The Dark Knight Returns Again And Ruins My Breakfast

The internet. The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Perhaps you’re familiar with this scene from The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson. It shows Batman delivering a jaw-cracking knuckle sandwich to Superman. A great scene from a great comic published in 1986.

Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
And if you follow my work at all, you may be familiar with my comical send-up of that moment. Done for a comic creators’ art-jam about Hanna-Barbera back in 2013, my “Dark Falcon” piece was an obvious homage to Miller’s comic and two of my favorite cartoon superheroes, Blue Falcon and Space Ghost.

Dark Knight parody by Vince DorseYou can find it (and many other just-for-fun mash-ups) at the Comic Creators MiniGroup Tumblr. My “Dark Falcon” mash-up was tumbled over 600 times and got a great response. But there’s nothing earth-shatteringly original here…just a couple pop culture icons mashed together for fun.

Now, the image below, from what I can tell, was posted to Facebook in February of this year by a Brazilian artist named Caio Oliveira. He had the same idea; to replace Batman & Superman in that famous scene from the Dark Knight with Blue Falcon and Space Ghost.

Dark Knight parody by Caio OliveiraI like his version too. I think we each tried to add our own style to the composition, and they both turned out pretty good. Both decent drawings, both mash-up comedy paying homage to some classic comic book/ cartoon characters. It looks like Caio posted his image a year-and-a-half after I posted mine. Similar? Heck, yeah. But it’s a pretty basic concept and I wouldn’t be surprised if other people also thought it up. And it’s all in fun, right?

What wasn’t fun was waking up this morning to a stream of “THIEF” and “PLAGIARIST” tweets in my Twitter feed (some of them in Portuguese so I had to translate them before feeling the full impact of the insult). Seems someone came across the recent Caio drawing without knowing mine existed already (and, perhaps, without realizing that both drawings were simply Dark Knight gags) and immediately tweeted out to their followers that I’d stolen the idea. And, as tweets will do, each false accusation tweet begat another and another, piling up in my feed and killing my mood. Ever wake up to a bunch of messages questioning your artistic integrity? Worse than cold oatmeal for breakfast.

I was blindsided by all of this and had to do a lot of searching and backtracking before I found the source of all the vitriol. I spoke to a few of the people who tweeted about this and they felt terrible about their mistake and sincerely apologized. Caio also found out about the situation and let me know he felt bad that the whole thing happened. So I think everything’s been cleared up now and we can all go back to drawing, for pete’s sake.

But it got me thinking. What are the chances, upon realizing I beat the other guy to the punch, that any of the people defending Caio by hurling insults at me turned their wrath upon Caio, accusing him of stealing my idea? My guess is the chances are pretty slim. It’s probably easier casting false accusations against someone half a world away than someone you might know personally. And, sadly, it seems current internet culture demands everyone’s first response be an uninformed onslaught of vitriol, shoot first, ask questions later.

The fact is, though, there’s a good chance Caio simply came up with that exact same idea I did, independently and coincidentally. That’s the way ideas work. They just float around in the air and you pluck a good one when it seems ripe. Sometimes other people beat you to it, like I beat Caio to it. But if he’d never seen my piece, he’d have no reason to believe he was reproducing something that already existed. (Side note: I usually run a Google search when I come up with something like this just to make sure I’m not treading over well-traveled ground.) And remember, you can’t copyright an idea. Especially some goofy fan-art mash-up like this that leverages someone else’s trademarked characters. Again, it’s all just for fun.

The entire incident serves as a good lesson. It’s no secret that the internet is rife with stolen images. And yeah, sometimes people swipe other peoples art. But remember, ideas are out there just waiting for people to grab them and create something. And, as such, one day you may see something online that makes you think, “Hey, that guy drew the same thing my friend drew! He’s a thief!” If you find yourself in that situation, it’s probably best to just curb that knee-jerk reaction and check with the individual artists privately before starting a smear campaign. It helps to avoid misunderstandings, hurt feelings and embarrassment. It’s also just good sense. -v

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4 Responses

  1. Sorry you had to go through that, Vince. Unfortunately, one of the downfalls of social media is that it encourages knee-jerk reactions in people. And I am sure there were some good-meaning people in that crowd, thinking they were standing up for intellectual property justice. I just wish diligent fact-checking, solid research, and calm and collected responses would come back into fashion…oh, wait, they never were in fashion? Awwww, shucks!

  2. Oh, I’m certain of that too, Pat. Just friends looking out for friends. I’m all for keeping things on the up and up so nobody has their work taken. And, like you, I’m always looking for the most civil way to handle things. On a side note, it is kinda’ funny it was happening over a fan art piece that nobody really owns anyway : ) But I guess that’s why the overlap occurred in the first place. Thanks! -v

  3. Hi Vince, I think this situation comes up more than we realize — I think it’s a kind of convergent cultural evolution. I’m glad you and the other artist got it all sorted out — and it does make a great lesson for everyone to slow down and check on realities before spreading it over the internet!

    I was just looking at the comic creators minigroup tumblr when I saw that you had followed my blog — thanks!

  4. Yeah, it’s weird. This was just a throw-away illustration for me. Something I did when I had a little time between other projects. Who’d have thought it would’ve been at the center of an international incident? As far as I know, it’s the first version of this mash-up that was ever done, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn the theme had been covered before I even thought of it. Like you say, ideas converge independently of each other. You gotta be pretty darned sure of your sources before you shout ‘plagiarism!’ Thanks for following! -v

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