explaining how or why the law is good. So it’s a nice sentiment, but it’s just a few paragraphs whining about people breaking laws with no meat to it. Next time at least give a reason why anyone should follow unenforced laws. Like actually explaining why the law in question is ‘good’.

Unjustified assertions deserve to be dismissed without argument.

“And you’re probably giving some people the false impression that you currently draw Spider-Man for Marvel.”
Unlikely. Unless you’re going to different cons than I am, but the majority of the “young and impressionable”
crowd is there because of cartoons and toys that they like, not comics. This crowd also comes with their parents,
who will tell them that you’re not drawing Spider-Man for Marvel.

On top of that…who are you? Exactly. I’ve never heard of you. So guess what I’m unlikely to do should I ever see you at a con?
Exactly. Why would I spend money on characters I’ve never heard of, by artists that I’ve never seen before?

Let me give you a golden example. Comfort Love and Adam Withers have been at cons for a long time. They sell “bootleg art” as you call it.
I’ve bought prints from them in the past, and last year, when they had their massive Rainbow in the Dark trade, they pitched it
and I bought it up. As did my cousin. In fact I gave them the LAST OF MY MONEY to get that book. I also bought their new first issue
“redux” of their first series The Uniques. Come to find out that the original version of The Uniques is available by way of print-to-order.
So I spend EVEN MORE money to get that book, and once the redux is complete, I’ll be buying that collected edition as well.

If they had just shown up with that book, it’s likely that I’d have written it off as “just another superhero book” and went on my
merry way. But here we are, couple hundred bucks deep, and I continue to buy from them.

The same holds true for other artists. There are artists who sell your “bootleg” art, if they put out a book TOMORROW, without a plot outline or description would have my money – Jonboy Myers, Franchesco!, Studio M, Adam Hicks, Angel Medina, Chris Williams, and countless others!

In today’s market, where every dollar counts, I’m less likely to buy art from people whose art I don’t know. If I can’t take a look at how you
handle Spider-Man, Batman, or another iconic character, what guarantee do I have that your book is well-done? At least with an artist that demonstrates
their skill with existing characters, I have an idea of the quality of work going into it.

Looking at your site, I see some possible appeal to your art for myself. Looking at the artwork, I am perhaps interested, but honestly your Dr. Strange
is not to my liking, which brings down your appeal. A book called “Along the Canadian” is just not up my alley, nor are westerns. If we’d had an established
relationship where I bought a art from you, the sales pitch would be easier. From a strict business perspetcive you have to get that.

All this talk of “The Law” is bit annoying, honestly. I go to cons to buy art. Not characters, not copyrighted material, art. Artist alley is 95% of my draw to any convention. And yes, I want to see characters I know being drawn. The pre-made print simply makes affordable something that I would be able to do only infrequently – commission an artist to draw what I want. It’s far from this Wild West of bandits andoutlaws, and more of a convenince.

Shawn says:

Ironically , how many people got jobs in the industry BECAUSE they were doing fan art of certain characters and properties?

That and I’m rebellious. I don’t like people telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing as an artist.

There is another aspect of it beyond the legal aspect… Does drawing fan art make you a better artist? Does it help you grow, or does it stunt you. I would argue the latter.

Creativity is something that experience and study can nurture. No matter how much fun it may be to draw a familiar character like Sonic the Hedgehog, drawing someone else’s set of creative decisions isn’t going to help you come up with better characters yourself. Cartooning in general is plagued by imitation today, and innovation is in very short supply. Copying existing characters isn’t going to put you ahead of the game.

Bob Dylan once said, “Everybody wants to be Bob Dylan. They watch me and play my songs. But that isn’t how you become a Bob Dylan… The best way to study me is to study the things I study. My roots go back over a century to Steven Foster.” There is a lot of truth in that quote. The best an imitation can achieve is to be *almost* as good as the original. Who wants to be *almost* as good?

