Plagiarism is an issue across all forms of media. In addition to robbing creators of agency over their work, it can result in severe legal and financial penalties for those who are caught doing it. In most cases, plagiarism is framed as one person appropriating the words/writing of someone else as their own. In the comic book industry, however, it can often occur on the illustration side of things, as well.
Been stewing on this all night: I'm 100% sure I've been Greg Landed.
His cover for Marvel's upcoming omnibus + my drawings.
I saw this on IG and recognised the hands right away. Then the rest. Photoshop's snap function even locked my work in when I put it over his
Am I crazy? pic.twitter.com/tabHPrfKmt
— Tristan Jones (@WallMeatJones) September 1, 2020
If you’re not familiar with Jones’ work, his art has been featured in numerous projects for Dark Horse’s Alien comics, including the critically acclaimed Aliens: Defiance limited series. Despite his beloved status among Xenomorph fans (myself included), he was not hired by Marvel when they took over the Alien and Predator licenses.
One artist they did hire to work on the Alien franchise was Greg Land.
Although he boasts a prolific resume of high profile projects, Land often elicits strong opinions for his practice of directly tracing over reference photos. Bleeding Cool’s “Swipe File/Separated at Birth” series has featured him numerous times–so much so that someone compiled an impressive collection of examples, which you can see below.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a simple man with simple tastes, but I’ve always liked Land’s artwork just fine. It’s certainly not my favorite (and nowhere near the regard I hold Jones’ work), but it’s consistent, easy to follow, and generally looks good–at least in my opinion. I’m honestly not sure what the ethical implications of direct tracing are, though. Every artist uses references photos to varying degrees. Does Land’s use cross the line from being a part of his artistic process into outright plagiarism?
I’d never thought so until seeing Jones’ allegation, which appears pretty damning at even the most basic/surface level.
Bleeding Cool took things a step further, providing a more detailed breakdown of how Land allegedly ripped off Jones’ artwork along with some Xenomorph egg and Facehugger references he directly copied for good measure. Jones also gave an interview to Helen Holmes of the Observer, where the artist revealed that he’s currently working a regular day job while searching for comic work.
As the story was picked up by more comic and Xenomorph fan sites, other fans joined with Jones in confirming Land’s (ALLEGED) plagiarism and direct copy tracing. Many were able to find the reference sources Land potentially used for his Alien Omnibus cover, including the Xenomorph eggs and a facehugger visible in the illustration’s foreground. One blogger at After Hours Media went so far as to create a brief video detailing the specific instances of allegedly traced/stolen art.
As if all this weren’t bad enough, evidence emerged that Land may have traced his Xenomorph’s head/face from art by Andy Brase, who would likely be thrilled at seeing his first Marvel cover work if he was actually receiving a paycheck for it.
Pretty sure we've identified the face, too… pic.twitter.com/Zmu0SVmGBu
— Tristan Jones (@WallMeatJones) September 1, 2020
AIPT has reached out to both Land and Marvel for comment, but have not yet heard back. (This article will be updated accordingly in the event that they do.) In the meantime, we touched base with Tristan Jones, who shared his thoughts about the specific instances as well as his insights into copy tracing and his next steps.
All answers very lightly edited for clarity.
AIPT: How were you first alerted to Greg Land’s cover for the Alien omnibus being potentially copied from your work?
Tristan Jones: The first time I saw it was actually through one of the Alien fan site accounts on Instagram. I was just kinda doing the random scroll through when I got out of work as I was walking to grab my bike and it was like a double take!
Something in the back of my head was like “wait up, that’s the hand you did!” Scrolled back for a double-check and was certain. I did the pinch zoom to try and see more and was convinced the other hand was too, albeit moved slightly. I pretty much raced home to try and get a look at it on my computer and that’s when I believe I started recognizing more parts.
AIPT: Do you think there’s any chance at all that this was a complete accident/coincidence?
Tristan Jones: I’ve gone over that in my head a few times, because when I was writing TMNT and trying to come up with my own things for creator owned stories, even some TMNT stories, I discovered parallel thinking and how common that can be. I know covers tend to be pretty limited in their range and composition, especially when it’s something fairly straightforward like an alien standing there looking cool (it’s like Spider-Man or Superman — there are only really so many poses), but the more I looked at it, and the more I had others look at it, the harder you’d have to try to convince me it’s a coincidence.
AIPT: Have you attempted to reach out to Land, Marvel, or Dark Horse about this issue? Have any of them responded?
Tristan Jones: I haven’t, and that’s a bit of an onion in itself. I honestly didn’t think it’d blow up the way it would, and it’s been amazing seeing the support come from so many corners that’ve reaffirmed things, but as other creatives I’ve spoken to have said, and as I had in my own head — comics people are notoriously hard to talk to.
