Marc Alan Fishman: Unlicensed To Kill


With only a little time left in this year’s con season for me and the Unshaven Lads, I want to address an elephant in the Alley, if you will. My nemesis / frenemy / all around stunning pal Dan Dougherty – of Touching Evil, Beardo, and Bob Howard: Plumber of the Unknown fame – has recently become the talk of the town over a recent strip he posted.

Soon thereafter, many wonderful bloggers, fans, passersby, and everyone in between began commenting. The discussion was mostly positive, and on the side of us indie artists. But a few ne’er-do-wells decided to play devil’s advocate (see also: dicks, douchebags, trolls, et. al.), and champion the counterpoint. They posit the question: When an indie artist produces a printed piece (a poster, postcard, trading card, etc.) depicting any licensed character that they themselves do not control a license for… should they have any right to bitch at would-be photo snappers for merely completing the cycle of unlawful consumption of a consumer good? I

The answer isn’t as simple as I’d hope it would be.

Sadly, I’m not Bob Ingersol (whose column is always a treat here on ComicMix), thus my knowledge of the law is fuzzy at best. But I am Jewish, so that typically allows me to make something up, and it oftentimes sound legit. As it’s been explained to me by smarter (Jewish-er) folks… if the art in question is a parody or satire, it is protected under the law as being a parody or satire. Hence Unshaven Comics’ Zim Attacks or Adventure Wars mashup pieces, or Dan’s Poohvengers prints are safe and sound. Should Mr. Dougherty merely print up a batch of well-rendered Winnie’s, or we Unshaven Lads produce a straight-up Finn and Jake? We might be in a bit of hot water, should the owners of those characters come a callin’. All this in mind, we’re adjacent to the actual issue at hand.

Take a walk into any comic convention today and I will assure you that the Artist Alley will be choked to the rafters with unlicensed work. Well-rendered Wolverines sit next to pitch perfect Paste Pot Petes. Jedis mingle with Jokers and Harley Quinns. And My Little Pony is making magic on half a dozen unsanctioned tables with glee in their hearts. Artists who pay their way into a table space are there to share their talents with the public at large, in an effort to profit enough to continue to make their art. The people who purchase their art are doing so for a multitude of reasons – be it as a gift for a loved one, to hang in their own home, or to place into a personal collection. Whether that is above board or part of a terrible black market is up to you to hold an opinion on. At the crux of the debate brought by Beardo, is the newer trend of passers-by snapping a quick photo of the work on display.

Simply put: It’s a dick move.

Put a little less succinctly, it’s somewhere between theft and just being cheap. When an attendee walks by our table, we as artists see a potential customer. When they stop and admire our work, we tremble with anticipation. And when they hold their cellphone to capture our hard work, without any intent of supporting said hard work… it’s crippling.

The poster print we sell for $5 or $10 represents potentially hours of work building the composition, coloring it (or completing any number of complex finishing touches), and then sourcing a printer to produce it. Then, it takes our own capital to invest in the print job itself. And then we have to purchase the table on which we’re allowed to potentially sell it. Getting to the show costs us money too. And the years we may have spent at expensive art schools in order to make that perfect mash up of Winnie the Pooh and Captain America might still be costing us a monthly fee to boot. So, when we’re faced with someone who finds the work cool enough to take a copy for themselves without potentially reimbursing us for even a fraction of those aforementioned costs… forgive me when I say that it’s simply a dick move.

Suffice to say I could wax poetic on this topic for far longer than I’m likely to hold your attention, dear reader. I’ll likely continue to peel this onion back a bit more in the coming weeks. For now, let me leave you on the reason Unshaven Comics sells unlicensed prints without a shred of guilt to be had:

Our prints get eyes on our table. When someone stops, we engage them in conversation. Because the poster may draw them in, but our original content is what we want to truly tempt them with. Simply put, we don’t sell a poster without first pitching our own book – fully knowing that The Samurnauts has nothing to do with Adventure Wars or the Hipster League. If they don’t want the book, but want a print? Great! Money is money, and we sure need heaps of it. Our prints, as they are for Dan Dougherty and the multitude of indie creators who stand beside us, are only means to an end. If we can stop you with a chuckle, we may earn a fan with the work we truly love to make. And if not? We might just be able to pay for dinner that night with a few moved prints. It’s largely a win-win situation.

You’re more than allowed to appreciate our work live and in person. If you don’t have the funds to bring it home, but still wish to enjoy it? Perhaps have the wherewithal to ask if you can snap a photo. We artists know all too well what it means to be broke, but in love with a piece. Maybe even have the sense to grab a business card – so when you do have tangible cash, you can purchase the print at a later date. Consider offering to “like” us on social media outlets and spread the word to people who might want to see the work and have a chance to buy it too. In short, next time save the pictures for the cosplayers. Natch.