11 More Comic Artists to Follow on Instagram

Instagram Uploads © Kevin Wada, Mingjue Chen, and Marguerite Sauvage
Instagram Uploads © Kevin Wada, Mingjue Chen, and Marguerite Sauvage

Is your Instagram feed still sadly lacking in gorgeous comic book art? If 11 comic book artists aren’t enough to satisfy you, here are 11 more artists who share their works in progress, peeks from behind their tables at the biggest conventions in the country, and stunning Imperator Furiosa fan art. Lots of Furiosa fan art.

Babs Tarr (babsdraws) – The current artist of Batgirl and variant cover artist for DC Comics, Babs Tarr is also known for her stylish and memorable take on the scouts of Sailor Moon.

Cameron Stewart (cameronmstewart) – Part of the team that relaunched Batgirl and the artist for the Fight Club sequel, Cameron Stewart is an award-winning artist who has worked with all major comic publishers.

Chrissie Zullo (chrissiezullo) – Chrissie Zullo, a cover artist for Vertigo, often shares images of various lovely ladies from comics, Disney, games, and more.

Isaac Goodhart (izgoodhart) – Current artist for Image’s spooky series Postal and the final issue of Witchblade, Isaac Goodhart is an up-and-coming talent to keep an eye on.

Instagram Uploads © Jorge Jimenez
Instagram Uploads © Jorge Jimenez

Jorge Jimenez (jorge_jimenez_comicbookartist) – Artist for the Olympus arc of Smallville, Jorge Jimenez is currently working on Earth 2: Society for DC Comics. If you love the characters of Earth 2, check out his feed for frequent updates.

Karl Kerschl (karlkerschl) – If you’ve been reading Gotham Academy, you’re well familiar with the work of Karl Kerschl. He’s also the creator of The Abominable Charles Christopher.

Instagram Uploads © Kevin Wada
Instagram Uploads © Kevin Wada

Kevin Wada (kevinwada) – From the gorgeous covers of She-Hulk to his incredible commissions at conventions across the country, Kevin Wada is on his way to comic artist superstardom.

Kristafer Anka (kristaferanka) – Recently announced as the amazing artist of the Captain Marvel relaunch in the fall, Kris Anka has also drawn covers for the House of M Secret Wars series and interiors for Uncanny X-Men.

Marguerite Sauvage (margueritesauvage) – Marguerite Sauvage’s illustration style leaps off the page, especially her beautiful work featuring Wonder Woman. Sauvage is the artist on the new DC Comics digital series DC Bombshells.

Mingjue Chen (mingjuechen) – Mingjue Chen has an animation background that shines through her recent work in Gotham Academy and Batgirl Annual #3.

Phil Noto (philnoto) – Phil Noto is known for his dazzling work on the Black Widow solo series, and was recently announced as the artist on the upcoming Chewbacca solo book. Noto doesn’t update Instagram often, but following him is worth it for the few times he does.

Instagram Uploads © Tak Miyazawa
Instagram Uploads © Tak Miyazawa

Tak Miyazawa (takmiyazawa) – Tak Miyazawa has worked as the interior artist for recent issues of Ms. Marvel. He’s also teamed up with Greg Pak for crowdfunded picture books The Princess Who Saved Herself and ABC Disgusting.

Geeky Tea Art

small wolverine with tea
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Everyone has their way to unwind. For me, I like to browse fan art, especially when the artist takes liberties with the clothing, environment, or other characters. I asked my daughter to draw me having tea with Wolverine one year for my birthday, and you can see that she made me an adorable old lady with my fictional guy. (Apparently, my jokes are so funny his claws came out.)

Lately, I’ve combed DeviantArt to find fan art with tea. Combining my geeky interests with my love of tea on artwork might sound like a challenge, but it’s not. I am not alone with my obsessions! Here are some of my favorites:

First, here is an artist who is drawing a tea-inspired artwork EVERY DAY for a year. She often puts in her fan favorites from Miyasaki, Avatar, and Disney; it’s great. Check her out!


