Thursday, June 14, 2007

When Is Original Art Not By The Original Artist?

When is original art not drawn by the original artist? When it's been totally redrawn by another person for whatever reason. The art you're seeing on the left in this post is the original cover art for the Justice League Annual #1. According to the Grand Comic Database, the cover was penciled by Bill Willingham and inked by Joe Rubinstein. Funnily enough there's people who know that those credits aren't entirely the truth. You see, although Willingham did pencil (and ink) the original cover, the final product wasn't his work at all (as an aside, I like Willingham's work and wish he was used more in mainstream comics).

Shortly after I wrote the first of the posts about recreation versus copying I was contacted by a person whom I shall call The Former DC Staffer. The Former DC Staffer worked mainly in the production department and oversaw a lot of changes to various pieces of art. I've been in contact with him for about two years now, he's a damn nice guy, and I have no reason to doubt what he tells me - he has no axes to grind (unusual in the comic book industry) and often has given me some interesting insights to how the whole business was run back in the '80s and '90s. He has some highly interesting stories, many of which I'll now begin to share, but for now let's stick to this one.

The Former DC Staffer had this to say about art recreations; "The strangest job I did was one I really didn’t have to do at all. The cover to Justice League Annual #1 was penciled and inked by Bill Willingham. The problem was that he wasn’t supposed to ink it. My job was to recreate the pencils and turn it over for inking. I have no idea why Willingham didn’t want to re-pencil the piece (and I did ask) but I accepted the job and went to work. I wasn’t a big fan of Willingham and trying to understand his anatomical structure and layout was hard. I also couldn’t figure out his lighting of the piece. That all of the figure action took place with no background to give it a foundation didn’t help either. Eventually I went for his line work and tried to get a sense of what was going on underneath his ink work. I should point out that I thought the inks were fine. After I completed the job I realized I actually like Bill Willingham’s line work a lot. It had a messy, cluttered look about it that gave the figures a realistic and crazed appearance.

"The next time I saw the cover Joe Rubinstein had inked it and believe me that was a real thrill!

"In the end the cover reflected the artist and that’s what any good restoration has to do."

So there you have it. The final product was totally re-penciled by The Former DC Staffer, and inked by Joe Rubinstein. Line for line. I have no idea who owns the original cover art now, but there's potentially two versions out there - the original by Willingham and the recreated version by The Former DC Staffer and Rubinstein. I'd love to be able to say that this is an isolated case but trust me, it isn't.

During the course of researching the Andru & Esposito book I contacted a vast number of people, some of which shared with me some very interesting stories. I mentioned to one artist that I was about to contact a Former Marvel Writer/Editor and the artist laughed. "Ask him about his original art collection, and The Trick," he said, "see if he answers truthfully." Curiosity got the the better of me so I pressed for more details. Here's what he had to say, I've paraphrased it slightly, but that's to change the name and also to hide some details that might further identify the Writer/Editor. The content is all intact. "He had a neat trick," the artist continued, "whereby he'd get a cover, or a nice splash page, either penciled or inked, and then he'd come into the offices and see who was about - in those days usually it was someone like Herb Trimpe, John Romita, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, or whoever was on staff at the time. One of those guys. He'd approach one of them and say that the art was wrong, for whatever reason, and that it needed fixing. He'd then ask the artist in question to fix the problems, and here's The Trick, but could they re-draw the cover on vellum or lightbox it so that the Writer/Editor could then go back to the original artist and show them what he saw was wrong, otherwise the inker would just ink the pencils. The staff artist would then copy, or lightbox, the original cover, make the slight alterations, ink the cover, or get an inker to ink it, sign the cover with the original artists name and off the Writer/Editor would go, with two covers under his belt. The cover on vellum, or lightboxed, would be printed, the other cover would go home to his closet, where, after a number of years had passed and some of the artists had died, he started to quietly sell them off for big bucks. Great trick eh?" I couldn't have agreed more. When I asked how did the artist know about The Trick he laughed and spluttered, "Because I was one of the saps that re-drew covers for him, and once at a party at his place he showed me his stash and laid it all out for me." Mind you I never did ask about The Trick as the Writer/Editor wasn't that talkative, and as they're also known as being a bit volatile, I felt that it might be wiser just leaving it alone.

So that means that a fair bit of art out there that isn't exactly what it appears to be. Redrawing art at the company is an old practice, but not one that certain people, both art dealers/collectors, or those within the comic book industry, like the general public knowing about. I guess the old adage of 'buyer beware' is never more apt when it comes to buying original art.

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