Jack Kirby

Swipe is a comics term that refers to the intentional copying of a cover, panel, or page from an earlier comic book or graphic novel without crediting the original artist.

Artists Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Hergé, and Jim Lee are common targets of swipes (though even ‘The King’ is not above reproach: Kirby was known to have swiped from Hal Foster early in his career, as were many Golden Age artists — many of whom kept ‘swipe files’ of material to be copied as needed).

Certain contemporary artists have become notorious for their swiping, including Rich Buckler (who favors Neal Adams and Jack Kirby), Rob Liefeld (many artists), Keith Giffen (José Antonio Muñoz), and Roger Cruz (Jim Lee and Joe Madureira). There is a long tradition in comics of using fine art as ‘inspiration’ as well. Most observers do not consider this as objectionable as swiping from another cartoonist’s work. Examples include Art Spiegelman swiping an image of the Russian artist M. Mazruho’s in ‘Maus,’ Eddie Campbell swiping Diego Velázquez, and Jill Thompson swiping the work of Arthur Rackham.

Cartoonists have also swiped images from mass media and commercial art. Examples include ‘Batman’ creator Bob Kane repeatedly swiping from early 20th-century illustrator Henry Vallely, Greg Land repeatedly swiping pornography as well as many popular comic book artists, ‘2000 AD’ artist Mick Austin swiping an image of Toni Shilleto’s from ‘Mayfair: Entertainment for Men,’ Jon J. Muth swiping a 1940s photograph, and David Chelsea swiping from Spanish pornography. Sometimes the swiping happens ‘in reverse,’ as in the example of an illustration from ‘Organic Gardening’ magazine swiping the iconic Kirby cover for ‘Fantastic Four #1.’ Swiping brings to mind the amusing conundrum of whether an artist can swipe from himself. One example is two almost-identical ‘Peanuts’ strips by Charles Schulz done almost ten years apart. Another comic strip-related ethics question was invoked by latter-day ‘Nancy’ artists Guy & Brad Gilchrist swiping ‘Nancy’ creator Ernie Bushmiller.

Though not technically swiping, some artists have made a career ‘cloning’ other artists. Phil Jimenez has been quite open about his work being modeled on George Pérez’s, though he has never been accused of directly swiping a Perez drawing. Bryan Hitch started off as an Alan Davis ‘clone.’ Bill Sienkiewicz’s early work was blatantly derivative of Neal Adams, as was Tom Grindberg’s, Michael Netzer (Nasser)’s, and Mike Grell’s. Industry veteran Dick Giordano maintained that cloning is not only acceptable, but actually preferable, when an artist fills in for a regular artist on a title. When cloning becomes direct swiping, however, a line is crossed. In the mid-1990s, during the ‘Image craze,’ Marvel Comics adopted a ‘house style’ hugely derivative of Image superstar (and former Marvel artist) Jim Lee. Marvel encouraged artists like Roger Cruz, Fabio Laguna, Roberto Flores, and Mark Pacella to clone Lee, turning a blind eye to blatant swipes done on a regular basis.

Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein made a splash in the 1960s with his ‘appropriations’ based on the work of Kirby, Russ Heath, Tony Abruzzo, Irv Novick, John Romita, Sr., and Jerry Grandenetti, who rarely received any credit. Jack Cowart, executive director of the Lichtenstein Foundation, contests the notion that Lichtenstein was a copyist, saying: ‘Roy’s work was a wonderment of the graphic formulae and the codification of sentiment that had been worked out by others. The panels were changed in scale, color, treatment, and in their implications. There is no exact copy.’ Comics industry figures don’t have such a sanguine attitude about Lichtenstein’s swipes.

Canadian artist Kevin Mutch once drew an entire comic book entirely based on swipes. Mutch’s 1993 comic ‘Captain Adam’ was a ‘narrative collage’ of images and texts from over fifty separate Silver Age and Bronze Age comics, randomly put together to form an original story. Comics pastiches are blatant uses of swipes, cloning, and appropriation, usually using the same characters as the original source. French-Canadian cartoonist Yves Rodier is known for his many ‘Tintin’ pastiches, as is the anonymously written comic book ‘The Adventures of Tintin: Breaking Free’ (an anarchist parody comic book). In his ‘Masterpiece Comics’ series, American cartoonist R. Sikoryak cleverly mixes exact cloning of famous cartoonists’ styles with classic literary texts, creating unique comics ‘mash-ups.’ Alan Moore and Rick Veitch’s ‘1963’ series is another example of pastiche in comics form, as are the many take-offs of the Charles Atlas ads found in old comic books.

In comics, it is understood that the difference between a ‘swipe’ and an ‘homage’ is generally whether the source is directly acknowledged — as opposed to being exposed by a third party. Throughout the history of the medium, artists have engaged in homages — most often of well-known cover images like ‘Action Comics #1,’ ‘Detective Comics #27,’ ‘Amazing Fantasy #15,’ and ‘Fantastic Four #1.’ (John Byrne is particularly fond of doing homages to the latter, having produced at least seven versions to date.) However, some observers find homages as objectionable as swiping. Since 1991, the industry magazine, ‘The Comics Journal,’ has kept a ‘Swipe File’ which documented perceived swipes in the comics field.

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