[Ken Quattro is a comics historian whose work I admire and respect.
We’ve never met, but we are certainly online friends and, when he
posted this editorial to The Comics Detective, his blog, I knew I
had to share it with my readers. With Ken’s permission, I’m doing
just that. Ken’s editorial is © 2013 Ken Quattro.]
To say I'm indebted to the Internet would be a huge understatement.
It has opened doors into research that were never available before
it existed. It allows me to communicate with people all over the
world in seconds. And it has introduced me to friends that I never
would have met without it.
Yet one cancerous side effect of this magnificent communicative
tool is that it encourages laziness. Sloth. One of the Seven Deadly
Sins if you believe sins still exist.
It's so easy, isn't it?
Recently I came across a website with a page devoted to the artist
Elmer C. Stoner. As I have written my own piece about Stoner, I
began reading it. I was only a few sentences in before I noticed a
remarkable similarity between it and my article. While the "author"
had padded the first part of his bio with info obtained (but not
credited) from Ancestry.com, and a few speculations based on
nothing in particular, he followed the structure of my article
exactly. The references to Stoner's patron Fred Morgan Kirby, his
involvement in the Harlem Renaissance, his failed early marriage.
There was a mention of the 1939 World's Fair children's book I also
wrote about and the comic books he chose to list were all from my
piece. He even included information that artist Samuel Joyner
related to me in a personal letter. There was more, but you get the
I wouldn't have minded at all if the "author" had made the simple
gesture of acknowledging my article as his source. But he didn't.
Instead he employed the quasi-plagiarism preferred by middle
schoolers who change a few words of a Wikipedia entry and turn it
in as a term paper.
To add further insult, nearly all of the images he used to
accompany his article were lifted completely from mine. And to put
his intentions in an even worse light, he ran a copyright notice at
the bottom of the page with the year 2009; one year earlier than my
posted article that he swiped.
I wish I could say that this was the only time I'd experienced such
blatant theft, but it's not.
Some years back I wrote an article about Archer St. John and his
publishing ventures. This was the first comprehensive history ever
written about St. John and an effort that took a decade of research
on my part.
Within two weeks of my putting the article online on my
Comicartville website, a St. John Publications entry appeared on
Wikipedia that was basically a Cliffs Notes version of my piece.
The Wikipedia editor, who hides behind the username "Tenebrae"
(which tellingly means "darkness" in Latin), that contributed this
entry has gained the enmity of a host of legitimate comic
historians for his unabashed thievery. When confronted about his
theft of my St. John article, he shrugged it off by claiming mine
was only one of his sources. A provable lie since mine was the ONLY
source available at the time.
Several years later, I published the testimony from the historic
Detective Comics v. Bruns Publications trial on this blog. Again,
this was the first time this information had been presented to the
general public since the trial in 1939. Soon after, a publisher who
I had previously allowed to reprint one of my articles, decided to
download the trial transcript and publish it without any
acknowledgment of where he had gotten it.
These are but a few of my experiences. And I'm not alone.
Jim Amash, artist, writer and the man behind some of the most
historically important interviews ever conducted with comic
creators, has been similarly victimized. He has many had quotes and
anecdotes taken directly from his interviews and dropped into
others writings without any credit to him. This practice occurred
so frequently and had become so prevalent that Jim decided in the
past year to stop doing interviews altogether. His decision is a
great loss to all of comic fandom, but one I can fully appreciate
and have contemplated myself.
Virtually every serious comic historian has a similar story. Dr.
Michael Vassallo, Bob Beerbohm and Roy Thomas have all related
tales of plagiarism and intellectual property theft. And yet it
continues. If anything, it is getting worse.
On the chance that some of the research-phobic freeloaders are
reading this, I have to ask:
What happened to common courtesy?
What is gained by stealing someone else's work?
What is lost by giving someone else credit?
I understand that research isn't easy. It can be a painstaking,
boring, and often, expensive undertaking. But if you don't want to
make that effort, at least acknowledge the people who do.
I am not a comics historian. The only original comics historical
research or writing I do comes from my own career. What with being
there for most of that, I feel confident about the accuracy of that
If I had to give myself a title, “comics commentator” would serve
as well as any. I most often respond to the work of others, be it
in the actual comics they create or, in the case of Ken Quattro,
the history they uncover and share with us.
My limitations in the field of comics history are why I am ever in
awe of guys like Ken and Jim Amash and most others. They do great
work in expanding our knowledge of this thing we love so dearly and
my own writings are better for their efforts.
There are, of course, so-called historians whose work I don’t feel
the same way about. Certainly the plagiarists are unworthy of the
respect I accord Ken and Jim and their fellows. Additionally, as
I’ve mentioned in the past, I have little regard for “historians”
whose work consists of mere speculation or who exaggerate/fantasize
their own role in the history of which they write.
When I write about my own career, I try to present that information
accurately and with a large dose of caveats. Whenever I write of
other subjects and use the research or writings of others, I make
note of that as well. I might not always succeed, but that is the
goal and, if I fail to meet it, I will happily correct any slight.
I’m familiar with the kind of plagiarism of which Ken writes. I’ve
mentioned it in the past and the only reason I didn’t name names in
doing so is because the offended parties either did not wish to go
public or failed to provide me with documentation.
When I write about the so-called historians without mentioning them
by name, they usually recognize themselves anyway and then indulge
in churlish attacks on me in their blogs or on mailing lists. It’s
something that naturally comes with the territory of writing about
serious wrongdoing and I accept it as a “cost of doing business.”
My integrity or reputation can’t be so much as scuffed by the likes
of such individuals. They can annoy me, but they can’t lay a glove
on me. I’m still much prettier than they are.
Guys like Ken and Jim and their fellows are gold. We should never
forget to respect their work and thank them for it. I appreciate
their dedication to preserving and presenting comics history and I
expect to keep learning from them for many years to come.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2013 Tony Isabella