The only way for cartooning, animation, movies… any creative endeavor… to improve is for it to evolve and grow and move into new territory. Turning off your brain and re-creating a Ditko drawing for a fan doesn’t move the medium an inch forward. On the contrary, it is an anchor dragging it down.

kino says:

As an illustrator starting out at conventions, and as someone who has sold fanart, these things do bother me.

I\’ve been to anime conventions for the past ten years of my life (not really as much of a hardcore fan anymore, just finally getting good enough to sell art and it feels great to be behind a table).

Two things- these aren\’t just justifications fyi – but a lot of fan art is just completely accepted by most con-goers. I\’ve had a handful of people shake their heads at me (mostly confused parents being dragged around by their over-zealous homestuck tween children). But most \’customers\’ are >18 years old and the baseline reaction is OOH IT\’S THE THING, MUST HAVE. They don\’t care, they just solely gravitate to what they recognize.

When you sell at conventions there is a lot of chatting and networking with your fellow artists. And I\’ve heard this time and again- for people of ALL skill levels, no matter how dang talented they are, it is incredibly common to hear \”original artwork doesn\’t sell\”. It\’s practically a mantra. You will always find someone bemoaning about how nobody wants their zine, or a well crafted OC image.

Unless you are an incredibly popular internet artist / semi-famous web comic creator you\’re gonna have a bad time with original content. And it\’s depressing. I continuously hear the advice \”only bring 5 copies of OC prints, 10 at most\”. It\’s not just the consumer demand but in the fan art community it\’s actively dissuaded and perpetuated.

When I was young, I thought absolutely nothing of it. I even bought art pieces based off of small indie properties… stuff where the original creator made little money and probably would NOT want artwork being sold this way. I regret it.
Now, as I\’m getting older, I\’m realizing that fan art really stunts your artistic growth. It\’s devoting 10s of hours of your time on someone else\’s success. Fan art is great and fun for self-promotion.. but the labor intensive paintings most con artists make… I too wish that I could see that time devoted to more unique visions.

But it\’s very risky. When you are just starting out like me- a general nobody- I go to conventions to get my name out there. And fanart is the best way to get attention. There\’s an \”Everyone there is doing it, who cares\” vibe. Once the general acceptance is gone, things will change! But it may take a while.

Getting a table at a convention is expensive and risky!! If you are selling at a convention, there is a certain quantity of desperation. If you\’re drawing comic / cartoon art / anime art (ESPECIALLY anime) – it\’s not like you have an amazing freelance career. It\’s the one moment you could make a lot of money off of something you\’re passionate about, rather than slaving over cheap commissions. And it is understandable why most people succumb to fan art.

Seriously though- \’original artwork doesn\’t sell\’ is a very strong message sent by the consumers and creators alike. A simple \”Yeah! c\’mon guys! You can do it!\” isn\’t enough to change things. If anything- if someone is selling original artwork- they probably won\’t make enough to sustain themselves and they will eventually disappear from the con scene altogether. (Likely before enough artistic progress and recognition is gained to sustain them)

The silver lining is that most artists go 50/50 with OC / fanart (like some kind of illegal training wheels) and if they hopefully \”make it\” they will stop fanarting and will get recognition for their original creations. I\’ve been seeing more original art booths as the years have gone by.

TL;DR – Fan art is a tool used by fledgling artists, mostly young artists, to get enough attention and recognition to get started. Again- this does NOT justify any illegal sales, but it\’s such a commonplace (and widely accepted) occurrence that you have to do it just to survive and keep going to cons.
My argument is this – fan art HELPS get new, fresh artists to the forefront. Amazing artists you might have never known probably got where they were because of fanart and that it allowed them to travel and gain exposure. Not that it\’s exactly a necessary evil, moreso an unfortunate response to con culture that makes it pretty dog eat dog out there.

Believe in the fan artists that are still making room for original art at their table. Original art is a financial risk that some people can\’t really afford to take. (Some people are so afraid of the crushing disappointment of not selling a single OC piece, they don\’t even try at all)

On the flip side- if money is no issue then you should DEFINITELY be creating original art because why not??? For the other 90% it\’s just a dream. Just some food for thought.