Image by Tea-For-JBASS


Even stormtroopers need a tea break :

Image by ziggy90lisa


Here is Loki as the embodiment of matcha :

Image by audreymolinatti

So how do you unwind? Art? Fandom? Add some tea!

(Images used with permission.)

The Art Game: Artists’ Trump Cards

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

You love artists and their artwork, but want to somehow make a game out of it? No worries. It’s already been done for you.

The Art Game: Artists’ Trump Cards is a bit like the old card game War. It has very simple instructions and you can play with any number of people. The cards are much thicker and higher quality than normal playing cards, and have a pleasing matte finish. Each of the 32 cards contains a painting of a famous or less-famous artist, such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Edward Hopper, David Hockney, Cindy Sherman, or Damien Hirst. In addition, there is a brief biography, and numbers corresponding to six categories that are integral to gameplay. The categories are Influence, “Shock of the new” effect, Versatility, Top auction price (USD), Critical reception, and The “beautiful” factor. Other than the auction price, I’m not sure how the values are computed, however.

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

To play, deal the cards out equally, face down. Figure out who goes first. Players then hold their entire pile of cards face up, so they can only see one card. The first player chooses a category from their top card and reads it and its number out loud. The other players then read the value of the same item on their top cards. The player with the highest value wins all of the top cards and places them on the bottom of their pile. The winning player then gets to go next. If the top value is shared by more than one person, all the cards are placed in the middle and the same player chooses again. Whoever wins that round also wins the cards in the middle. The winner is the person with all the cards in the end.

If you think that it does sound a bit like War, I would agree with you.

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

In theory, players can learn quite a bit about each artists’ work and stats as they play, but in practice, players will likely just utilize the numbers on the cards to try to win. The game itself doesn’t teach too much about an artist’s works, but the information contained therein is a great starting off point for further study. You may learn that a Picasso painting sold for a vast sum. Research what painting it was. Or that Marcel Duchamp has a “Shock of the new” value of 99. What kind of groundbreaking work did he do?

Playing it with my family of four, we felt it was a bit too unbalanced and hard to gain control, just like War. However, the deck is smaller than a regular card deck, so the game doesn’t go on forever. We played two rounds in about a half hour.

The Art Game retails for $9.95 and is great for people who love the card game War but want it to take much less time and to be exposed to art and artists as they play.

Note: I received a copy of this game for review purposes.

11 Comic Book Artists to Follow on Instagram

Instagram uploads from Jim Lee, Stanley Lau, Skottie Young, Becky Cloonan, and Stephanie Buscema

Ah, Instagram, a social network for those of us who just don’t get enough photos of meals or our friends’ kids on Facebook. But did you know you can use the app for images that go beyond the embarrassing Throwback Thursday photos your cousin keeps posting?

Turn Instagram into an amazing art gallery by following these 11 masters of comic book art. Not only are the incredibly talented artists generous enough to share their work with the world for free, you can also get glimpses into the drawing process as several of them even provide videos of penciling or inking.

Jim Lee (jimleeart) – Jim Lee needs almost no introduction, but I’ll give you one anyway. One of the founders of Image Comics and current Co-Publisher at DC Comics, his artwork on titles Batman: Hush, X-Men, and Superman: For Tomorrow are among his most well-known. He currently does pencils for Superman Unchained, and often posts his sketches on Instagram.

Stephanie Buscema (stephbuscema) – The stylish and vibrant art of Stephanie Buscema can be seen on covers of Red Sonja, Betty and Veronica, and My Little Pony.

Skottie Young (skottieyoung) – Known for his adorable “baby” variant covers of recent Marvel NOW! titles, Skottie Young has a distinctive look and humor in his work. He’s both writer and artist on Marvel’s upcoming Rocket Raccoon ongoing series.

Becky Cloonan (beckycloonan) – Practically a legend of the comic book industry, Becky Cloonan is not only an artist on mainstream titles like Batman and Conan the Barbarian, she also draws creator-owned and small publisher titles. Instagram barely does justice to the beauty and detail of her work.

Joe Quinones’ Instagram profile images

Joe Quinones (kwinones) – His artwork has graced the covers of Captain Marvel, Young Avengers, Dark Avengers, and more, and his much-anticipated Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell original graphic novel is out in May 2014.