If people at Marvel allowed easy contact to anyone, they’d be inundated, and I’m sure given Greg Land’s track record, he’d be in the same boat, so another “nobody” coming at them out of the blue is another voice in a crowd of people accusing them of something, trying to get their attention, kissing their asses, etc. I didn’t see the point.
I used to talk to Ricky Purdin every now and then via email when he was back with Wizard and I was back with Mirage, and I actually met CB Cebulski back around the same time (when he was writing stuff with Image), and I know they’re both great person to person, but I don’t have any direct line of contact with anyone at Marvel outside of a couple of writers (and even getting responses from those guys is like getting blood from a stone at the best of times).
I felt tweeting to them was going to be either ignored or overlooked, because apparently who the hell am I? Certainly (I feel) not anybody worth noticing if someone felt they could pinch big chunks of my work to put their own together. Again, I don’t begrudge those guys or really want to make life any more difficult than it is for those guys, and I didn’t really think this thing would blow out the way it did, so I didn’t see the point. But now? Well… Yeah…
As for Dark Horse, there’s nothing they can do, but my editor from the Aliens work is actually one of the best people I’ve ever known in the industry. Spencer [Cushing] was the first person to get aggressively vocal about things, and I honestly cannot adequately put into words how much that support meant. Knowing an editor has your back on things like that even when you’re not working together on anything at that time is a rare thing. Really rare. He’s a really, really good man.
AIPT: Since this story blew up last week, have you found any other potential incidents of your work being plagiarized like this?
Tristan Jones: Thankfully not, but I’m really only an Aliens guy and this is the first new “shelf-ready” bit of art outside of David Finch’s amazing promo pieces for the announcement of the license takeover. So hopefully that’s it, but I dunno. Land might’ve done others that aren’t out there yet and it might be the same case. I hope not!
AIPT: Are you considering taking any sort of legal action against Marvel or Greg Land personally? Would you accept pro bono legal help if it was offered?
Tristan Jones: Honestly, I’d be appreciative of anyone offering that sort of help, but I doubt even that would get me anywhere. I’ve spoken to people, and even before doing that I knew that it’d be a bit of a minefield.
Fox owned Alien when I drew those drawings, and those are drawings I did for my cousins because of how stoked they were that I was an Aliens artist. Both the pieces I’ve shown as being (I believe) ganked from are hanging on the walls in their bedrooms. But, of course, I post my work to Instagram so it goes online.
Anyway, Fox owns Aliens; Disney owns Fox; Disney owns Marvel; Disney owns Aliens now. I don’t “own” those pieces and technically, an employee of Disney commissioned someone to draw something they own anyway. All of the copyright, even on the creature I put together specifically for Dark Horse, which is all based on Giger’s original design, belongs to Disney. Because it’s all Aliens. So I don’t really have a leg to stand on unless there’s something in Marvel’s contracts with their freelancers about work being handed in being all that artist’s.
And even then, there are all sorts of arguable loopholes regarding transformative works, appropriation, alteration… and even beyond that, this is ultimately Disney we’re talking about. They own almost everything. I’d get destroyed even if I felt I had a leg to stand on.
AIPT: Do you think the tracing method Land utilizes for much of his art can be done in an ethical manner?
Tristan Jones: Not the way Greg does it. Not now, certainly, if what I (and pretty much everyone else) believe to be true is true.
Tracing and lightboxing absolutely has its place in creating any kind of art, especially commercial art. But it’s a matter of how it’s done and how it’s presented. I think you’d be genuinely hard pressed to find any illustrator in comics that hasn’t traced or lightboxed something, especially when it comes to likenesses or details on licensed projects. I use 3D models all the time, because I’m not a trained artist. I came from a film and television background, so I’ve got an eye for what makes a great visual narratively (I can draw monsters and such great), but architecture and industrial design is still slightly beyond me. So I’ll build maps or sets roughly in 3D and lightbox those, have models or toys I use as reference, but I do that all myself. There’s no place lifting from other artists the way I believe this has been done.
There are a lot of skewed perceptions when it comes to homages, like the movie poster comic covers, or the nods to the iconic Action Comics #1, Amazing Fantasy #15, etc., but that’s a whole other thing. Homages are one thing, this is something else.
I think as far as this being done ethically, it would require contact between the artists involved, the editorial figures mandating it, and everyone being okay with things. But even that’s a real stretch with something like this. My argument would straight up be “why can’t he just draw his own hands/tail/spines/saliva/face/
You can help support Tristan by contacting him for commissions at wallmeatjones(at)gmail(dot)com.
You can also check out more of Tristan’s incredible artwork here. Just don’t be a jerk and steal it.