Nasser Montes says:

So Joel Rivers, you’re going to tell me that a sketch of Starfire and Nightwing from George Perez, characters he co-created and I bought from him is an infringement of copyright?

Yeah you better check the latest on copyright law at your nearest library.

These artist are not doing any infringement in the eyes of the law. These are sketches, they are not massed produced and claiming to be commissioned on any scale.

Even when John Byrne does a commission, he doesn’t claim a copyright on the characters he’s drawing. Because of work for hire, artist need to find others means supplement their income. So much so, it has become an INDUSTRY PRACTICE. Do you understand what that means? It is an accepted way of doing things.

The characters get exposure, the publisher is happy, makes another book about character, because an artist does a sketch or two foe the FANS. the geeks who pay for this stuff.

You’re an idiot

rkrugg says:

Joel is exactly right, and none of the dissenting comments actually challenge his assertions. Instead, they just shrug and say, “Oh, well, the market determines the morality of the issue.”

It’s a sad case.

As a printer we’re trying to support the original works but are also struggling to be heard and taken notice off as people, with their tunnel vision, keep flocking to the monopoly. Everyone seems to be more concerned with getting big than being authentic and unique and a breath of fresh air.

As for the people with the “It is what it is” mentality no, wrong! It is what you make it.

Lucas says:

Great article! It’s great to see many designers committed to value and keep alive the soul of the characters and their true creators. There must be a place in history for these Super Fans.

Jacqueline Segura says:

Until convention owners step up to the plate and refuse to sell tables to these types of people, I don’t see fan art leaving the con scene.

Max Haynes says:

Here’s a framework- when a work of art gets transmitted and transmuted into other products besides the original work, the artist, or the copyright owner, in effect, crowds the market space, like a tree overshadows the forest floor, leaving no light for young trees to grow in. It’s not the artist’s fault that their work is so popular that it pushes out the would-be ceramic bowl, napkin, lunch box, bed sheet or album cover designers, never mind the budding comics artists. But at some point the only recourse left for the other artists to survive is to copy what is selling. The economy is going to get much much worse, and artists are going to suffer as much or more than other industries. Where to then?

Chris Veal says:

Fact is People that go to these cons want to see other artist takes on these things and characters. I get what the article is say but would you really want to walk into a con art show and see a bunch of random characters you had no stories or investments to go along with the art? These artist are keeping interest in characters alive…. I’ve also seen fan artist end up getting hired by the companies that own the rights to the characters after seeing their work so yeah.. quit being a little bitch about it lol

Joel Rivers says:

Thanks everyone for reading!

This surely effects us all and we have all sold sketches at cons in the past if we have been around for years. I’ve done it. We pretty much all have. After Marvel “made and example” of Gary Friedrich with Ghost rider it was a clear trumpet sound for us all to hear: sell merchandise with our IP at your peril, whether you are a pro or not. Mostly copyright law is an illustrator’s and commercial artist’s friend- it protects OUR intellectual property and makes sure, legally speaking, that if people use our creations they need to pay us or suffer the consequences. I highly recommend the Graphic Artist Guild website as to all of this. They are advocates for artists and have so much absolutely necessary information. The real issue here I think is education and a lot of pro artists are freelance business people, and as one of those I can attest that I didn’t start with all the facts. It’s an contineous ongoing process of self-education. It never ends.

To Jason,

Thanks for reading. I unschooled person drawing Spider-Man isn’t exactly the same thing as a pro drawing him for someone of for their own enjoyment I suppose, but from a legal standpoint there isn’t a whole lot of difference. I think if it is the exception in your portfolio not the rule and you are not selling prints of it. You’re probably O.K. then. But always be aware that just because a law isn’t being enforced doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. That’s literally what happened to Gary Friedrich when he sold prints of Ghost Rider. He even created that character BUT while working for hire for Marvel. Does that help clarify the issue a little? I’m just trying to educate and protect my fellow artists here. We can have differing styles, interests, goals, but we are governed and protected by the same laws and should have the same moral code of common self-interest balanced with professionalism.

