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Deviant Art Versus Comic Book “Inkers.” Wait, What?

Deviant Art, possibly the top site for artists to show off their skills, has betrayed a baffling ignorance of comics art in their decision to remove the art (“deviations”) of an inker over copyright claims, as explained by veteran inker Bob Almond, who is known for everything from inking “Black Panther” to “Star Trek” comics. Deviant Art told the unnamed inker that deviations “may not contain material or images which were not created entirely through your own effort” after removing the inked drawings; Almond did some digging into the matter and got a fairly insulting answer in response.

Almond posted the exchange on First Comics News, and we’ve reproduced the most troubling part of the response here:

You are not particularly clear in your reply, but from what you have said I would assume that this “inker” simply took sketches and drawings that were the work of another artist and “inked” them without first obtaining proper permission to do so.

This practice is in violation of our copyright policy since you must obtain a proper license to use any material which you intend to use (“ink”) before you submit it to your deviantART gallery.

Setting aside the amazingly insulting use of scare quotes around the word “inkers,” this response, and Deviant Art’s policy regarding the definition of original work, is needlessly strict. Inkers have been a vital part of the comics industry for decades, and while the average fan may not be complete aware of their role in the industry, a website focused on artists absolutely should be.

As Almond tries to explain to the Deviant Art representative, the issue at hand goes to the very nature of what inkers do:

By definition the INKERS job is to ink another artist’s/penciller’s drawing. And the best way to display that skill is to compare the two side-by-side. (In fact, when inkers inquire about doing professional work, this is why some publishers will supply them with photocopies of pencil art so as to later review the inked submissions.) So an inker wouldn’t be allowed to post inked art OR the art pencilled by another artist… I think most artists would agree that fledgling inkers trying to collect the permission from pencillers is problematic at best, and not easy for established ink artists either.

In addition, Deviant Art’s standard of “you can only post art that is entirely your own” suggests that other comics-based collaborations, such as jam pieces or even something as basic as colored art, are liable to be taken down after an anonymous DMCA tip.

A large part of comics art is remixing and collaboration, where artists redraw other artists’ work and put their own spin on classic scenes, inkers show what a book with no inks could have looked like, and colorists turn something that’s simple into a wonderful burst of color. It’s too bad that Deviant Art’s policies may make these types of art unwelcome on a site that so many comics creators have used to promote their work.

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