Todd Nauck (toddnauck) – The artist for the new Nightcrawler series, Todd Nauck is a prolific poster on Instagram, sharing illustrations of a wide range of characters from DC, Marvel, and Image.

Annie Wu (anniewuart) – The artist who designed the future of Batgirl in Batman Beyond and the current interior artist on the Kate Bishop stories in Hawkeye, Annie Wu‘s Instagram feed is as fascinating and compelling as her work.

Edwin Huang (ironpinky) – The current artist on Image’s Skullkickers, Edwin Huang’s bold art shared on Instagram often features his work on Super Street Fighter.

Marcio Takara’s Instagram profile images

Marcio Takara (marciotakara) – An artist who has worked for Boom!, Image, Marvel, and DC Comics, Marcio Takara is the penciller and inker for the current “Lantern” arc of Smallville: Season 11. He frequently posts videos of pencilling and inking that show off his detailed work.

Will Sliney (wsliney) – Devoted fans of Marvel’s defunct Fearless Defenders are very familiar with Will Sliney’s work. His images on Instagram include some of his work on Spider-Man, Avengers, and a phenomenal series of images showcasing a Darth Vader piece from pencils to color.

Stanley Lau (artgerm) – Stanley Lau’s gorgeous covers have graced the pages of Birds of Prey and Batgirl. While the subjects of some of his work are voluptuous (which may or may not be your cup of tea), the digital artist’s pieces on Instagram are always breathtaking.

Artist’s Idol—Do You Have a Passion You’d Like to Share?

Judy-Cover-Version1 - Copy
Photo: Judy Berna

The first time the show American Idol hit my radar was in 2002, in its first season. My kids were little, filling up the living room with their pajama-clad bodies and assorted toys. We were hunkering down to watch a little bit of TV together before bedtime. My daughter, who was ten at the time, was flipping through the television channels and landed on a show that featured a large stage and a lot of confetti. It all looked very exciting so we decided to watch it.

We quickly found out it was a singing competition show and a girl named Kelly Clarkson had just won. The idea intrigued me. I know people who are very talented singers, as good as some of the ones I hear on the radio, and I always wondered what it really took to cross over into singing for money. It seemed to me that it only had a little bit to do with actually having a great voice. Then here was a television show set up to find those diamonds. The idea captured me.

We watched the next season with gusto, then a bit more of the seasons after it, but soon other shows took its place. This year I accidentally started watching it again and was instantly hooked by the chemistry between Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and one of my all time favorites, Harry Connick Jr. It seems to me that they finally found their perfect trio of judges.

I’m not a singer. No one on my side of the family can carry a tune that’s not related to a hymn sung in church. I can’t relate to having a dream of being a rock star. But I can relate to having a dream. And I can relate to feeling like you’ll never be able to cross over into a higher level of your craft until you happen to find that friend of a friend who gets your foot in the door. The beauty of American Idol is that you finally don’t have to ‘know someone’. If you are willing to stand in line for a day or two, and make your way through a series of producer auditions, you can have a shot at being noticed.

I believe that many of the writers and readers here at GeekMom can relate. We have artists in our midst of every kind. Some write, some paint, some draw, some create comic books. They all work hard to perfect their craft and work just as hard to be noticed. I’m a writer and I don’t dream of being a super star. I dream of being able to share my writing with a larger audience. The book I’ve written, about my journey to becoming an elective amputee, has been an encouragement to many people who are considering the decision themselves. I’ve received their emails, full of appreciation that I’ve helped them on their journey. But the conundrum of how to get it to a wider audience that might need it, haunts me some days. I watch American Idol and wish there was a version for writers.

Judy-Logo-Version-OneFoot-2 (1)What about you? Do you have a craft that you desire to be noticed? Do you work hard on a hobby that you love and wish it could be a full time, money making venture too?

I have an idea. In the comments section of this post, share with us your dream, and your website. Then we can each go to these sites and support each other. Who knows? Maybe somewhere along the way, a connection will be made that gets you to the next level, just like American Idol. Let’s have our own version, maybe call it Artist’s Idol, and do what we can to support each other.

