First published in The Guardian, 15 October, 2014.
“The closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and critical the content. However, my work is entirely transformed in that my purpose and perception are entirely different. I think my paintings are critically transformed, but it would be difficult to prove it by any rational line of argument”. Roy Lichtenstein
You can count on me Roy. Irrational arguments are my forte. Ask my wife.
The majority of Lichtenstein’s cartoon appropriations were from cartoonists working for DC Comics. Actually, it’s a trickier issue than it seems, magnified, in this case, by extreme discrepancies of fame and wealth. Having worked on both sides of the painting/comics divide I am loathe to come down exclusively on one side or the other. On the art side I feel one should be as free as possible to do anything you want (for me that’s a fundamental premise of art – a zone in life where one is allowed complete mental freedom). However my natural sympathy is always for the person who has done the majority of the creative work – the thinking, the composing, the drawing. Obviously, in this case, the cartoonist. One slight defence of Lichtenstein is that today it is far more expected and accepted to seek permissions, acknowledge, and credit the “source’ artists, than it was in his.
Anyway, make up your own mind. Three interesting links below.
There is no doubt that Lichtenstein was a masterful designer – see the changes he made from his source material for his most famous painting here.
Here is how one of the cartoonists felt, in a strip drawn very recently.
And here is a side-by-side list of Lichtenstein’s paintings with the cartoons from which they were derived.
There you go – case closed.