Saturday, December 3, 2011


From time to time, I have written about bad people in comicdom and
the comics industry.  I don’t see the two terms as interchangeable.
“Comicdom” is the whole shooting match: comics fans/readers and
industry professionals.  I reserve “comics industry” for those who,
regardless of their innate love of comics or lack thereof, work in
the comics business: creators, publishers, retailers, journalists,
convention promoters, etc.  “Work” generally involves getting paid
for one’s efforts, but, in comics, alas, many folks who do terrific
work don’t profit from it financially.

Rick Olney is one vile individual who I’ve written about on several
occasions.  Until recently, I never appreciated how easy Olney made
it for those of us who have, successfully in most cases, sought to
prevent him from cheating or scamming anyone else.  There has been
so much documentation on Olney’s wrongdoing, some of it coming from
his own moronic online postings, that you can Google his name and
learn quickly that he’s someone you never want to do any kind of
business with.  He made it easy and, in his current difficulties,
he’s continuing to do so.  He’s ignoring a cease-and-desist order
from Lucasfilm and arguably committing charity fraud.  The latter
could lead to criminal charges.  Big fun and I’m looking forward to
its inevitable conclusion.

Not every dirty rotten scoundrel in comics is as dumb as Olney and
therein lies the problem in writing about them.  Most of them don’t
post what amounts to confessions online.  Most of them are careful
in their e-mails to those they are in the process of cheating and
scamming.  Worst of all, far more often than not, people they have
cheated, plagiarized, or scammed aren’t willing to come forward and
talk about it in public.  I won’t speculate on their reasons, but
I will say they will never get justice until they do come forward.
But, whatever I know, that remains their call.

Plagiarism has become more of a problem because there are so many
more books on comics and comics history than at any other time in
the history of comics.  I have been told of books that plagiarized
interviews and other material from earlier works.  I know at least
one publisher refused to publish a book because he knew much of it
was plagiarized.  I know of at least one notable comics historian
considering calling it quits because he’s been plagiarized so many
times.  That’s bad for comics history.

I’m not a journalist per se.  When I write about my own career, I
try to distinguish between what I know because “I was there, kid,”
what I’m pretty sure of because the information has checked out or
because the information is coming from a trusted source, what I’m
pretty sure happened, and that which I am speculating on based on
my experience and whatever facts I have.  I’m as accurate as I can
be when I’m writing about my own career and life.

That’s not good enough for me when I’m writing about plagiarism or
worst crimes.  To write about it, I need documentation and I need
first-hand reports from people willing to say “I’m (fill in name)
and this is what happened.”  When I don’t have these things, then
the best I can do is write about the plagiarism and other crimes in
a general way.

Most of the comics historians I know are generous in sharing their
information and material.  Most ask for nothing more than a copy or
two of your book and recognition for their contributions.  In the
case of the latter, footnotes with attributions are generally the
proper way to go.  If you have an acknowledgment page, the generous
comics historian who contributed to your book should be recognized
there in addition to the footnotes.  Yes, it means some extra work,
but it’s the right thing to do.

It can be argued that heroes, super or not, are the foundation on
which the creative part of the comics industry was built.  We need
to take that to heart and always strive to do the right thing when
we write our histories, when we share our information, and when we
honor those who came before us.

Doing the right thing.  It’s also the smart thing to do.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll do my best to describe a scam targeting
older comics professionals.  I’m sure of most of the details, but
I don’t have the documentation or the first-hand reports from those
who can give them.  So, while I won’t be naming names or dropping
a bunch of clues to the identity of the perpetrator, I still think
getting this information out there is important.

See you tomorrow.   

© 2011 Tony Isabella


  1. Plagiarism is rampant in school as well. I'm reminded of the occasion when one of my wife's students chose "The History of Comic Books" as the topic for a term paper. The student, knowing of my background, thought this would be a good way to win favor.
    Laurie asked me to read it to see if the student had the facts correct. After reading just a page or so, I pulled out my copy of Ron Goulart's "Great History of Comic Books" and pointed out where each paragraph had been lifted from.
    Alas, there was no grade lower than "F" that Laurie could give.

  2. Hi, Tony, really great post! Although I was an amateur comics fan writer (albeit with a degree in journalism), I was very lucky to have Jim Amash as a writing partner on our book together. It's about Golden Age history and he was very good about guiding me through these waters. We both agreed that using journalistic methods of accreditation was the only way to produce a credible book. I've also caught people lifting whole portions of my web site for Wikipedia and whatnot and it really stings. As you say, and I agree, the very least one can do is provide that simple credit, thanks, or link.

  3. I recall, many years ago, being in my high school journalism class, and being given a stack of papers from schools in the area to analyze in terms of layout and design for an assignment. The papers were all from around the Christmas season, and imagine my surprise when I encountered a humorous column about holiday stress that was ripped, word for word, from Dave Barry's Greatest Hits. When I informed my teacher of this (with the evidence to back it up), she told me she'd let the teacher at the other school know. I never found out what happened, but for me it proved an object lesson in the audacity of plagiarizers.

  4. Hi Tony,

    Your above post, and the one on the scamming of artists that follows, are long overdue. It makes me alternately glad and sad that you've brought these topics to light.

    For far too long comic book fandom has tolerated the worst among us. Not only the scammers and plagiarists you noted, but the "gray market" original art dealers who profit from material they've obtained without proven ance or to the benefit of the creator. Such persons have occasionally led to my own disengagement from fandom over the years, only to eventually find my way back with the hope that they and their ilk have left the hobby. Obviously, that's a doomed hope.

    It's the plagiarists that have recently piqued my anger and have prompted me to have an "arms-length" approach to the medium I love.

    I have embraced the Internet as a terrific instrument of research and communication. And I've made numerous friendships worldwide that would never have been possible in the Web-less past. In return, I've freely offered my research and findings on various websites and blogs, including my current one, The Comics Detective. Yet, while most respect and acknowledge my contributions, others have pilfered my hard-earned information without as much as a nod in my direction.

    I learned long ago that getting into an online debate leads to an endless loop of increasingly angry and meaningless emails, generally supported by bystanders on either side who wish to spur the flame war on for their own enjoyment. Sad, but true.

    My personal solution is to save my most important research (relatively speaking) for print publication and to offer fewer aspects online. Again, sad, but true, as I love to share with like-minded folks.

    But the scoundrels are not stopped even by the copyright notices at the front of every print publication. Their hope, I suppose, is that the limited circulation of most fan oriented pubs will allow them to steal in anonymity. Often they get away with it.

    I'm very glad you've chosen discuss this topic in public. I know personally that it galls many other comic historians, who, too, have backed away from publishing their research due to the actions of these soulless few.

    If comic fans as a group would "out" and openly shun these criminals, then eventually this hobby would be cleansed and perhaps my dream of a free exchange of information, without the specter of intellectual theft, will occur.

    Take care, Tony, and have a great holiday season!

    Ken Quattro