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Deconstructing Lichtenstein: Source Comics Revealed and Credited

Imagine you drew a comic book for a nominal fee and a world-famous artist recreated in paint a panel from that work and sold it for millions of dollars without you receiving any credit or royalties. Such is the case for numerous comics creators whose work was repurposed by Roy Lichtenstein, the uber-famous pop artist whose paintings based on comic book panels hang in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as too many others to list here.

Needless to say, Roy Lichtenstein has few fans in the comic book industry. Art Spieglman, author of Maus, summarized the industry’s feelings in an interview with Publishers Weekly. “Lichtenstein did no more or less for comics than Andy Warhol did for soup.”

David Barsalou has been working for 32 years to track down Lichenstein’s source material and shine light on the original comic book artists. His work is exhaustive, with over 1200 fascinating images on Flickr showcasing not just the published comic book material but also Lichtenstein’s original drawings. Many of the images are accompanied by essays on the project from newspapers and journals, as well as biographies of the original artists.

“I don’t think the people who have been saying Lichtenstein is so great have even seen the source material,” David Barsalou told ComicsAlliance. “It’s not like there is that much difference to deny that they were just copied. We’re talking about things that sold in the millions of dollars!”

After the jump, more from Deconstructing Lichtenstein, David Barsalou, The Kirby Museum, and William Overgard, one of the artists whose work was “covered” by Lichtenstein.David Barsalou: I butted heads with the Roy Lichtenstein foundation on a few occasions. They don’t want to acknowledge that the comic book artists are real artists. In one article written in the Boston Globe, Jack Cowart referred to the original comic book artists as drawers. Which is insulting, they’re artists.

On KirbyMuseum.org, Harry Mendryk writes:
“Although it is frequently cited that Irv did superhero work for MLJ until 1946, in fact, like many artists, Irv spent some time in the military. During that time Irv befriended Roy Lichtenstein, getting him out of manual work and helping Roy get a job that used his artistic talents. Of course no good deed goes unpunished, after the war Lichenstein became a highly paid pop artist by painting greatly enlarged copies of comic book art originally drawn by a variety of comic artists, including Irv Novick.”

From TIME MAGAZINE Letters Section MAY 17,1963 William Overgard writes:
Sir: As a cartoonist I was interested in Roy Lichtenstein’s comments on comic strips in your article on Pop Art. Though he may not, as he says, copy them exactly. Lichtenstein in his painting currently being shown at the Guggenheim comes pretty close to the last panel of my Steve Roper Sunday page of August 6,1961. Very flattering…I think ?
William Overgard

David Barsalou: Every time I dig deeper, I find he was taking other people’s ideas and making them his own. It wasn’t until later on when this information came out little-by-little, and when the Internet hit, it was almost like detective work. I’m not saying I totally despise him, but I think if he was still alive he would have been easier to deal with. The foundation just wants to preserve his status in the art world.

In fact they tried to shut me down. They sent me a nasty letter about how I’m not supposed to use these images because they’re copyrighted. How do they put this in print? Roy Lichtenstein took these images form copyrighted material 40 years ago!

David Barsalou: There are hardcore art world people who think he [Lichtenstein] was the greatest thing and that these guys weren’t real artists. If these guys were so bad, why was Lichtenstein copying them? And he really got lazy, by 1963-64 he was taking the image, tracing it, sticking it in a projector and painting it. And when that painting sells for millions of dollars, it just really bothers me that nothing is given to the original artists. There’s got to be some way to right this wrong. A lot of these guys are old, and who knows how much longer they have to live. It reminds me of the battle that Siegel and Shuster went through trying to get the rights back for Superman.

We here at ComicsAlliance were hoping to place the text of the authentications page of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation’s website. You see, it is very important that a painting worth millions of dollars can be properly verified as being the work of Roy Lichtenstein and not a copy. If the authenticity of a painting is in doubt, it devalues the work.

Unfortunately, when we went to their site, we were greeted with a warning that no texts, photographs can be reproduced in any form without their permission. Grrrrrrrr!

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