Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
05 June 2007
The Truth is Out

The Forbidden Planet International Blog has a follow-up story regarding a previous post about Australian cartoonist Bill Leak getting into trouble with the folks at Moulinsart SA in Belgium - the people who own the copyright on Herge's Tintin - over his appropriation of the character's appearance in his depiction of Australian politician Kevin Rudd.

“Rudd looks like the little bloke who is taking on the big adventure and who just might prevail in the end,” Leak explained, adding that he didn’t have to do much to make Tintin resemble Rudd, “All I did was add a bit of a chin to him. And sometimes a little bit of a firmness to the mouth.” (Bill Leak via FPI)

Now I admit that my legal expertice/experience is nil, and that anything I've learned about copyright has come from reading admittedly biased sources, but doesn't this just seem... I don't know....not fair?

Moulsinart, commenting on the situation, stated that Leak not “commercialise paintings and other cartoons reproducing parodied adaptations of Tintin and Snowy” w based on the principles of copyright. I mean, if Leak was drawing a parody of Tintin, would that not be included in fair use? Also, Leak is not drawing a parody of the beloved Herge character. He is making a political statement about a politician, by using Herge's Tintin as an a simile. I mean, surely there has to be room within copyright law to allow literary devices, right?

Ultimately, the issue is not about Leak disrespecting Herge's character, or even disrespecting Moulsinart's ownership of the character (which is funny to me because Moulsinart is a fictional house, and the idea of a house owning anything, let alone a French cartoon house, drums up some very amusing imagery in my head), but rather Leak "disrespecting" Moulinsart's desire to be the only people who make money of a dead man's cartoon character.

Don't get me wrong. Moulinsart is well within their legal rights to take any sorts of actions they desire, if they feel that Leak is going to start making money off these cartoons through commercial sales rather than editorial journalism (yes, I just said that cartooning counts as editorial journalism), but the question to me is whether or not Moulinsart is within their ethical rights to stop Leak from publishing these cartoons through a news periodical.

As cheesy as it sounds, Tintin belongs to the world. I would think it would beneficial to 1. the politician Leak is portraying as such a beloved character, and 2. to Moulsinart, who might benefit from the press and move more units. Again, I don't know much about the business side of comics, and I don't know much about copyright law. But the fact that all of this is making a bit of a stink (small stink, not big stink) leaves a bad feeling in my gut.

Of course it could just be the abhorable excuse of a falafel sandwich I just ate...

All links courtesy of Forbidden Planet International Blog

UPDATE: Apparently Moulsinart's comments about Leak not "commercializing" their property was part of some resolution where they conceded the Leak does in fact have the right to appropriate the image of Tintin as long as he does not sell collections of the cartoons in question. Leak responded, "I'm not a lawyer, I'm a cartoonist. I poke fun at people for a living. I'm sure Herge would have approved," which I just thought was a fun quote. Links courtesy Eddie Campbell's blog (which you should all be reading anyway).

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