Thursday, April 14, 2011

Little Granitos of sand through the hourglass

Everyone exaggerates. I once turned a brief meeting with the actor Morgan Freeman regarding the promotion of one of his forgettable early '00s films (I have forgotten the title) into a one-night stand with the celebrity chef Anne Burrell. It just seemed more interesting to say that I'd made it with a famous tv chef than to say that I sat in the same room as a famous actor for five minutes and said nothing to him.

When you start talking about work history, the exaggeration gets even more pronounced. For instance, in that previous paragraph I implied that I was in a room with Morgan Freeman for five minutes. It was actually more like two minutes. You see my point.

In the world of comics, where you're only as good as your last project, and your last project had better have sold a lot, or at least inspired a good deal of effusive praise on the message boards, the desire to exaggerate must be particularly fierce. Perception is vitally important in comics. Perception is more important, even, than reality (not surprising given that the stories involve people who can fly). This is why so many who work in comics, or try to work in comics, are glad-handers and shameless self-promoters. They network, hard. And a big part of networking is promoting yourself. At a convention bar at 12 midnight, Big Shot Editor wants to know exactly why it is he's talking to you, when he could be talking to that woman in the Power Girl outfit.

This brings me to the famous "pop" artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Writing in the book Lives of the Great 20th Century Artists, Edward Lucie Smith said of him,
Roy Lichtenstein was the master of the stereotype, and the most sophisticated of the major Pop artists in terms of his analysis of visual convention and his ironic exploitation of past styles.
This is a polite of way of saying that Mr. Lichtenstein ripped off other, less famous and less-highly regarded artists. Here is one of the more famous examples of Mr. Lichtenstein's thievery I mean work, the whimsically entitled "Whaam!":

And here is the original "inspiration" for Mr. Lichtenstein's famous painting, an image from a comic book called All-American Men of War:

Back to Mr. Lucie Smith:
These contacts revived his interest in Pop imagery, and a more immediate stimulus was provided by a challenge from one of his sons, who pointed to a Mickey Mouse comic book and said; 'I bet you can't paint as good as that.' In 1961 Lichtenstein produced about six paintings showing characters from comic-strip frames, with only minor changes of colour and form from the original source material. ...

Lichtenstein took in his comic-strip paintings unannounced to the new Leo Castelli Gallery, and was almost immediately accepted for exhibition there, in preference to Andy Warhol, who had started doing similar work. His first one-man show with Castelli in 1962 launched him on a career which was thereafter uniformly successful.
In comics it's called "swiping." It happens a lot. In the world of capital-eff capital-ay "Fine Art," it's called mastering of the stereotype, ironically analyzing visual convention.

When there's a lot of money involved, swiping has a higher purpose.

Actually, this post wasn't supposed to be about Roy Lichtenstein, famous art thief, it was supposed to be about a man called Rob Granito. Mr. Granito was apparently one of the many people who occupy tables in the "Artist's Alley" sections of comic book conventions. He claimed to have worked on various covers for DC Comics, DC animation projects and, most improbably, for Bill Watterson on the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes."

Those claims, however, are suspect.
[A]ccording to numerous people, he has been ripping off artists and collectors for years. He runs a table at conventions, selling what he calls “original” art when it has clearly and blatantly been ripped off from other artists. Not only that, but he also pads his résumé like nobody’s business.
The Mary Sue, the site from which the above quote was cut and pasted, has examples of Mr. Granito's efforts. Here is one:

I'm not sure what the big deal is. Clearly, Mr. Granito was ironically analyzing visual conventions. This is an especially serious artistic statement, given the way Time Warner, the publishers of Superboy comics, have treated the heirs of the creators of the character.

If he were more clever, maybe he'd make that argument. But he doesn't seem to be. Per Rich Johnston, at Bleeding Cool:
So I find his contact e-mail and asked him. What exactly were these credits? He told me;

Yes I am currently working iwth Jay Diddilo on a batman title that has not yet been released. I’ve worked on dozens of books the shaddow of the bat being the batman title I was on for about 4 weeks. Most of my work has been covers though. The current took deals with a bit more of the history of the “batman” then his current exploits though.

Okay, so I asked which issues in particular – and who the hell Jay Diddilo was. He told me;

Jay is one of the big Writters for DC I probbibaly spelled his name rite, covers range from the Shaddow of the bat issues 12-25, teen titans 1-7, Spiderman I did a butt load I dont know the numbers, for Iron Man the same. For the Animated batman series 1092-1995.

Those Shadow Of The Bat covers were by Brian Stelfreeze, those Teen Titans 1-7 in the same timeframe were by Dan Jurgens and George Perez. I pointed this out.

I did mix work, fill in work and was a ghost artist for most of the projects I did, Iron man was for Marvel Multi Media as was Spiderman, Batman the Animated was under the WB Studio.

Well I asked and both Dan Jurgen and George Perez had never heard of this guy and certainly didn’t have any assistants or ghost artists on those covers.

I pointed this out too and… nothing. No response. That was a day ago.
Why didn't he just break out the Edward Lucie Smith book and send him the section about Roy Lichtenstein?? Simple as that. When you've been caught in a lie, don't try to cover it by telling more, little lies. Tell one more big one.

Instead, he's trying to complicate things by turning himself into the "Charlie Sheen of comic books." The Comics Cube has an email from someone claiming to represent Mr. Granito, who is offering him up to journalists for interviews, for the low price of $150 for 20 email questions (more if you want to skype with him). Also:
So, regardless of personal judgement you must admit that Rob Granito creates controversy- and controversy attracts attention. Rob Granito gets attention. Rob Granito gets people talking.

The Blog owner at All Things Geeky even explained how he had thousands of visitors to his site when he had never experienced that before. Rob Granito has gotten more attention and caused more talking amongst his detractors and his fans than any other comics professional!

Now is YOUR chance to take advantage of this red-hot story. As Charlie Sheen has proven in the mainstream media, controversy sells. It has been proven, and suggested by the convention fans blog that Rob Granito is the Charlie Sheen of Comics. And just like Charlie Sheen caused MAJOR headlines with his controversial 20/20 interview, now YOU can get Rob Granito to sit for an interview for your site or blog!

Rob Granito will live up to his image as the bad boy of comics, who admits he has made some mistakes (but who hasn't?) but also points out that comics fandom at large does not know the WHOLE story. Find out how Rob Granito began as an artist. Discover what his experience was with the legendary Dave Stevens. Find out what REALLY went down with Mark Waid. Learn how Rob feels about the comics professionals who have derided his name in the past few weeks like Ty Templeton Jamar Igle, Al Rio, and more!

I guess you could make the argument that Charlie Sheen is the Roy Lichtenstein of situation comedy actors. Clearly, Mr. Sheen is swiping his acting style from Burt Reynolds of "Evening Shade." In that way, perhaps, Mr. Granito's representative has a point.

Otherwise, I believe if I were advising him, I'd go with the ironic analyzing angle. I certainly wouldn't retreat, which is maybe what he's doing now (his website is gone). In comics, perception is everything. If you're perceived as a brilliant ironist, that's what you'll be. You need to get the fanboys on your side, promoting your cause on the blogs and message boards. If you just give up, then you're a quitter.

Chef Anne Burrell told me that it's much the same in the world of celebrity chefing.

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