Plagiarism, Scanlations, and Copies: Nick Simmons’ Incarnate Rips Off Bleach

Today’s schadenfreude opportunity: Nick Simmons, writer/artist of Incarnate from Radical Comics (and son of KISS member Gene Simmons, which might account for some of the glee in watching his downfall), has been caught copying various panels and dialogue from popular manga series, including Bleach by Tite Kubo.

I found out about the plagiarism accusations from Robot6, which includes the news that Radical has “halted further production and distribution of the Incarnate comic book and trade paperback”. I assume that includes the hardcover, shown here, that was due out on March 16. Here’s a LiveJournal post with a whole bunch of pretty damning (if not very well labeled) art comparisons. (Update: That post has been edited to add more labels for the benefit of those of us not already familiar with the series.)

Radical uses the all-too-common “we’re taking this seriously” phrase that means nothing, because every company caught in a difficult situation says that, but they do go on to say that they are attempting to contact the publishers of the original works involved. That gets praise from Simon Jones:

Unlike so many similar cases where the party at fault sticks to their guns, makes bold-faced lies, weasel out of giving real answers with lawyer speak, and basically deny everything until the storm of outrage is exhausted and forgotten, Radical appears to be doing the right thing. … This story isn’t over yet, but thus far Radical is handling it with sincerity and honor, which is a rare-enough thing in the industry that we all should, at the very least, highlight this with the same fervor given to the initial scandal. But I also want to point out that this isn’t just the moral thing to do, but the smart thing to do. When one finds himself on the wrong end of an issue, admitting fault and fixing the problem is almost always the best course in the long term.

Plagiarism is a huge deal in Japan — look at the example of Flower of Eden, where the series was ended, the artist’s other books were pulled from the market, and a planned American translation canceled after the author admitted to copying images from Slam Dunk. I’d also like to call your attention to Radical’s Hollywood connections and interest in getting many of their properties optioned for films. They’ve already been sued once over having cloudy properties, so they know the danger of not having clear rights, especially when you’re trying to license works for movies, when the money suddenly becomes big enough to be important.

I’m a little disturbed by the Robot6 comments, where some people seem to think that if it’s “only” art swiping, it’s not really plagiarism. Perhaps that says something about the comics Photoshop/cut-n-paste creative mentality that supports “artists” like Greg Land. Is the idea that if it’s pretty, it doesn’t matter if it’s original? It’s true that similarly blatant examples have had no ill effect on the artist’s career in the superhero genre.

Some go on to defend this as sampling, which leads into my next thought. David Welsh twittered in response to this news: “It’s nice to see so many people concerned about the rights of Japanese creators to not have their work stolen.” He was referring to the perceived hypocrisy of people justifying reading manga scans online for free, I suspect, while getting upset when an American creator copied the work. Deb Aoki is more blatant: “before you get all self-righteous about how you’re standing up for Tite Kubo, ask yourself how many Bleach scanlations/fansubs you download.”

Isn’t there a difference, though, between seeing the internet as a giant library (rightly or wrongly) and presenting someone else’s work as your own? The former is a commercial/legal discussion — are free samples necessary to convince a buyer in this over-saturated media world? would all readers buy if they couldn’t read for free? how do you convince customers to respect copyright when all it takes is one copy released to be infinitely duplicated? given fan temperament, how do you expect them to wait when desired material is available in other countries already? — while the latter is flat-out misrepresentation.

Daniella at All About Manga tackles that last question with news that Tokyopop is going to be releasing Gakuen Alice more rapidly. It seems that only 10 books of the series are currently available in the U.S., while the Japanese releases are up to volume 21. Thus, it should not be surprising to find out that “Gakuen Alice is the most popular manga on the scanlation conglomeration site Mangafox.” That’s a statement that its readers like it and want more, and I’m glad to see the publisher attempting to address that need.

However, like the anonymous Alexander Hoffman at Manga Widget, whom I’m quoting here, I don’t think they’re necessarily going to be successful, given what they’re trying to accomplish.