Now’s your chance. Tell us what you do and where we can find you. Then scroll through the other comments and do what you can to support your fellow GeekMom readers.

ConnectiCon: Gamin’ and Art

Image By Lilianna Angel
Image By Lilianna Angel

ConnectiCon is such a visual treat. As Corrina mentioned in her post, the cosplay is fantastic, usually homemade, and enough to keep you entertained if you just sit and watch the crowd. I kept my giggles in check on the elevators in the hotel because they were always filled with random cosplayers having banal conversations.

Zombie: Have you tried any of the hotel restaurants?
Power Ranger: Not yet.
Wonder Woman: The one near the front desk is pretty good.
Zombie: Thanks.

Image By Rebecca Angel (permission given for photo)
Image By Rebecca Angel (permission given for photo)

Here is a family from The Legend of Korra.

But there’s so much to do! I’ve written about this con in the past, but this year I did something I’ve always wanted to do: play a long RPG. In previous years, I did performances and panels, which made it hard to commit to anything that took up a huge chunk of the day. But this time, I was there to help my daughter at artist alley, make sure my son was busy, and enjoy myself. Part of the fun was getting to talk with some of the guests. I kept exclaiming in delight while reading Jim Cummings’s bio. I had no idea he was the voice of so many characters! And a delight in person. I did not have a chance to see Marina Sirtis, but several friends did and filled me in with how cool she is.

I played Caravan on Friday and after four hours the group was in a walled, rat plague infested desert city surrounded by a tribe of gnolls, and huddled in a ziggurat where we just found a giant spider. Of course I had to go back on Saturday and figure out how to get out of that mess! Lots o’ fun.

TeaPunk. Image By Rebecca Angel
Guy McNorm by Purple Lantern Studios

I spent time with my daughter selling her art and eye swirls, chatting with our neighbors: False Mind, Purple Lantern, and Grinning Narwhal. Rayna of Purple Lantern did a great commission of my current RPG character from a home game: Guy McNorm of the Clan McMahan.

I also met up with friends I only see at this convention, juggled, danced, danced, and danced some more (with glow sticks!) A nod to the first DJ of Friday night who really kicked off the party. ‘Til next year!

Congrats to Young Women Artists! Part Five

Photo used with permission

Kelsie Ladd is the second oldest in her family of artists. She is fifteen years old and was kind enough to answer my questions about the Womanthology book and herself.

How did you find out about the Womanthology project?
A few years ago, while visiting a comic book convention, I met an amazing female artist named Renae De Liz. I really enjoyed talking to her, she gave me support, tips and encouraged me to keep drawing. When Womanthology was created she invited me and my sisters to be a part of it. And of course, we eagerly accepted.

What was your process for selecting the pieces to submit?
We started by illustrating different costumes for each character. Having several ideas for their outfits, we voted on our favorite designs. Since we got to do a two-page story, as soon as we all finished reading the script, my sisters and I divided up the pages. Then I got some scrap paper and began drawing how I wanted my comic page to look. When I got that all figured out, I redrew the whole thing on better paper. Once my part was finished, we added my younger sister’s art to it, and then we submitted it.

What are your thoughts on the whole Womanthology project?
I think it’s wonderful. It’s a great way to let the world know that there are females out there who enjoy writing, drawing, coloring, inking and/or reading comics! For me, (thanks to my dad) I had been reading comics almost my whole life. He was a big comic fan and introduced us to some of his favorites. After reading them, I picked up the habit of drawing and doodling on whatever I could get my hands on. As I grew older, I knew that art was something that I would want to pursue. Womanthology has definitely given me a chance to live my dream, and I hope other women will feel inspired to do the same.

Do you have a favorite time and/or place to do your art?
Yes, I do. I enjoy drawing the most either early in the morning or late at night. I also find myself more productive on rainy days. As for a favorite location to draw, I’d have to say anywhere outside (given, the weather is nice), otherwise, I just hang around the house and draw.

What/who inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?
A lot of things inspire me, especially my family, friends and music. — Many of my ideas come from personal experiences and wishful thinking.