To the “Just Business” and “I need to make money crowd”. I understand that you need to make a living. I drew 120 colored and lettered pages last year. It didn’t make me rich. I also drove over 3,000 miles to a new state, found a new place to live all while meeting my deadlines. You probably made as much or MORE just selling your prints of batman, sketch covers, etc. and I guarantee you put in less work into your prints then I did on my pages. Who’s the smarter business person? Maybe you are right in some purely capitalistic sense. We all need to make money. I’m sure you have your pro gigs and the other stuff is basically gravy: it probably pays for your Con table and plane ticket to the Con. I understand the “bottom line” more than most. I’ve been doing this for 16 years. You are still living dangerously, which if it was just effecting you and you alone would be fine- be a cowboy! Live life dangerously. But you are mudding the waters, making us all look unprofessional really, and you’re breaking the law. It’s not really taking the “moral high ground” to say simply that maybe, just maybe we should stop lying to children who all want to be comic book artists that we have something to do with these characters-that’s what they are going to think. To me that’s the clincher. They don’t know you, or understand all of this behind the scenes differences. They are in awe and we are their real-life heroes. We need to be worthy of that, the law helps regulate everything, but we should do the right thing not because otherwise we’ll go to jail. We need to do the right thing because otherwise we are really not reflecting on our profession in a positive way.

As to “sour grapes”, yes, I already admitted to that.

Peace to all!



RT Earll Jr says:

Interesting….why then do the comic companies not sue? MONEY….they know that the artists that draw their comic books need to make more money and they are not willing to pay them more per page….even Neil Adams sells prints of Batman that he did for DC…for a whopping amount signed…but DC isn’t suing him for copying Batman….why? Because they want Neil to draw for them again…While he didn’t create Batman he did create a distinct look for him…
would I buy a low quality print from an artist at a convention unless he was my favorite artist and I had money to blow. It is the same as illustrators for the covers of scifi books but they retained the rights to their images like Frazetta and Jeff Jones and others…I bought their posters and such in the 1970s…I am an H.S.art teacher including Advanced Placement It is my responsibility to curtail plagiarism and copying others work without originality …comic books is what got me into art…I could make an argument that all the comic art is derivative of past artists and styles if they are any good.

I don’t knock anybody for chasing the cash cow of fandom which has been, and always will be fan art. It’s pretty much a given that it isn’t going to change…ever. I’m just glad, and I think a little happier than most that I am just one of those weird guys sitting in the corner with his weird little comic book ZOMBIE SUB-920.

CS says:

Great article! I don’t think it’s sour grapes to be disgusted with infringers. It’s no different that legitimate stores being angry if someone’s selling the same goods cheaper because they were stolen. Or good contractors not liking that bad ones under cut them by doing jobs cheap but taking serious shortcuts. Ultimately, buyers need to care and stop buying it, but I don’t know how you make that happen. Every creative industry has the same problem, with people wanting what’s famous, and being willing to stab the real creator in the back to get some cheap/free copy. How does one solve the problem of a large segment of the population being idiots? I do my own original stuff, too, and my buyers tend to appreciate that sort of thing. I’d hate to waste my talent on copying someone else’s stuff. I have too many of my own ideas to go that direction. That is the sad thing about fan art, you wonder if they have no original thoughts, or if they just don’t know what they are because they never tapped into them?

MattFrank85 says:

I do think there’s a major gray area here, but the simple fact is that, without my forced association with the Godzilla franchise, I wouldn’t have gotten a job with them, and thus wouldn’t be where I am now. And let’s be honest, nobody gives a shit about anything I do other than Godzilla. If I tried to do nothing but original work, I’d starve to death in the street.
There’s a lot of conjecture and assumptions in this article. Rivers seems to be making a lot of blanket statements with no real solutions. Sure, it’d be NICE if we could all survive on our own merits, but the unfortunate fact is that many of us rely on fanart to make a living. Does that make it right? Not really. And I think there’s certainly a matter of degrees when claiming something is “yours” vs doing fanart of a well-known character. The people who actually think I “created” Godzilla (and yes, there have been a few) aren’t really the sort of reliable audience that’s going to make or break Toho’s profits.