Pirates are not going to buy manga. They’ve already made their decision to not buy it. Publishers need to look towards current customers and find out their wants, their needs, and supply material that reaches that demographic. … Focus on the community that will pay for your product, not the community that are “fans” of your product. … Be smart about publishing, and publish material and promote it in such a way that it excites your current customer base, not the pirates who steal your content.

Deciding that if you got rid of free copies, all those people would suddenly buy your product is simply incorrect. There will always be people who read things just because they’re free, and they’re not potential customers. Saying, as Daniella does, “scanlations steal money from the publishers who try to bring you quality manga”, is over-simplistic, because no one’s lost any money if a fan is reading an online translation of book 15 when you last offered volume 10 for sale. If you want them to buy book 15 from you when you’re able to publish it two years later, then make it a better package: a nice reading experience, perhaps with extras like translation notes, good reproduction, solid binding and paper, all at a reasonable price. Give them a reason to buy beyond finding out what happens next.

In short, I find that guilt rarely works as a motivator. It just teaches fans to ignore publishers, and it makes plagiarizers buckle down and lie to cover their tracks (probably a fake; image via Petteri Uusitalo).

Update: Tying it all together, Simon Jones points out in the comments that some of the plagiarized art comes from scanlations, material not yet officially released in the U.S.


  1. […] Simmons, artist of Incarnate, which contains panels copied from Bleach and other manga, has released the following statement via a representative: “Like most artists I am inspired […]

  2. I buy Japanese tankoubon and magazines, read scanlations, and boycott American releases. Usually, scanlators do a much better job than the official guys.

    There are many scanlation groups that drop a project after it is licensed, and tell the readers to support the author and buy the American release, but I would rather support the author without buying it.

    A good portion of those who do buy are elitists and weeaboos, too.

  3. If you’re not spending any money, you’re not supporting anyone. And I disagree — I would rather read a manga in English with a professional adapter than a translation by someone who thinks fidelity is more important than readability.

  4. I think Nick Simmons should be sued to the wall, “being inspired” is one thing he damn near copied the pictures (and panels!) changed a persons hair added a scar and called it his own, even the damn words are the same! I have been a fan of anime and manga for as long as i can remember i’ve got a large selection of manga and anime, on my computer AND off. Let’s be honest here for a second, the scanlaters are (normally) a bazillion times better than the “legit” translators, i mean the people who translated Hellsing actually just got the translations for alot of the volumes straight from a fan-site. I support authors by reading and enjoying them the way they were meant to be, not edited to hell and fit to target a teen and up show to the elementary school crowd (naruto and one piece anyone?) this is a load plain and simple, and i’m proud to say yes i have some bleach on my PC and i’ve got almost the whole series sitting on my bookshelf at home, because I LIKE THE SERIES. Think about that the next time Naruto stabs someone with a Doraemon lunchbox.

  5. How do you know the translations are better? What, because they use curse words?? The original Japanese wouldn’t have the equivalent of the F-bomb in a shonen manga (aimed primarily at kids and adolescents).

    The only way you’d know if the translations are better is if you were fluent in Japanese, and if you were fluent in Japanese you’d know that it is a very nuanced language and thus tricky to translate, so there can be more than one acceptable translation. Even if scanlations do have better translations, that doesn’t forgive the atrocious grammar and sentence structure. And if you were fluent in Japanese you wouldn’t be bothering with reading translations at all.

  6. @Bahamut While I respect translators and their work, but also disagree with some of their choices in how to make a work readable, I think that this comment: “The original Japanese wouldn’t have the equivalent of the F-bomb in a shonen manga (aimed primarily at kids and adolescents)” might not necessarily be true all the time. For example in Bleach’s Memories in the Rain chapters (sorry, I can’t remember the chapter numbers off the top of my head), the original Japanese had the character Kon actually use the F-bomb. Literally. And I highly doubt that they don’t know what it is.

    Granted, this was the one time I’ve seen it used in this series and I haven’t read enough other shounen series to know what the actual statistics of swear word use is, but Kubo’s use was blatant enough to shock me when I realized what he wrote. And while it shocked me, I’m not so certain if it did the same to the original audience. I don’t necessarily approve of amateur translators throwing curse words left and right as a sign of accuracy, but I thought I’d throw this out there as a thought.

