Wednesday 23 July 2014

Everclear & Los Bros.: Appropriation or Homage? (Warning: May Contain Flippancy)

Let me set the stage for you. Until yesterday morning, I only knew the name "Everclear" as a commercial brand of moonshine. I'd never heard of the alt-rock band from Portland until they made an appearance in a disgruntled post on my news feed. "Lichtenstein would be proud", the article stated, referring to the band's appropriation of art from the Hernandez brothers' iconic comic series Love & Rockets for their Summerland Tour poster. Shortly afterwards I uncovered this post on of Facebook by Seattle cartoonist and Fantagraphics editor Eric Reynolds. Now, brace yourselves: I've never read Love & Rockets. I know, I know, gasping all around. I'm working on it. I just picked up my first Los Bros. Hernandez volume yesterday, and I'm looking forward to an evening when I have the time to crack it open. So while I still count myself among the ranks of the yet-to-be-enlightened, I definitely have a side in this debate which, frankly, I don't think is much of a debate.

Side by side: Jaime Hernandez's cover for Love & Rockets #24, and
the Summerland Tour poster by the artist popularly known as "some hack"
Jaime Hernandez owns the image. Period.

That's the line Reynolds laid down last night, taking no shit from anybody on Facebook when a graphic designer started arguing ambiguities about the work: "The most likely scenario here is that the original L&R poster was a 'work for hire,' in which case the artist gave up any claim on copyright", and "you may say 'Jaime owns his image,' maybe he does, but I would ask how you know this to be true,", to which Reynolds replied, "because I'm the publisher of the image and I'm telling you it was not work-for-hire and Jaime Hernandez owns it outright." BOOM. End of story, far as I'm least legally.

Clearly, the copyright isn't to be disputed. Even so, the Comics Guys and the Music Guys have been at each other on Twitter over this (the poster was released in March; while it's not exactly news it has been reignited in the past 24 hours) disputing the meaning of "homage" 140 characters at a time.

My personal favourite suggestion:
...and all followed by this tool who hates education and the English language.
I don't know who the artist was who whipped up the tour poster for Summerland, and I don't know what they got paid, but Summerland ought to ask for their money back. As an artist, you shouldn't be getting paid to do homage. Homage isn't work for profit; it's personal, a labour of love paying respect to someone you feel ought to be respected. Art Alexakis is the guy in this whole situation who wants to pay tribute to Los Bros., and that's great. So, Art...put your back into it. Write a song. Give them a shout-out on stage during the tour. Invite the brothers to your show, give them backstage passes, show them in your own way through your work that they mean something to you. Or, pay them to draw your poster. What better way to show an artist that you love their work? But paying another artist to recreate their intellectual property as some kind of a subtle nod? That's a slap in the face. Let's go back to Andy Khouri's suggestion there, because it's awesome. I, personally, love the idea of liking an artist's work, wanting to put it on something or acknowledge its influence, and then paying the artist to do work for you. It's such a great concept, it's almost novel. It shouldn't be.

To all the comics folks out there, getting their righteous anger on, chill the hell out. It's not the first time comics have been appropriated, or even mistreated by the music industry, and it sure as heck isn't going to be the last. We all know Roy Lichtenstein; every art school has seen hours of argument about intellectual theft, High vs. Low art, and the true meaning of "appropriate". And if you know the name "Picasso", then you know the heights to which a career can be built on the appropriation of ideas. It's old hat. This isn't Lichtenstein, and it's not Picasso. This is more akin to Axl Rose walking into Robert Williams' studio in '87 to buy a painting, at a time when someone could talk about Axl Rose and someone else would say, "Sorry, who?". Williams sold it to him at street value. That painting became the cover for an album that promptly took top position on Billboard charts and is now the best-selling debut album in history at over 21,000,000 copies. Williams has never seen more than the money Rose paid up front for that album cover.

Appetite for Destruction. It's history, man.
Now, that's a damn shame. A lot of people would say, man, that's just not fair. And obviously it's not, unless you're sitting on the side of the fence that's selling twenty-odd million records, in which case it's totally fair. "Fair" is subjective, right? I'm really hoping Art Alexakis weighs in on this when it goes live, because I genuinely want to hear his thoughts on it. Rose walked into that studio in '87 because he thought that painting was rad and wanted it on his cover. He paid the artist, took the art, and shot off into the stratosphere of metal with it. The Summerland Tour and Everclear thought Los Bros.' Love & Rockets was rad and wanted it on a they paid a different artist.

"Fair" is still subjective, right?


  1. As a caveat/follow-up question to the Robert Williams/Guns 'N Roses anecdote I've always wondered what the case was with Boogie Down Production's cover from Sex And Violence (1992) which also contains cover art by Williams. Although I consider myself somewhat of an Underground aficionado I have an immense dislike of Williams' paintings--his COMICS I love!--so I've always wanted to now if the painting was a commission or a work already completed by Williams and sold to KRS-ONE or Jive Records or whoever. Any info on this?
    Great article, by the way--I wasn't aware of the controversy as i don't have a Twitter, just followed the lin from TCJ. Bookmarked your blog for the future. Thanks!

    1. Hey man, glad you liked the article! I'm afraid I don't have an answer for you re: Sex and Violence. I've done a little poking around the net, and there seems to be very little info regarding that cover. I was made aware of the Guns 'N Roses anecdote via Dez Skinn's book "Comix: The Underground Revolution" (great read, btw). One of these evening I'm going to sit down and watch the recent documentary, "Robert Williams - Mr. Bitchin'"; I'll let you know if it sheds any light on the matter. Frankly though, it sounds like you're way more knowledgeable in this area than I am.

    2. I've neglected to get back to you on this point; my apologies. I still haven't watched that documentary, and what little further reading I've done hasn't revealed anything. Have you come across anything that answers your question?