I was walking past a co-worker's office this morning and couldn't help but notice that she had a large cache of superheroes on her desk. Action figures, coloring books, all sorts of stuff. Apparently, her kids are getting old enough to start outgrowing some of the very-well-played-with toys and she didn't want to just throw them out -- but they weren't quite worthy of giving to Goodwill, she felt. So she brought things in for any co-workers who might find some home for them.
There was a healthy representation of Spider-Man. Three or four various Spider-Man figures, a couple of Spidey villains, several coloring/activity books... The kids are healthy Spider-Man fans, but actually have more stuff than they're able to keep up with thanks to Grandma and Grandpa, as well as their regular baby-sitter.
I flipped through a couple of the activity books to find there were barely opened. One or two puzzles done and a few pages of half-completed coloring. So, with her blessing, I walked off with one of the books. Here's a pretty typical page...
Like most coloring books, it's on cheap newsprint so you can see something of the pages behind. But look a little more closely. The perspective on the buildings is wrong. They're not even drawn with a straight-edge; they were just freehanded. The Spider-Man figure isn't all that well executed; it looks like a bad tracing of some promotional artwork; there's no variability in line weight at all. Except for the eyes, which look like they were inked using a Sharpie. You can see remnants of the original pencil marks before it was inked, too. There was a glitch when they tried drawing the moon; it's not a perfect circle. Oh, there's just all sorts of problems with the art that make it clear that the book's credited illustrators, Ronald and Donald Williams, never had any art training of any sort.
Other pages also show impossible perspective and poor anatomy. Several poses are readily recognizable as copies from comic covers and, more frequently, promotional stills. It looks very much like a coloring book designed by a couple of 13-year-olds who were just a tad more artistic than their classmates. Realistically, it's probably more akin to some guys who got the rights to do a Spider-Man coloring book (Marvel copyright notices are on every page) but either didn't ask for or couldn't get enough line art to fill the book they had planned, so they dug up any Spidey-related image they could find and traced them.
I really wonder about the legality of the book, though. I mean, it provides a copyright notice and has the Marvel logo as if the rights were obtained, but I'm dubious. In the first place, there's a 2004 copyright for Paradise Press, Inc. on the first page, presumably for the whole book, but they also put 2004 copyright for Marvel on every page. Except, normally, the individual pages would NOT have a Marvel copyright since they didn't actually create any of the actual images. The trademark image of Spider-Man is Marvel, but the individual page, since they are original -- if derivative -- creations would be copyright Paradise Press. As they seem to have it displayed here, any individual page is owned by Marvel and Paradise Press only owns the idea of collecting all the pages in this particular book format.
So, between the lack of understand of copyright/trademark issues and the lack of artistic talent, Paradise Press strikes me as something of a questionable organization. A little Google searching just now turned up: "On July 1, 2009, an involuntary petition for liquidation under Chapter 7 was filed against Paradise Press, Inc. in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court..." Involuntary petition, as in, the people who Paradise owed money to had to convince the courts to force Paradise into bankruptcy because they were continuing to do business without paying anyone.
Plus, unless they put on one HECK of a dog and pony show, I can't imagine Marvel agreed to license Spider-Man to these guys. Whether or not they actually, I'm betting the story behind all this is A LOT more interesting than the coloring book itself.
In any event, it's not going to prevent me from doing some ball-point pen coloring while I'm on conference calls!