What are your future artistic plans and/or career hopes?
I love art! It’s something I would love to continue doing for the rest of my life. Whether as a career, or as a hobby. It’s something that I never want to give up on. I’m hoping to someday write my own comic and maybe even go into animation.

Part of the reason Womanthology was started is because women artists have a hard time being respected in the comics industry. What do you think about that? If you or another young girl is interested in being a comic artist, what do you think could help change this problem?
It is true. Women who want to be in the comic industry don’t get very much recognition. It’s just one of those things where comics were originally created by men, so women who want to get into the comic industry often get overlooked. We just need to let the world know that we are interested in it. We gotta keep writing and keep drawing! We’ll get there. 😉

Thanks, Kelsi!

New York Comic Con: Something for Everyone

Cpt. Hammer and Cpt. Hammer, Image: Nicole Wakelin

I’ve just returned from the geek extravaganza that is New York Comic Con, one of my favorite weekends of the year. Sure, it’s not as big as San Diego Comic-Con and it doesn’t have as many celebrity appearances, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. In fact, by losing some of the Hollywood razzle-dazzle it feels more genuine. Not to say that there aren’t celebrities, as Stan Lee, Mark Hamill and Robert Kirkman were there and if they don’t count as celebrities in your book, well then, you’re at the wrong convention all together. But more than the big names, big releases, and big movies, this one is about the smaller independent guys getting a chance to show their work.

Table after table of artists with prints, comics, and sketches were on display. One of the best parts of wandering through Artist Alley is that not only do you get to see a huge variety of work, from horror to fantasy to sci-fi and everything in between, but that the artists are there and ready to talk about their creations. I am always fascinated to see them working on commissioned pieces that take shape before your eyes in a matter of minutes. And they do it all in the middle of a ridiculously loud room, with people laughing and talking and bustling past in a blur. Somehow, these guys stay completely focused on what they’re working on, pausing only to talk when people stop to ask them a question and admire their work.

There were also a huge number of tables with things that weren’t really comics, but that the geeks of the world were sure to love. For all the vampire lovers out there (sparkly or otherwise) there were plush vampire babies complete with fangs and death certificates at Vamplets. If you were a gamer then you could check out the unbelievable case mods from the guys at Major League Mods. They turned an Xbox into a working R2-D2 that I entered to win and if I do, you will hear the screams of joy the world over.  But my most favorite thing of all, was actually from a very well-known and not necessarily geeky company.

If you showed up at the Hallmark booth bright and early, then you had the chance to get your hands on a few convention exclusives. One of these was a glow-in-the-dark USS Defiant Keepsake ornament. No, not lights, glow in the dark, just like the stars you stuck on your bedroom ceiling as a kid (or as an adult, no judging). When I found out about this I was so excited, I think I scared the Hallmark guy (sorry about that) but this is THE coolest ornament ever. It will go on my tree this year in a place of honor along with the Enterprise, Captain Kirk and assorted shuttles and spaceships. New York Comic Con had something for everyone, and not only did it make my weekend, it made my Christmas!

Theft! A History of Music—Part 3: If I could turn forward time…

Panel from Theft! A History of Music
All images from Theft! A History of Music courtesy of Jennifer Jenkins, James Boyle, and Keith Aoki

[Read part 1 of this series about the upcoming graphic novel Theft! A History of Music and the history it reviews and part 2, which discusses how copyright entered the picture.]

Imagine a 20-year-old musician publishing his work today. Let’s pretend he’s living the fast and reckless life of a rock star and will die young at 45. Because the copyright term has been ratcheted up to life of the author plus 70 years (or 95 years from publication for corporate works), you won’t be able to sample his work without permission (for your heartfelt tribute song, of course), until 2105. But since you’re not living his rock star lifestyle, maybe you can hang on another 95 years to grab your chance.

“We are the first generation in history to deny our culture to ourselves,” Jennifer Jenkins said.

Furthermore, as the new year approaches, we’ll soon again “celebrate” Public Domain Day, January 1, which is the day when works entering the public domain in a given year do so. But as I explained for this year’s non-celebration, because of copyright changes and extensions, there will be no previously copyrighted works entering the public domain in the US until 2019.

