So I made a comic.
Alright, really Matt Korostoff made a lot of it. Or the idea of it. Or the layers and original images of it, or…
Or it doesn’t matter, because he completely threw out those worries by adopting a GNU Public License for all of his comics on Whaleocalypse.com (plus the source code). Basically, he’s handing out a big box of parts and an instruction manual for anyone who wants one, and letting you make anything you want as long as you give out boxes and instructions for the stuff you make as a result.
So, technically, the above really is 100% my comic. I really made it. And I’m really glad I did, because I got to learn a little about how to make comics.
I’ll admit I’m not great with Photoshop. I’ve done a couple school projects here and there, but never really took the software’s reins and showed it who’s boss. Starting something like a comic from scratch is really intimidating. When I’ve got a joke in mind already, it’s really frustrating to put that on hold while I cobble together an accompanying image with such a big-ass program.
But having access to open-source projects like this gives me some kind of template. It’s like looking at someone’s math homework – you can see the eraser marks and the thought behind the work. You can see where they’ve struggled, and how they’ve solved certain problems, and it makes your own work seem more manageable. At the same time, new problems show up, because you’re not building it from scratch – you’re hammering it to fit a new mold. I learned more about Photoshop by spending ten minutes trying to remix Matt’s comic than two hours of YouTube tutorials.
This may be creation, but it’s definitely also collaboration, even if it’s a kind we don’t normally see in art. There are things like This Charming Charlie or Garfield Minus Garfield, which don’t necessarily have the express consent of Charles Shultz or Jim Davis, but nonetheless couldn’t have existed without them – they’re collaborators. But the line gets fuzzy – do you have to call Homer a collaborator on O Brother, Where Art Thou? Does Jesus get credit for The Matrix?
That’s the beauty of open-source and public licencing. It recognizes that these kinds of debates about intellectual lineage are essentially pointless. It lets creators create using every possible resource, as long as they’re willing to pass those resources along.
That’s when cool things can happen – like Matt giving my fan comic a little polish and posting it on his site. You only need to look at game modding sites or popular software developers to see the benefits of giving people the tools to learn and contribute. The era of the lone genius slaving away in a cramped studio is over, if it was ever really a thing to begin with.