Friday, June 17, 2011

Swiping Then and Now

Swiping: What Does It all Mean?
(and who cares?)

The Internet is the spot for pots calling kettles black, so who am I not to join in?
At right, a cover by Bill Black. Can't identify the original artist from the small pic. Maneely?

When I was a fanboy, denouncing swiping was all the rage. I eagerly joined the attack upon Dan Adkins (who it must be admitted raised the concept to a new high). Then a couple of years later when trying to land an art job--any art job--I included a swiped piece in my pathetic portfolio. One AD obviously smelled a rat. Was it because the swipe was the best piece in the book? At any rate he asked what I reference I used. Caught by surprise I babbled vague nonsense that would have been useful only to a politician. My red face gave me away anyhow. I suspect the AD let me go without further ado because he figured I'd learned my lesson.

This recent cover by David Mack was pulled after a Previews appearance when the swipe was outed

A couple more years passed. I found myself the pasteup artist (remember pasteup artists?) at Learning magazine. The art director was Mike Shenon, a talented designer. I loved Mike and learned volumes from him, but I'm telling no stories out of school to say he could show, er, fits of temper. I saw the Shenon temper explode one day when a young art school grad presented an illustration portfolio that I thought was terrific.Jim Starlin (r) does Esteban Maroto. I swiped this from somebody's site (appropriately enough). Don't remember who...if he kicks I'll remove it.

Mike greeted the guy politely and flipped the first page. But on the second page his face darkened. On the third he pointed at the piece and cried, "This is a steal from Joe Bowler!" [The actual artist I no longer recall, but Bowler is from the right period.] Mike flipped a few more pages, getting angrier with each piece. "And this is Coby Whitmore! And Austin Briggs! What the fuck!?" In the 1960s, despite the hippies, "fuck" was an uncommon word in the office. But the quaking artist had unknowingly delivered the ultimate insult.

"THESE ARE ALL AL PARKER!!!" You see Mike was a passionate fan of Parker--and a good friend of Parker--and the guy who later helped mount retrospectives of Parker's life's work.

Mike slammed the portfolio shut and threw it back at the artist. "Get the hell out of here!" he stormed. "How dare you come in here..." and dissolved into an awful tirade. The artist didn't say a word. He retreated up the stairs as quickly as he could without actually running. Mike needed the rest of the day to calm down.
The real Al Parker. 1946 gouache illustration found at Sam Fox School

But this event wasn't the last word on the subject. In comic books, swiping was common and professionals generally didn't think much about it. As most of you know, Wallace Wood made a joke of it with his famous motto "Don't draw it if you can swipe it, don't swipe it if you can trace it..." etc.

Then there's the matter of drawing from "reference." Artists almost always draw more accurately from photographic (or live, if you can afford it) models. Even more so if he projects a photograph and traces it. Swiping, in a sense, is working from reference. Especially if you're not the best of draughtsmen. Your superhero drawing is better because you "referred" to a drawing by somebody who did it better.

Why do artists swipe? Common reasons seem to be (a) inability to draw the swiped subject; (b) fear that one couldn't draw the subject without swiping it; (c) real or perceived lack of time to do preparatory work for a particular drawing. Most of my swiping arose from (a) and (b). But I did plenty of (c), too. Drawing has always been difficult, especially superhero drawing. Faced with a deadline, an often-erased fight scene, and a stack of Gil Kane comics, the better and quicker result came with the swipe.

The third reason probably informed Wood's swiping. He obviously could draw anything he wanted to, but his studio was constantly cranking out a lot of stuff. "Fast" always trumps "original." But swiping can also become a habit. Before you even sketch out a job, you haul out your scrap. I remember one issue of Daredevil Wood drew in which DD, tied to a vertical post, escaped by shinnying up the post. He did this in a panel swiped from a 1934 Terry and the Pirates panel. Now really...did it actually take less time to fish out an obscure tearsheet to copy than it would have taken Wood simply to draw the scene? Me, maybe. But Wood?

Which brings me in a circle back to the thought that prompted this entry. I have run across some newspaper strip work by one Paul Pinson. In the early 1940s he was among the procession of artists who drew Dan Dunn. I don't think Pinson's work was very good (though it wasn't swiped!).
Googling for information on Pinson, I ran across a site with this interesting piece: an 1947 ad from the New York Art Director's Club Annual for Paul Pinson's humorous illustration.Problem is, here's an illustration by Keith Ward's work for Knopf's edition of Reynard the Fox, published just two years earlier.One of two words describes taking an ad in the Holy Book of American Illustration which exhibits a swipe of a recent--and critically acclaimed--drawing: "chutzpah" or "stupidity."

Here's an ad Pinson put in the Annual in 1952. Is it all his work?That's the ultimate downside of swiping, I guess. Once you are identified as a swipist, you could do the best original drawing of your life and everyone will wonder where you swiped it from.

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