Lifted: The Story of Swiping, Cloning, and Homage in Comic Books Pt. 2 by Emma Caterine

Friday, October 19, 2012

Love him or hate him so much that you want to shove your adimantium claws in his jugular, Cyclops is undeniably one of the most important characters in the Marvel universe. From his humble origins as teenage leader of the X-Men to his recent ascension to nearly all-powerful cosmic deity, Cyclops' iconic visor (or occasionally sunglasses) have been an image that has provoked joy and hate from readers. That costume, a physical embodiment of Scott Summer's uncontrollable mutant power, was the invention of legendary comic artist Jack Kirby.
Well actually, not really. Technically it was the invention of legendary comic artist Jack Cole.
Jack Kirby lifted the design for Cyclops off of Comet. This would certainly be a bold claim to make, if Kirby had not been doing freelance work for Archie (who put out Comet) at this time. Cole's Comet certainly did not achieve widespread or long lasting popularity: aside from his bizarre suicide, he is most famous for Plastic Man.
Lose the white sunglasses and change the costume to blue, and suddenly Cole becomes Kirby.
Before the mass media era where lifting could you earn you condemnations of plagiarism, many character designs were taken from previous workers. Punisher's image came from the Black Terror.

Rorschach came from the Question.

The list goes on and on. But it must be remembered that these lifts were not (usually) done to "steal." It is like sampling in hip-hop music: A Tribe Called Quest was not trying to steal Lou Reed's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side," they just saw something they liked that they could put into a new context and thus create new art. Mr. Fantastic lost the cartoonish goggles of Plastic Man because he is a serious character. Punisher lost the cape of Black Terror because only Batman can pull off capes in urban landscapes. The blank face of the Question is replaced with the amorphous and constantly shifting Rorschach blots, shifting the lack of identity from an empirical reality to a matter of perception (notice in Watchmen how important Rorschach's "face" is to him, how his actual face when de-masked is animalistic and inhuman). These characters are not copies, they are expansions in new and exciting directions. So perhaps consider the next time you go off on an artist for "swiping" that Jack Kirby lifted the design for more than one of his most famous characters.

For Part 1 of this series, click here.



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