  7. @lennan — I think that falls very much under the “swearing in foreign doesn’t count” exemption. Swear words in a different language, if you even know their power in context, rarely make the same impact as in your own, and can be slipped under the radar more easily. One example I can recall of that in English is the occasional use of “merde” by Picard in Star Trek: TNG.

    There’s a much more notable Japanese example in Shonen Jump — in Eyeshield 21, Hiruma nicknames everyone up to and including his love interest “Fucking ” (neatly changed to “Damn ” in Viz’s translation).

  8. He also stole from Deviantart artist, what can he say about that??
    Besides in his blog Nick said once: “if you steal my work, you’re going to pay with money” That should also aply to him!! He’s just a liar, he has no excuses for stealing, and nobody should even try to excuse him either.

  9. In response to David Welsh and Deb Aoki’s “referring to the perceived hypocrisy of people justifying reading manga scans online for free…while getting upset when an American creator copied the work. ”

    That is using an ad hominem, using a lesser (and unrelated) wrong to defend one that has obviously crossed the lines.

    The first issue of fansubs is passive: When reading and downloading online, neither readers nor fansubbers earn any money, nor are they taking any tangible credit for their work. Even if publishers lose a fraction of the potential pool of consumers, by observing the late releases of the American versions, it’s easy to see the role of fansubbers in establishing and expanding that potential consumer pool to begin with. This was said not to justify fansubbing, but to show that that fact, as well as the lack of moneymaking involved on the fansubbers part, makes it a “lesser” and grayer evil.

    However even the positive/negative aspects of fansubbing is not the reason why it’s irrelevant to this issue. It’s the fact that this is about the plagiarism of this single artist, regardless of whether the original work he ripped off was posted online or not. Someone, especially a “professional”, is copying other work and *passing it off as his own intellectual property* and then also *making money off of it*. How is there not a problem here, both moral and monetary?

    Whether people read or buy the books at bookstore isn’t a part of the issue here. It’s about someone ripping and copying ANY work and passing it off as entirely his own.

    …Would David and Deb be any more critical if it were an *American* artist that got his work ripped, traced, repackaged and then sold for profit?

  10. People at the comic industry ( specially the Diamond guys ) should learn from the people in the Hollywood movies industry. Lots of Pirate but chasing them in internet doesnt work ? Bring up better quality and technology in 3d … pirates wont feel the need to download something that wont gives them the full real experience. But , then again , that issue requieres reserch , development and INVESTMENT something most people at the comics industry dont want to / cant do.

  11. What sort of comic page are you imagining that can’t be replicated fairly well by a scanner?

  12. […] fans talk about Nick Simmons, son of KISS memberGene Simmons, who copied several manga (mostly Bleach) to make his own comic Incarnate. When caught, Simmons issued a […]

  13. So many bloggers either a)self-righteously defend scanlations, which can’t be done without distasteful amounts of delusion or b)self-righteously condemn scanlations and everyone who touches them (thus alienating the very people they’re trying to convert). This post does neither. Thank you.

  14. […] Not Steal Manga Jump to Comments There’s been a lot of debate going on lately about plagiarism, piracy and scanlations in the manga world. No doubt you’ve heard of the recent trouble Nick […]

  15. The fact that he apologized simply indicates he knows what he’s doing is wrong and that he practically copied Bleach!

    true, most characters in anime/manga are similar to one another. However, there is an additional personality trait that differentiates the characters amongst animes and mangas. Unfortunately, his doesn’t. Therefore, he copied the character build off from Bleach.

