Nick Simmons is the son of Gene Simmons, who is famous as co-frontman for the band KISS.
In August of 2009, the younger Simmons released a manga-style comic book entitled “Incarnate” that focused on a character named Mot, who is a Revenant, or a creature who can regenerate his body and is nearly immortal.
However, last month many began to notice similarities between Incarnate and other works, most notably “Bleach” a Manga series that got its start in 2001. Fans of Bleach and other Manga series immediately began going through Incarnate and finding similar panels and posting comparisons, including this very lengthy selection on LiveJournal.
Simmons initially denied any plagiarism, even taking to Facebook to demand an apology from his accusers (though there is some debate if it was actually Simmons posting). However, in late February, Radical Comics, the company that published Incarnate, announced it was ceasing production of the comics.
Even Simmons’ idle DeviantArt account has not escaped criticism, with his first post warning that “If you steal my artwork, you will pay. In cash.”
Simmons has since issued an apology on the topic, saying:
“Like most artists I am inspired by work I admire. There are certain similarities between some of my work and the work of others. This was simply meant as an homage to artists I respect, and I definitely want to apologize to any Manga fans or fellow Manga artists who feel I went to far.”
This, however, has not done a lot to appease his critics, who believe his copying went well beyond homage and into outright plagiarism, making his apology far less complete.
But how serious was this plagiarism case? The answer is fairly clear once you take a look at the images.
The Problem with Visual Plagiarism
Cases of visual plagiarism are very difficult to perform a good analysis on. Unlike with text plagiarism, there are no strings of matching text that you can cite as suspicious or prove actual copying. With images, unless the work was directly copied (IE: Traced, photographed or otherwise duplicated) you have to base your analysis on more subjective elements.
To make matters worse, Manga comics, by their very nature, share many stylistic elements that are simply part of the genre. To an outsider, such as myself, many of the comics may look alike simply because we are not familiar with the nuances that separate the different artists and series. These elements have to be taken into account too when performing any such analysis.
Still, the hard work of the Manga community actually makes this case much easier to look at and draw conclusions from and looking at the fruits of their effort I think the results are pretty clear, regardless of whether or not you deal with plagiarism issues on a daily basis.
When you look at the side-by-side comparisons, it is pretty clear that this is a case built upon quantity, not quality. Though many of the matches are very similar to one another, many are not. If it had just been a case of one or two panels it would have been very easy to write off the plagiarism as coincidence or homage.
After all, it is not unheard of for comic book authors to pay homage to one another by using similarly structured panels. It’s often a scavenger hunt for comic fans and a way to pay respects to past inspirations. However, usually those homages are acknowledged, either directly or slyly, and these were not.
However, even if we assume that Simmons’ intention was homage, the sheer quantity of similar panels is staggering. There are dozens of examples of heightened similarity between Incarnate and Bleach, many of which are too striking to have been just coincidence. This issue is compounded by the similar dialog that exists in many of the examples, taking the similarities out of the visual and into the textual as well.
When you put all of the similarities together, it’s pretty clear that this goes well beyond what can be defined as chance or a simple homage. If homage was Simmons’ true intention, then this was a very poor execution of it. Not only were the similarities far too widespread, but there was no clear indication A) That the work was an homage or B) What it was an homage of.
This is a big part of why it took so many months for the similarities to be detected, even though Bleach is one of the most popular Manga series in print. Homage finds a way to tip a hat to a previous source without taking too much from it, it is a difficult art and clearly one Simmons has not mastered.
In short, this is not coincidence or homage. Though only Simmons knows his true intentions, he either missed the mark badly with his homage or is being half-hearted with his apology.
There are ways to provide homage to past inspirations without being accused of plagiarism. The best manage to pay their respects without actually attempting to imitate those that came before them.
That is where Simmons crossed the line.
Imitation may be intended as the sincerest form of flattery, but it is rarely received as such by either the person being imitated or the audience receiving it.
On that note, the publishers of Bleach as well as the series author, Tite Kubo, are looking into the matter and may be considering some form of action. At this time though, no lawsuit has ben directly alluded to, much less filed, so it remains to be seen what will come of their interest.
No matter what though, rest assured that I will be covering it when and if it happens.