Joe Alterio's blog on illustration, comix, design, animation, and other bouts of total awesomeness.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
There’s an apologetic reflex I think, the happens in the mind of all but the most arrogant artists when they take up their weapon of choice again after seeing something wonderful and inspiring created by someone else. After the initial thrill of imbibing that heady elixir of admiration, self-consciousness, jealousy, and inspiration that always leaves me a bit woozy, there’s a very natural fear that comes back up like a bad tequila burp. It’s the fear that you have now been ruined forever, that your mind has been permanently scarred by someone else’s superior vision, and your life will be nothing more than common retreads of other’s themes for the rest of your life. Those of normal psyches quickly banish this thought and charge ahead, confident in their own abilities. Those that don’t, blog about it.
There was an outstanding Harper’s article a few weeks ago by the untouchable Jonathan Lethem about the innate quality of appropriation in art: I read Joey “Yeah, I seen that shit” Campbell as closely as the next film student, but I have to admit, it paradoxically made my heart both lighter and heavier to find out that one of my most favorite books, Lolita, had been possibly plagarized. The article, among other examples, asserts that, consciously or not, Nabakov essentially strip-mined a story he most very likely read 20 years before. However, instead of waving the flag of crime in his face, Lethem asserts what many have deduced, and then rolled with, long ago: there ain’t nuthin’ new underneath the sun.
I don’t mull this over for unreasonable means: I’m not usually in the habit of just repeating what an article said and passing it off as my own (though, considering the topic, might be just what the doctor ordered). Last week, I was suddenly reminded of the anime film Metropolis , a cartoon released in 2002 by Tezuka that was essentially a remake of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
The path of sly reference, unwitting allusion, accidental cop, and outright stealing is sticky one. Before seeing the film, I had loved the Fritz Lang film since I first saw it at 16. With the addition of M, Lang was one of the twin giants that informed my narrative aspirations (along with Hitch, or course). Plus, it had totally awesome robots and cool models of a futuristic city.
I have kept the film so near and dear to me, that, in the back of mind, I always harbored a secret to desire to remake it, but my way: a production design project in school resulted in The Wizard of Oz, re-imagined as a Langian shiny future dystopia of Art Deco buildings, an evil newspaper magnate moll as the Wicked Witch of Western Publishing, and a robotic Prometheus as the Tinman, It was as strange and brooding day then, when, shocked at my discovery of the Tezuka release, I made the even-more shocking discovery that, after renting the film and watching it, I HAD in fact seen it, in 2002 when it came out. My robot poster series, which the comic is based on, came out in 2004. Infer what you will.
I don’t really know what to make of all of this. (The fact that the Tezuka movie, much to my disappointment, is a sub par affair is besides the point). A few points in my defense is that my conceit takes a wholly different tact than either version of the film, and I’m exploring (or plan to explore) a lot of issues that aren’t raised in the movies. However, I am writing a comic about an uprising of robots. I did name my city Cosmopolis as an intentional nod to Lang. And I do stay up late worrying as to whether people will take one look at my comic and see me as an also-ran.
On an even greater intellectual level, though, the whole thing has left me befuddled. The brain is apparently a very strange thing. Did I mean to skip over the 2002 version in my allusions? How much did the 2002 version influence me, considering that I seemingly removed the movie from my mind for a while, always going back to the Lang version? To that end, would my intended allusions to Lang (which I desire), be even stronger had not I seen the 2002 version? Are readers, especially those not familiar with Lang, put off by my apparent band-wagoneering? And in the ultimate question, in the art world, who is to say the art world is nothing but appropriation?
I’m always flattered when someone cites my work as an inspiration for theirs, so I guess I shouldn’t think on any of this too much. It sure makes it easier to pass the time at work, though.