    I pity the waste-up wanna-be. He claims to be a fan of Bleach yet he fails to understand the line between inspired and copying. He loves Bleach so much that he wants to create something as of equal. Something as moving as Bleach that it blinded him. Absolutely disgusting, pitiful and just, well trash. He’s equivalent to the existence of ticks, he’s the lowest form of life in this universe, his name is not even worth mentioning to the point that he should be refereed to with ‘it’ rather than ‘he/him/his’. I seriously just don’t see the point in its existence, it’s just causing nuisance for everyone else. I feel sorry for it’s parents for ever allowing it to exist. Although, I’m sure it’s very happy for receiving this much negative attention and creating that burning rage within genuine Bleach fans such as myself. It makes me wonder just how is it able to walk outside under broad daylight with such shame, actually how is it even able to wake up everyday and live? truly, puzzling~

  16. I agree, when it comes to bleach, I might as well have a pro translate. Being mexican, I have seen so many errors in translating the spanish words, i almost laugh and groan at the same time.

  17. […] the last month or so, spinning out of the Nick Simmons plagiarism mess, various smart people online have been bemoaning scanlation sites like One Manga and MangaFox. […]

  18. Some of you guys are just ridiculous. Yes, it’s fair to point out that we fans use scanlations to catch up, but just because we use them doesn’t mean we won’t buy the manga. My sister reads the manga week by week on the internet, but she has bought almost all of the US-released Bleach volumes, fighting my mother to get it all the way. I do the same for Naruto, though I read Bleach I have not bought it, as it’s pointless to buy two copies of everything. I have bought a box set of Naruto myself, though not all, as my mother has gotten fed up with us buying so many manga.

    And the scanlations being better sometimes is a lot better. The official translations have a way of dulling the classic shipping moments.

  19. i hate to say this but nick has learned this from his parents whom both have stolen photographs and artwork in the past. i know as my work is still being stolen, used and abused since 1997. the kiss group has just put out a fan club book where all my images are credited to gene simmons/kiss organization. if you have the book you’ll also notice my fan club… the first in america (detroit) was not included in the book… i wonder why. simmons has been stealing my artwork and images for years. his comment was anything with kiss on it or having to do with kiss is fair game. shannon has also been held up by a photographer who claims she used images in her book without his permission. this out right copyright theft is something the simmons clan is used to and has taught their children it’s ok to do.

  20. […] talking about the relationship between the two issues, especially when some folks noticed that Simmons was copying from volumes that haven’t been published in the U.S. yet. In the wake of that controversy, Melinda Beasi confessed her own sordid past as a reader of […]

  21. i agree. why blame nick for plagerism when reading and download manga online for free is just as bad? everyone who reads manga does it.
    and incarnate seems like a great story set aside the copied art style

  22. @Jaron: “why blame nick for plagerism when reading and download manga online for free is just as bad? everyone who reads manga does it.”

    Because Nick makes money off of seriously copyright infringement which he made no disclaimer about before this came up. Many if not most pay the ridiculously high priced books in the stores despite the not so great translations that sort of ruin the magic of manga and read online. Moreover, honestly, how much does translation groups make? They are constantly dropping series and also that, they make a big disclaimer about it (obviously) not being their own which our special Nick does not do. Your statement about everybody who reads manga does it is false. I have plenty of friends who do not read scanlations at all.

    Basic economic principle, people!!

  23. Besides, you should be reading what Ryan said:

    “He also stole from Deviantart artist, what can he say about that??
    Besides in his blog Nick said once: “if you steal my work, you’re going to pay with money” That should also aply to him!! He’s just a liar, he has no excuses for stealing, and nobody should even try to excuse him either.”

    Okay, so the person was not actually a deviant but the point is he did steal from essentially a nobody.

  24. All of you guys make me sick. Scanlations are stealing someone else’s artwork and translating it and putting it online for free where the original creator does make a profit off of it. All of you don’t even know how to translate and calling the official mangas not good translation at all, you guys are really ignorant. Anyone who supports these scanlations are just as bad. Inacurate translation and they don’t even translate the sound effects and half translate words. All of you who support scanlations are not fans at all. I will tell straight up you don’t even got support from the original artist doing this. You are leeches all of you. When you be a professional translator you have to go through a series of steps and not just to one person rushing translation to get online fast. Flame me all you want I don’t care. I know I speak the truth. When you leeches start having common sense in those brains of your you will realize what your doing is wrong.

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