Under the law as it stood until 1978, most music would go into the public domain in 28 years, which would put works from the 80s into the public domain now. But the new terms have been retrospectively applied, sometimes applying to dead musicians, who presumably have other things to worry about besides their copyrights.

Panel from Theft! A History of Music

Copyright law has a built-in, careful balance between control and freedom. And we haven’t just added a few marbles to one side of the scale—we’ve dropped an anvil on it. Outside of a conscious choice to release work to the public domain or to use a tool like Creative Commons, nothing you or any of your contemporaries creates will be available for building on, which was not the case for the works of Brahms or Beethoven, or many of the giants of jazz, blues, or rock ‘n roll.

The real tragedy is that we’re unlike the classical composers and rock ‘n roll pioneers in another way. We have the Internet. Remixing software. Sharing tools. The technologies we have now offer anyone unprecedented opportunities for creating and sharing music. We live in a time that has the potential to be the most creative period in history. But the law is constraining that possibility by making those activities illegal.

“The gap between what technology is enabling and what the law is disabling is growing,” Jenkins said. This gap will restrict the creativity to the fringes, rather than push it to the mainstream, which in the long term is the culture that is preserved and maintained.

So what do we do about it?

We could roll with increasing regulations. Lose your Internet connection for file sharing. Take away artists’ rights to terminate recording contracts. We could go even further. Jail someone for singing in the shower, or for merely thinking about a song. (Those supporting the latter have probably heard me play Karaoke Revolution.)

Or we could turn around and march toward a future of digital revolution and cultural anarchy.

Panel from Theft! A History of Music

Neither extreme is particularly attractive. To say that we would be better off with a more balanced system is not the same as saying that we should abolish copyright altogether, much less that downloading music is a fundamental human right. But culture should not be degraded for a business model.

What if we could imagine a more balanced debate that includes the interests of artists and creators, record companies, civil liberties, digital freedom, and technological development—not just one of them. By looking to and learning from musical history, we can learn how to treat the fundamental components of how music is made.

Jenkins and her co-author and artist, James Boyle and Keith Aoki, expect to release Theft! A History of Music under a Creative Commons license in the spring or summer of 2011.This series was originally written for opensource.com.

Theft! A History of Music—Part 2: Copyright Jams

Panel from Theft! A History of Music
All images from Theft! A History of Music courtesy of Jennifer Jenkins, James Boyle, and Keith Aoki
Read part 1 of this series about the upcoming graphic novel Theft! A History of Music and the history it reviews. In part 3, we’ll talk about what it all means for the future of music.

Our society and its lawmakers are notoriously bad at predicting the effects of new technologies. I think of the ongoing battles over new distribution formats, like the assumption that the VCR [would be] to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone. Jennifer Jenkins, one of the authors of Theft! A History of Music, has an even more basic and older example: musical notation.

Ancient Greeks had their own system of notation as early as the sixth century BC, but it seems to have been used infrequently and fell out of use entirely around the time of the fall of the Roman Empire. Then, other than a few less notable efforts, musical notation wasn’t reinvented for several centuries.

So why did the idea come up again? For sharing—but only a very specific type of sharing. The Holy Roman Empire wanted control and uniformity in their sacred church music. Until then, to ensure the standard form, they would have to send around a choir to disseminate the unified mass and song. Hardly practical. But with notation, the approved (and only the approved) tones, music, and chants could be more quickly spread.

Despite the goal of uniformity, however, the reality was that the invention helped people experiment and innovate, then preserve and transmit music—nearly the opposite of the empire’s intention for control and conformity.

Unfortunately, we’re not much better today at predicting the effects of significantly more advanced technology.

Our generation has a different relationship to musical culture from any other in history. We have the most opportunity for innovation and sharing, but also the most laws preventing it. So when did intellectual property law get its creativity-stifling fingers into music?

In 1710, the Statute of Anne, now seen as the first copyright law, went into effect and gave authors rights for the first time. But it wasn’t applied to music until 1777, when Johann Christian Bach and Karl Friedrich Abel brought a case in which the court found that musical compositions counted as writings that could be covered under the statute. Nevertheless, you still needed permission only for entire works, not fragments, or for performance.

