Jeremy McHugh

Studio website and Daily Warm-Up Blog

What’s up, Stretch? The Question of Fan Art…

What's up, Stretch?

Having been to a couple of cons in the past month, I was struck by the sheer amount of fan art that attending artists had for sale. I saw prints, drawings, and sketch cards on full display and priced to move.

It made me want to look deeper into the issue of commercialized fan art.

I used to offer the odd fan image here on my blog and at shows without giving it much thought as it seemed the norm at conventions.

I think I had a pair of blinders on, though.

This week I decided to take those blinders off and look much harder at the practice of selling  this type of work. I hunted the internet for a decent article and discussion of the topic and found the following article on “Plagiarism Today”, entitled ” The Messy World of Fan Art and Copyright”.

I think this article is super informative on the subject.

What was the overwhelming and logical conclusion drawn by the article ?

Unless express permission is granted by the rights holder–It is infringement according to copyright law.

It falls squarely under the category of “derivative work” in most cases ( with very few exceptions).

There is some shockingly bad discussion going on out there and much of it stems from basic misunderstanding of modern copyright law and where fan art falls within that discussion.

I’m glad I found the article and it is leading me down a better road for my studio and creative efforts.

It has also crystallized my budding thoughts on the subject and given words to my growing unease with the practice of selling fan art.

I hope you find it useful. :)

If you have thoughts to share on the topic, please do!

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  1. Administrator May 18, 2011 — Post Author

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for letting people know about the episode.
    Linda Kattwinkel was extremely helpful to us in that show.

    Now I just wish I’d stumbled upon the fan art article sooner as it has greatly augmented my understanding of where fan art resides in that discussion.
    Prints and unlicensed merchandise seem an obvious no-no to me, but now I wonder how I should deal with private commissions where a collector comes to me with the specific request to render their favorite character….hrmmm…..
    To paint or not to paint. That is the question…

  2. Chris Pritchard May 18, 2011

    I’ve read this article before, though I’m not sure how I originally stumbled onto it. Very informative.

    I had a table at a couple comic conventions in the past year and it amazes me how many artists sell prints of established characters, and that’s all they sell. I understand why they do it. They get a ton of people who stop at their table, which usually equals more sales. But I just don’t understand how you could feel clean doing that. I actually linked to the Ninja Mountain episode where you had a copyright lawyer on to educate some people on a message board who insisted this type of action was perfectly legal.

    Personally, if someone sold an original drawing of a character I created I don’t think I would mind much. But if they started selling prints they’re definitely taking food from my table.

  3. Administrator May 18, 2011 — Post Author

    Thanks, Steve.

    There was a brief time when I was exploring it and I did some sketch cards. A few daily warm-ups, etc.
    It being such a large part of the convention scene, I didn’t really question it.
    I decided to sit down and give it a much closer look and realized my error. One shared by so many.

    It seems like flimsy bedrock on which to build one’s business. It would only take the “Big 2” to crack down on it with convention organizers and a number of artists would find themselves without enough product to sell at shows. :(
    Or worse–on the receiving end of a costly lawsuit.

    I’ve stopped cold turkey by removing fan art from my “For Sale” page. I’ve asked my art dealer to remove what little I had from his catalog as well ( He’ll get it done soon I hope). Just seems like the sturdier course. :)

    One big motivator for me was Mike Mignola’s HellBoy.
    I love the character and the artist’s work. I had done a sketch card and a couple of drawings in my spare time and posted them for sale.
    Then I sat down and considered a few things that gave me pause.
    1) Mr Mignola is not some Uber corporation, nor is he “The Man”. He is a creator who worked hard to build something for himself and made good.
    2) I had made drawings to sell that were, in effect, trading on his hard work. Who was I to do that? I had no permission. No blessings from the artist–nor did I think to seek it.

    If I were in Mr Mignola’s shoes, how would I feel? Flattered? Or robbed?

    *Now I have questions about how to feel about or deal with private commissions where IPs are concerned. Another animal to tame…

  4. Steven Belledin May 18, 2011


    Saw that you’d posted this article on Facebook a few days back and was pretty happy you did. Not that I’ve done a lot of fan art, but it’s reaffirmed my feelings on the matter. While most companies and creators look the other way, it would be my luck that they’d see something I did and take issue with it. This is certainly something more folks need to read.


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