To call Greg Land a controversial figure in comic book circles is an understatement. Though he has been a prominent artist in comic books, working for both DC and Marvel Comics over the last 20 years, he has faced repeated allegations of inappropriate use of reference material.
The allegations began in earnest in 2008, when comic fans noticed similarities between Land’s art and other visual works. The most common allegation was that Land was taking reference photographs from a variety of sources, including hardcore pornography, and then either tracing them or manipulating them in Photoshop to appear like a drawing.
In a 2009 article in AV Club, Land admitted to using photo references, including pornography, but denied any outright theft. Despite the denial, the allegations have followed him over his career. Though many enjoy his art style, others feel that he is over-reliant on reference material and that causes much of his work to look the same.
Beyond that, there are also many that feel Land’s heavy use of source material crosses the line between reference and plagiarism. This is a debate that has raged in comic book circles for over a decade as Land’s career has continued.
However, last week a new plagiarism scandal emerged. But where previous accusations dealt with fans debating murky issues such as the proper use of reference work, this one involves a fellow artist accusing him of copying in much greater detail.
Understanding the Accusations
In a Twitter post on September 1, comic book artist Tristan Jones claimed he had been “Greg Landed”. In the tweet, he accused Land of copying his work when creating the cover for Aliens Omnibus Vol. 1.
In the Tweet, Jones provided several images that highlight the similarities between Land’s cover and his earlier work. One of the most damning images seemed to show how the body of Land’s Alien was taken from two separate drawings Jones did.
Jones went on to say that the face of Land’s Alien was likely taken from a different drawing, this one by Andy Brase.
In the replies to the original Tweet, After Hours Media provided a short video that further highlighted all the alleged tracings.
For Jones, this dispute is especially personal. An artist for Dark Horse Comics, Jones worked on the Aliens comic series until July of this year when Marvel acquired the rights to make comics based on the series.
According to Jones, he is currently working a “day job” so he can get back to financial stability and resume writing and drawing full time.
Comic fans, by in large have backed Jones with many pointing out additional similarities with the cover and other works. Marvel, for its part, has not responded to the allegations.
liens Omnibus Vol. 1 is currently scheduled to go on sale April 2021.
Why This Time is Different
To be clear, this isn’t the first time that Land has been accused of tracing, copying or otherwise over-referencing another comic artist’s work. Many of the allegations from all the way back to 2008 dealt with other artists.
Instead, there are two things that make this accusation potentially much more serious.
- The Source: The source of the allegations is not a fan or observer, instead it’s another comic book artist and, more specifically, the artist that Land allegedly copied.
- The Nature of the Copying: Much of the allegations before featured copying a specific pose or facial expression with different details, here the pose is (slightly) different but is cobbled together by the copying/altering of certain parts.
Of the two, the first is by far the most important. Though fans can debate the ethics of using photo references or even tracing/modifying photographs for comic books, when fellow artists get involved, things tend to get much more serious.
We see similar situations all of the time in other fields. For example, though many fans have pointed out similarities between Kimba the White Lion and The Lion King, little has come of it. This is in large part because the estate of the original creator of Kimba, Osamu Tezuka, never pushed the issue.
Broadly, artists are often reluctant to criticize or attack on another. There’s a camaraderie among artists, especially in the same niche, and that often leads to letting perceived slights slide. This is especially true if those slights are small, difficult to prove or otherwise not seen as worth “rocking the boat” over.
Though it’s likely other artists have been critical of Land’s work in private, this public accusation from another artist that is well-respected and worked on the same characters, raises the profile significantly.
Though Marvel hasn’t responded to the allegations, they’re going to be difficult to ignore. This is especially true since the book the art is the cover for is a collection of reprints of Dark Horse comics. Marvel copying work from Dark Horse artists for their “original” cover would not be a good look.
The question is whether anything will, come of it and that, unfortunately, seems unlikely.
One thing I haven’t discussed is the copyright aspect of this case. To that end, there most likely isn’t one.
Marvel has obtained the rights to republish the classic Dark Horse Aliens comics. As such, it likely has the rights to the artwork in question. Though Jones didn’t say where his original drawings were published, if they were done as part of his work with Dark Horse, it’s likely that Marvel has the rights to it.
But, even if that’s not the case, proving that infringement took place would be difficult. Given that Marvel definitely owns the rights to the Alien character, any lawsuit would have to prove that the elements copied were original to Jones, qualify for copyright protection (independent of the Alien character) and that their copying was significant enough to be infringement.
Is it possible? Sure. We have seen crazier rulings. But that doesn’t make it likely.
Ultimately, this is purely an ethical issue and an open discussion about what is right and what is wrong when drawing for comic books. Though this is a discussion for artists and writers, fans have a say too.
If fans support Land’s work, including this cover, then the ethics won’t really matter all that much. Comic publishers and their employees will continue to chase whatever earns them the most money likely won’t stop until it either hurts their bottom line or becomes an actual copyright issue.
Though artists speak louder on the issue, they are the experts after all, fans have the ultimate say. Barring an announcement from Marvel or some other evolution in this story, we’ll likely know how it actually ends in April when the book hits shelves.