Jenkins pointed out that despite this victory, Bach died penniless, and his creditors tried to sell his body to medical schools. So he won the case, but in the long run, perhaps things could have gone better for him.

Panel from Theft! A History of Music

Skipping a few centuries again, Jenkins offered more modern examples. “Music has a long and rich history of borrowing across genres and subgenres,” she said. “Take the blues, which draws from a rich commons. Or take rock ‘n roll.”

The law didn’t interfere with those practices, for several reasons. Then things changed when digital sampling came along. Today musicians are told that they must license the tiniest fragments of sound, even though music has fundamentally relied on borrowing throughout history. What was once creation is now regarded as theft.

In 1991 an injunction was granted against Warner Bros. Records and Biz Markie for his sampling of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” in his own track titled “Alone Again” (Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc.). Jenkins pointed out that the decision quoted the Ten Commandments–“Thou shalt not steal”–but not copyright law.

In “100 Miles and Runnin’,” the group N.W.A. sampled, lowered the pitch of, and looped a two-second guitar chord from Funkadelic’s “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” Funkadelic sued, and the federal appeals court ruling over the 2005 case, Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films Inc., said, “Get a license or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way.” Quite the opposite is true, though. This ruling eliminated de minimis as it relates to sound recording copyright.

De minimis is the doctrine that means something is too minor, too trivial to care about. When the court was asked how much would count as de minimis, the answer was a single note—maybe. In a footnote, they wrote:

A question arises as to whether the copying of a single note would be actionable. Since that is not the fact situation in this case, we need not provide a definitive answer. We note, however, that under the Copyright Act, the sound recording must “result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds ….” 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “sound recording”).

“What’s happening?” Jenkins continued. “This level of granularity–licensing two or three notes–IP rights are being applied down to the atomic level of culture. Tiny fragments of music come loaded with demands for payment and copyright protection.”

Despite the assertion that creativity is unaffected, these rulings have changed the music that we create and the way that it sounds.

Will it in any way give us more art, more creativity? Because after all, that’s the purpose of copyright, which is defined in US law as “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” It doesn’t seem so.

Would jazz, blues, rock, or soul have developed the same way under this legal regime? Probably not.

Jenkins and her co-author and artist, James Boyle and Keith Aoki, expect to release Theft! A History of Music under a Creative Commons license in the spring or summer of 2011. This series was originally written for opensource.com.

Theft! A History of Music—Part 1: Plato and All That Jazz

Panel from Theft! A History of Music
Images from Theft! A History of Music courtesy of Jennifer Jenkins, James Boyle, and Keith Aoki

Why did Plato argue that remixing should be banned by the state? What threats did jazz and rock ‘n roll pose? And what does all of that mean for the conflicts between artists and copyright today?

Those are the questions Jennifer Jenkins, James Boyle, and Keith Aoki answer in layman-friendly language in Theft! A History of Music, a graphic novel expected next spring. The three have a previous comic book, Bound by Law, which (like Theft!) attempts to translate complex legal concepts to make them accessible to a wider audience through a friendlier format.

Jenkins described the current state of things as the “music wars.” We witness this as a battle between those pirating and remixing without authorization against the record companies that are resorting to legal means to try to sustain their increasingly obsolete business model. But according to Jenkins, “Research shows that both are inaccurate and ahistorical. The history of music can teach us a lot about today’s debates.”

And when she says history, she really means history. Her earliest example is Plato, who wrote in The Republic:

Music and gymnastic (must) be preserved in their original form, and no innovation made. They must do their utmost to maintain them intact. And when anyone says that mankind must regard…

The newest song which the singers have,

they will be afraid that he may be praising, not some new songs, but a new kind of song; and this ought not to be praised, or conceived to be the meaning of the poet;

for any musical innovation is full of danger in the whole State, and ought to be prohibited.

Even 2000 years ago, people were already arguing about mashups. Continue reading Theft! A History of Music—Part 1: Plato and All That Jazz