2fvch8 says:

So let me get this article’s stance correct, by relating it to a different art form: The next time I pay to go see a local band and they play a cover song I am supposed to boo them and walk out? “Technically” they are making money from unlicensed copy-written material, but hey the LAW is the law, and we are all law abiding citizens, so we should boo them and walk out. The original songwriters may be honored that someone is promoting their creation by promoting it through their filter, and the record company is making so much money off of the original creation that they could care less about the potential infringement upon their “legal” copy-write, but that does not matter because the law is the law and we should boo them, and walk out, even though they were totally awesome?

Back to the “law” in regards to visual art copy-write: just a small amount of research into the topic will show that the Fan Art debate falls into such a HUGE spectrum of legal grey area that even lawyers cringe at the thought litigation into this kind of “copy-write” case. Larger amounts of research will show: as long as the material is “transformative” in any way it falls into the category of parody, which is 100% LEGAL. It is proving that the material is indeed transformative that gives the lawyers the nightmares.

Some fan artist’s are not transformative, and actually plagiarize, which is the “fine line” that gets crossed.

I hope that helps everyone. =^)

My understanding has always been that, if you’ve drawn a character professionally, you’re allowed by the publisher to draw that character at conventions because it’s good publicity for them (although maybe that needs to be legally formalised now – there’s been a lot of talk about this lately). If you’ve not drawn a particular title but you are a working professional, and somebody asks you to draw their favourite character, I dunno – I’d feel like a heel telling some kid that I won’t do it. It’s tricky. I do agree that it’s time that there were some agreed-upon rules that everybody knows, though – artists and punters both.

EquinoFa says:

So far most of what the article says is endorsing fan art rather than to unsell it.

My observation is that there are fans to specific characters, they buy everything from Harley-Quinn for example. In my opinion when they have everything bought legal vendors have to offer, DC has made their cut. What happens at conventions is the aftermarket. When an artist has sold his artwork on the primary market he can watch other people get rich selling his work on the secondary market for three or more times the value. In comics other mechanics do work, but when an artist offers mashups or fanart, he actually does supply a demand of the aftermarked and not infringe a right in the first place – because the demand was created by the copyright owner and from there it goes down to individual artists.
The copyright owner can only tolerate what happens and decide from case to case what happens.

I believe it is time for a new worldwide copyright law. What volume does it speak that an official artist of i.e.: Marvel or DC has to do fanart at a Con to cover expenses and infringe copyright by doing so? And what sense does it make to work in a company for more than 30+ years and once you quit, you own nothing, not even the right to sell some sketches or fanart as an official employed or contracted artist? In every other business this would be considered as utter nonsense but artists accept this bullshit.

Sure you were paid for this, you could argue, but then you only accepted a contract. Changing the term of the contract is what matters – but less and less artists have the balls to negotiate on this.

antman says:

I have no compunctions about what kind of artist I am. I do fan art almost exclusively. I have always loved the comic world but have no desire to ever draw comic books or anything. I also understand that there is a intellectual property or copyright issue involved but I feel my work usually consists of popular characters done in a one shot form. For example I recently did a portrait of Harley Quinn from DC comics but she did not come from the pages of any published book. Rather I took my own sketch and Incorporated a variety of looks into my own piece.
Now do I own the rights to rights to that character or whatever? Of course not. But thats not going to stop me from expressing my love and adoration for the stories and characters through paint.
I do beleive that the point of this article is from the viewpoint of the creators of these characters that have perhaps seen an over- saturation in fan art in the convention circuits that they would have us create our own characters and stories. But they also have the liberty of looking at this from a creator/ intellectual proprietor standpoint.
And they would be right to judge us as they actually own those beloved characters. I merely try to pay humble homage to the creations, stories, and characters that have brought me endless joy throughout my childhood on through today.
I do consider it more hero worship through the heroes villians that they (the creators) have created.

