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Image Duplicator: pop art's comic debt

Art, Graphic Design, Illustration

Posted by Rachael Steven, 13 May 2013, 16:44    Permalink    Comments (11)

A new exhibition at The Orbital Comics Gallery explores the widespread appropriation of comic book art by pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein. CR spoke to curator Rian Hughes about giving credit where it’s due.

Roy Lichtenstein is one of the world’s most celebrated artists. According to the Tate Modern - home to an exhibition of his work until May 27 - he is one of the true greats of the twentieth century. His paintings are worth millions, and even those with little knowledge of or interest in art will instantly recognise prints such as Whaam! and Drowning Girl.

But the trouble with Lichtenstein’s work, says Rian Hughes, is that most - if not all of it - is appropriated from comic book artists without credit or compensation.

“Almost every painting [Lichstenstein] ever did was appropriated without asking permission or paying royalties. If he was a musician, he would be facing a copyright lawsuit,” claims Hughes.

Hughes is the curator of Image Duplicator: an exhibition opening on May 16 at The Orbital Comics Gallery. The exhibition features prints by illustrators, designers and comic book artists including Mark Blamire, Dave Gibbons and Jason Atomic, who were asked to re-appropriate Lichtenstein’s work by re-visiting the source material and creating something original, while commenting on the process of appropriation.

It was put together to celebrate the art that Lichtenstein’s work is based on - works that Hughes says are “better crafted, more inventive and more original than Lichtenstein’s copies.”

“We’re not taking anything from Lichtenstein - we’re simply revisiting the work that he appropriated,” he adds.

Lichtenstein isn’t the only one whose work is appropriated from lesser known commercial artists. As Hughes points out, pop artists such as Glenn Brown have also made millions selling prints based on illustrations by lesser-known illustrators.

So why has this been allowed to continue for so long? Hughes believes it’s symptomatic of a widespread snobbery towards commercial art.

“If you unearthed a rare song and sampled it, people would take great delight in pointing out the source material. Yet in the art world, the source material - particularly when it is created by commercial instead of fine artists - is often treated as if it is some kind of cultural clip art - “low” art that fine artists will elevate to “high” art,” he says.

Image Duplicator opens on Thursday and runs until May 31. Prints will be sold through and all proceeds go to The Hero Initiative - an American charity set up to help struggling comic book artists. As well as giving these artists the credit and compensation they are due, Hughes hopes the exhibition will encourage a wider debate about appropriation and a more inclusive approach to art.

“We’ve had two offers to turn it into a book, and we’d like to do an American version of the show. But what we’re really hoping to do [with Image Duplicator] is encourage people to celebrate good art regardless of where it came from,” he says.

Images (from top): Dave Gibbons' re-appropriation of Whaam!, inspired by illustrations by Irv Novick; Mark Blamire after Jerry Grandenetti; Kes Forrester after Dmitri Kasterine and Garry Leach after Unknown.

For more information on Image Duplicator or to purchase prints, visit: or


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'Please, mother... again...'?
I must be missing something...
Geoff Naylor
2013-05-14 13:07:46

Great initiative, and like Rian says, one that shines a much needed spotlight on the culture of sampling in the art industry.
Tom Muller
2013-05-14 18:11:48

Geoff- There's a clue in the text.
John B
2013-05-14 18:21:23

"But the trouble with Lichtenstein’s work, says Rian Hughes, is that most - if not all of it - is appropriated from comic book artists without credit or compensation."

"most, if not all of it..."

Mr. Hughs has either been been misquoted, taken out of context, or he doesn't know what he's talking about. If that statement is to be taken as it stands (it's fairly outrageous), then someone hasn't done their homework.

There's a traveling Lichtenstein retrospective, currently in New York. Go see it. Do a little reading up on the artist.
2013-05-14 19:01:09

Unfortunately the above post reveals a common misconception.

Comic artists Irv Novick, Gerry Grandinetti, Jim Pike, Tony Abruzzo, Arthur Peddy, John Romita, Joe Kubert, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, Jack Abel, William Overgard, Russ Heath, Bud Sagendorf, Bruno Premiani, Myron Fass, Jack Kirby, George Tuska, Ross Andru, Hy Eisman and others might beg to differ.

"Do you homework" here at David Barsalou's "Deconstructing Lichtensein" site:

"Outrageous?" Yes, it is. That's why we put the show together.

Rian Hughes
Rian Hughes
2013-05-16 09:40:41

Rian Hughes is correct... Lichtenstein swiped a large number of comic book images from 1961 to 1966. He then returned to swiping comics in 1988, continuing this practice until 1997.

David Barsalou
Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein
David Barsalou
2013-05-16 09:41:37

Steve - You might also want to do some homework and reading up on Lichtenstein - possibly start here. as none of what Rian says is outrageous in any sense of the word. Roy was great at tracing from comic books and stealing other artists work. Its that simple really – there are many other great online links illustrating this if you delve deeper and read further into it - but this one nails the point.
2013-05-16 09:45:29

I would say that part of the trouble with Lichtenstein’s work is that most - if not all of it - is appropriated from comic book artists without credit or compensation. A bigger part is that he is a lousy draughtsman--worse than most of those he ripped off--and a shite painter who completely abdicates on color and brushwork. I don't think there's a painter in Western history whose fame is less deserved.
2013-05-21 15:37:47

"Yet in the art world, the source material - particularly when it is created by commercial instead of fine artists"

Even more snobbery against comic-book artists. I would count many comic-book artists, particularly the ones Lichtenstein appropriated - like Jack Kirby, John Romita, Mike Sekowsky, and Joe Kubert, for example - to be fine artists creating work of high artistic merit. The Idea that he was making some commentary elevating alleged "low art" to high art status is absurd. Lichtenstein swiped from people far more talented than he and presented it as his own work. Lichtenstein was not an artist, high or low, just a con-man and a thief. I don't care if he traced or copied freehand, it's still just a second-rate copy.
Richard Meierdirks
2013-05-22 07:57:50

Wasn't it Picasso who said 'Good artists borrow, great artists steal'? Maybe Lichtenstein's gift was to take comic book art out of context and force us to re-evaluate it. We salute Duchamp for elevating a urinal to the status of an art object, so why pillory Lichtenstein for doing much the same?
2013-05-22 17:08:25

It’s time for a little Art History Lesson…

~ February 1961
Andy Warhol begins a series of Comic Book and Advertising paintings.

~ Warhol completes a number of works on canvas - Five of these were then displayed at Bonwit Teller in mid- April 1961… This Included Superman, The Little King, Saturday’s Popeye, Advertisement & Before and After.

~ Warhol’s Comic Book and Advertising paintings were completed six months before Roy Lichtenstein began using identical imagery.

~ Late July / Early August 1961
Lichtenstein paints Look Mickey, Popeye, and Wimpy.

~ Andy Warhol always believed that Lichtenstein saw his series of paintings at Bonwit Teller... And stole his original ideas.

David Barsalou MFA
Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein
David Barsalou
2013-05-22 22:10:51

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