Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

February 22, 2012

“That Thing We Have No Plans To Do? We Sort Of Already Do That.”

The blogger Graeme McMillan caught that the artist Sean Gordon Murphy had a recent tussle with Marvel over a small run of art books he made featuring the Marvel character Wolverine. Murphy had made a bunch of sketchbooks to give to friends and industry folk featuring a kind of alphabet primer with their character Wolverine; when he sold the remainder, he was pursued by Marvel lawyers not to merely stop doing this but to turn over the work to the company without recompense. As McMillan points out, this seems dangerously close to the idea that the Disney-owned subsidiary will now pursue artists doing sketches and personal drawings of Marvel characters in various Artists Alley set-ups at convention -- a big worry after the veteran writer Gary Friedrich was presented with a bill for his efforts making con sales based on the Ghost Rider character, and something the company's executives denied would happen, at least as far as there being no planned change in policy in terms of an active pursuit of this material.

As Murphy's experience underlines, there already seem to be policies in place for what calls "short run collectibles" in an article about the matter here. And while a small run of a book isn't the same thing as a personalized sketch, that is going to seem to many a difference of degree rather than kind. The veteran artist Tony Harris has declared he's out of the licensed character sketching business as of now.

I don't think anyone would claim that artists have some sort of right to make these sketches or to make short run collectible items, and I'm sure that for many in comics pointing that out in as blunt a fashion as possible will be the extent of any debate on the issue. The practice has gone on for quite some time and is an ingrained part of the money-making array available to a lot of artists in a field that can't really boast of full, satisfying employment for its talent pool. There's also the chance for some perceived PR damage to enforcing such a policy -- and to what degree -- and in reaction to the kind of hair-splitting that comes with announcements that the company really doesn't go after this kind of thing when from an artist's perspective it seems they do. It may also change the convention experience for a lot of fans. While the Image Expo is the next convention on deck, it's Charlotte's Heroes Con that will be the place to see if this has a wide-ranging effect or just a limited one; Heroes is a convention with a huge tradition of sketch-making of just that kind.
posted 4:00 am PST | Permalink

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