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

Incarnate

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 (link no longer available):

Incarnate

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 (link no longer available), 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 that some of the plagiarized art comes from scanlations, material not yet officially released in the U.S.



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