On Legacys

Lore, once responsible for Brunching Shuttlecocks, and now responsible for a half dozen things all linked at his blog, has posted a marvelous little opinion which does a very good job of explaining why I hold opinions which make me seem utterly unfeeling towards “artist’s rights.” 



 

Fifth July?Two Thousand Five,?A Quarter to Eleven in the Morning 
I have no objective proof of this, but I get the feeling we’ve reached a watershed in webcomics. Judging from various rumblings, postings, counter-postings, and other online byproducts of creativity, I think the current generation of webcomic artists have realized that their traffic and income is leveling off. In other words, they’ve peaked. And I think in response they’re starting to think about their legacy, how their comic will be remembered fifty or a hundred years from now. 
Unfortunately, some of them — I’m not naming names here — seem to feel that preserving their legacy means denigrating, insulting, or even wiping out comics that have even the vaguest resemblance to theirs. If a comic has a similar art style, a similar premise, or even similar props, then there is great huffing and puffing and resentment. In justifying this pettiness, they invoke their legacy. They don’t want their work to be buried and forgotten in a sea of imitators. 
There’s a lot to be said about the issue, but I want to send one message out to those facing it. Those imitators? They are your legacy. A bunch of people are going to imitate you. Some of them will pay respect, others will look away and say “Resemblance? I don’t see any resemblance.” Some will make crap, and others will learn from what you’ve done, expand on it, and even improve on it. And the generation after that will see the comics they love, see where the comics they love got their inspiration, and recognize you for pioneers. And that’s your legacy. 
Just look at history. Look at Jack Kirby. It would be hard to come up with a comic artist who has been more widely imitated. Up until manga hit the mainstream in the US, he was the heart and soul of superhero comics in America, even after his death. The medium was, and in many ways still is, glutted, absolutely stuffed with people influenced by him, in some cases three or four times removed, but still traceable back to the visual vocabulary he created. Whether this has been good for comics is debatable, but it’s been great for Kirby’s legacy. 
Or, to poke our heads outside comics for a moment, look at rock and roll. If Chuck Berry and Little Richard had cut their songs in the current legal climate, they might have been able to sue rock and roll out of existence. Riffs, screams, moves, style, themes, and in some cases their entire act was lifted indelicately from them. It must have been difficult to see their style appropriated, and in many cases diffused, but after all is said and done if nobody had dared build on their style they wouldn’t be known as rock and roll pioneers, they’d be known as momentarily popular musicians in an obscure offshoot of boogie-woogie. 
I can understand the frustration, the desire to make sure that if nobody but you gets profit and popularity from a style and attitude you came up with. I can see how you’d want to keep doing what you’re doing for the next few decades, without seeing young upstarts capturing the hip cred you once had, and especially without them doing it by using some of the same techniques you developed. But that’s not how the world works, and maybe grumbling about it won’t hurt your legacy, but it certainly won’t help. 

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