I have created “Fan Art” as doodles etc. and posted on social media, they also seem to get a lot of “Likes” but original creations from one’s own creative vocabulary is where it’s at for me.

That being said, a professional comic artist drawing Spider-Man wouldn’t necessarily be considered “Fan Art” even though they were not the individual(s) who created Spider-Man would it? In the posters I create for RiffTrax I am creating images of movie stars etc. but I wouldn’t consider that “Fan Art” either. Portraiture in a way or Commercial Art… It’s a grey area indeed. I honestly don’t think anyone has crossed any lines or “bootlegged” anything by selling sketches of Spider-Man or any other character. It’s less interesting to me but I don’t have any issues with people doing it. If they were to publish a Spider-Man comic to sell on their own then they obviously have and will most likely be sued.

J LaFlamme says:

There\’s a gallery that sells ugly art. No knowledgeable collector would step inside. Why? Because the smucks that buy these $10,000 pieces know NOTHING about art. So, instead of educating them, the gallery gives them what they want. Is it an art gallery or just another business?

WA says:

I’m a cartoonist. I agree with the above. I legally copyright my work with the copyright office in Washington DC.

Rich says:

Great article. Yeah, it is SO frustrating to see all those prints in con-goers hands, instead of my comic or any indie creation for that matter. I’ve been so tempted to join in but have resisted so far! One way for the BIG 2 to crack down on this in a easy way for them is to sue the Con organizers and make them police their own Cons.

Klagathor McNoggins says:

You’re absolutely right: That does sound like sour grapes

Michael Kasinger says:

This is some great insight on a subject that has been a increasing issue at conventions.

I think some of the problem lies in the cost of doing conventions that make most of these artist take the easy route to cover their cost. Comic convention have changed alot over the last few years. I remember when artist alley was filled with guy’s doing their own stuff, but now it is a print heaven. I myself have even fell into trying to do the prints and stuff. I never really liked doing so stopped and taking a different approach to shows.

I did think if publishers would sell a limited print agreement to artist that do shows would help everyone make money and be legal.

Another problem I see is most people attending shows now are not comic book fans. They are there for the celebrities from the tv shows or movies. And artist alley is aa afterthought at most conventions and never see as much traffic as the rest of the show. So I can understand why some choose to do what they do.

Michael Kasinger

David Hahn says:

Not many \”moral high ground\” articles do it for me, bu this one is right on the nose.
For me, prints have never been any sort of mainstay of my convention booths, but when I had room, I would sell a selection of 3-4 out of 6 prints that I have created. I can easily see the appeal of selling prints- they are evergreen and have a wide profit margin. I\’ve only ever had about 6 prints, and of those prints, two were unlicensed characters from titles I drew multiple books of (Spider-Man/Mary Jane, and the Fantastic Four. The third unlicensed print was of No Face and Chihiro from Spirited Away). Needless to say, the Spirited Away print always sold and sold fast. I must admit, I always had an empty feeling when I sold that print. At least with my original prints, or the Marvel ones, people wanted them because I drew them and was a (very small) contributor to the lore of those characters in an official capacity. The Spirited Away print sold because people like the character/movie, and had nothing to do with me or my art. I always felt a little sleazy when I sold that one. It is now permanently out of my rotation, and I will likely do the same with the other Marvel prints. I don\’t need to sell prints to make my money, so if I\’m going to sell them at all, why not sell my own creations? Thanks Joel, now go to the Cowgirl Cafe and eat a Frito pie for me.

David Hahn

Mikey says:

I need to make money at cons. That’s the idea. I have original comics andvtrades and trades. Nobody buys them. Sketch cards are my money makers and people want Deadpool and Harley Quinn and Baby freakin’ Groot. I don’t do cons to lose money. It is what it is.

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