Homage Or Rip-Off?
I came across one this week, though, that has got me thinking. Like several others, the strip focuses on a 30-something Calvin and his family. He's married Susie, of course, and passed Hobbes along to his two kids, Camus and Simone. The art style follows after Watterson's; though it's not quite as polished, Watterson's illustrative influence is obvious. The comedy doesn't provide quite the social commentary Watterson did in his best strips, but it does follow the style of his gag comedy. Not quite as poignant, but not a bad effort either.
But here's the thing: it's an ongoing strip. He's done 75 of them so far and has a crowd-funding campaign out there to help to more.
He's actually done an okay job of trying to avoid crossing a legal line into copyright infringement. With the exception of Hobbes (who shows up very sporadically), the character designs are all new. They're done in the same style as Watterson, but this new guy's Calvin looks about as much like Watterson's as Frazz does by Jef Mallett. He also never expressly mentions "Calvin and Hobbes" as the inspiration, just saying that the strip is an unofficial and unauthorized sequel to "one of the most beloved comic strips of our time." It's abundantly obvious where his inspiration is coming from, but I think he's making a sincere effort to not trample over Watterson's intellectual property rights. (I'm pretty sure he is, but neither of us are copyright lawyers. I can see his thinking here in that he's trying to avoid the specifics of what makes "Calvin and Hobbes" Watterson's property, but I think he's applying too narrow a definition of "derivative works" to be completely clear of potential legal issues.)
But that's not what really sits poorly with me.
The part that I don't care for is this guy's artistic integrity. When you're young, it makes sense to copy from others' work to help you learn. As you get older, though, your artistic expression needs to find its own voice. That can, and certainlly will, be influenced by other artists. But if you try so intently to replicate someone else's style and voice, then you can't really find your own.
Those one-shots that I alluded to earlier, I think, are fine. While the artist is trying to emulate another's voice, it's for a specific purpose and extremely limited time. An ongoing effort like this, especially one that he seems to be trying to make some money at, seems... mechanical. Which I suppose is okay for readers if that's something they're looking for, but it strikes me as tedious and uninspiring as the creative person doing the work.
I suppose in that sense, it's not all that different than Jeff Parker taking over "The Wizard of Id" from his father. But those, too, seem fairly mechanical. As do all the other newspaper strips where the current creators are following in the artistic footsteps of the originators. But at least in those cases, there's a long-term monetary incentive. The strip was already a money-maker, and these newcomers just need to keep the momentum going to earn a living. So there's at least a financial motivation, if not an artistic one.
But trying to revive a strip 20 years after the last installment with no marketing support? I would think you'd have to have a lot passion for your work to do that. And how much passion can you have for your work, when it's really not even your own?