Above: Tite Kubo on the left and Nick Simmons on the right.
We all live with the cultural myth that if you’ve got talent and work hard that at some point you’ll be discovered. But the sad reality is that there are some very talented people out there who kill themselves their entire lives and still go absolutely nowhere. And even for these of us who do manage to make a living with our creative skills know that it’s not an easy path. So whenever you see nepotism it’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow.
So recently when I read that Nick Simmons (the son of Kiss band member Gene Simmons) got accused of plagiarizing the work of Tite Kubo I had to smile. Of course this opened up a Pandora’s box with manga fans asking a wide range of questions on issues of everything of “is it moral to scan and translate a manga without permission?” to “is it right for fan artists to charge for their work?” But for me those questions miss the entire point: The real issue is about paying your dues.Although it’s not his fault Nick Simmons stands for everything I hate: He’s 21 years old, had a professional comic book deal — yet he never went to art school. What opened the door for him was the fact that his father was famous. Now of course that isn’t a sin — in fact it can work against you, but it means that you have opportunities that others don’t. Time and time again I’ll wander through artist’s alley and see many talented kids who should go to art school to become pros, but sadly their parents can’t afford it so that career never happens.
So in this case you’ve got Nick Simmons whose parents can afford to send him to any art school, yet he goes to Pitzer College in Claremont, California (which he still hasn’t graduated from). It should be noted that Pitzer College offers an art major but the school is really a liberal arts school. If Simmons was really serious about becoming an artist he could afford to go to any art school in the world — and that includes ones in Japan!
Now you may ask: Why is art school so important? The reason is that if you want to be a professional illustrator in art school you’ll take classes in life drawing. But not just any life drawing classes — you’ll be given a anatomy class and have to take interpretive figure drawing. The result of this is that you understand the structure of the human body, know how to pose it from any angle and put any style on that drawing. Do you have to go to art school to learn this? No, but if you’re 21 years old it’s the sort of “honest short cut” you can take to avoid directly copying artwork.
Had Nick Simmons gone to art school and worked hard at it he could have achieved his goal of being able to draw in the style of Tite Kubo without copying him. In fact in the field of professional animation the artists are trained to work in the consistent style of another artist — that why dozens of people can work on an animated film and it still looks like it’s the style of one artist.
Above: Believe it or not these stick figure techniques are actually based upon life drawing classes where you warm up by doing very fast drawings as the model changes poses quickly.
So now that I’ve slagged Nick Simmons for several paragraphs I’m going to actually defend him. Pretty much every artist who dreams of being somebody has role models, and in the case of Nick his hero is Tite Kubo who created the manga Bleach. Kubo is a rare genius and I’ve always been blown away by his ability to create dozens of character designs that all look different even though they’re all done in the same style. So if you’re going to pick someone to learn from to draw manga Tite Kubo is a pretty darn good choice.
What Simmons did is what every fan artist does when they’re starting out — you learn by copying what you see. Granted that’s not as nobel as drawing from life, but it is a way that artists do learn. In fact before the advent of modern art schools a la the Bauhaus one of the major ways for artists to learn was to go to a museum, pull up a chair and draw or paint what you’d see on the walls.
Above: Shepard Fairey may have copied the Associated Press photo, but at least he made it into his own style.
So lacking a proper education Nick Simmons was following a very organic path to learning how to be an illustrator. He may have been copying pretty closely, but frankly in a world of Photoshop you can’t blame a 21 year old for not knowing the difference. And to be fair while he did copy the illustration he still did change things like the position of the face (more forehead is showing) so it’s not a direct tracing. Of course I can’t say that he made it his own style, so he is still falling a bit short in my book. However I’d say that lacking an education he may not have known any better. The only difference between Nick and many of his peers with those skill sets is that Nick got a publishing deal.
And thus I assign the fault to the publishing company. Now a hardcore manga fan might argue at this point that the publisher should have know a Bleach rip off at first sight, however I’d say that just isn’t realistic. You can’t expect a publisher to know every page of every manga that’s out there. But what you can expect a publisher to know about is a track record. And if you’re hiring an artist who hasn’t gone to art school in this day and age you better do some homework on what the artist has done before. In this case the publisher didn’t do that, instead they were blinded by the fact that the artist was the son of a rock star.
You can already see that they were making the connections in their heads — because even an indirect association with Gene Simmons might open up some doors. It makes you as a publisher seem just a bit hotter than the other companies, so maybe a record label or movie studio might want to be associated with your firm. In short the publishing company was in fact using Nick Simmons to open doors, which is a pretty small price to pay for letting him cut in line in front of another artist who paid his or her dues.