Late last year, a Tumblr user posted a comic book "fix". Part of a critical trend in recent decades against what some see as lazy sexist comic book artwork, that probably peaked with The Hawkeye Initiative, they redrew an old Spider-Man image by J Scott Campbell from 2009, focusing on the posing and anatomy of Mary Jane.
This is hardly the only time this – and other such images have received this treatment or criticism. If it has an aim, it's not to censor or ban such work, rather to encourage artists to not to fall back on easy stereotypical approaches that plagued the nineties and early naughties. If you want to do it, do it, but mean it and understand the messages within. and maybe even explore alternatives.
Ten years after that image, and two years ago, J Scott Campbell himself parodied the image and its reception in Marvel Comics #1000. He basically "fixed" the image himself.
But a couple of weeks ago, the Tumblr post above was shared again, and this time it really seemed to get J Scott Campbell's goat. He blasted the user on social media, which saw them delete their account and change their online name after wave upon wave of social media hate was sent their way, amplified by other comic book creators such as Mark Brooks – who later deleted his post.
Much of the criticism asked how dare this amateur artist dare to try and fix another artist's work – especially someone as high profile and respected as J Scott Campbell. And Campbell doubled down with this, posting,
Over the weekend a famous cover of mine featuring MJ from Spider-Man got a LOT of attention again when it began circulating on Tumblr, Twitter and eventually on Facebook. You see, someone going by the name [REDACTED] took to "fixing" the artwork as they put it, and well, that got a lotta people talkin'! Now typically I just ignore this sort of thing, but it seemed to go a bit viral with even friends and colleagues reposting it explaining that this sort of "correcting" of other well established artists is just, well… tacky, which it is. In light of this though, I decided to embrace the situation and do a little bit of "art-fixing" myself, what do ya think, seems trendy! I'm up for new things! So let's have some fun and Fix stuff!
We have [REDACTED]s initial "fixing of my artwork. Be respectful now, as [REDACTED]clearly states, "it's not perfect" and "don't look too closely at it, it's fine". Seems [REDACTED]might feel a bit sensitive about their "art"
I take my opportunity to return the favor and generously offer my critique of [REDACTED]'s "fixing". nbf didn't ask for my criticism, but that's ok! I'm just giving that way. ;)
I took time outta my busy busy schedule to redraw and "fix" all of [REDACTED]'s mistakes, and there were many! I then share how their artistic vision would be improved with my "fixing". Feel free to look as closely as you want to!
Hey, maybe [REDACTED]is onto something, maybe unsolicited correcting no one asked for IS fun!! Hope this was educational kids!
As well as providing an anatomical breakdown of why their version was fine and dandy.
Here's the thing. A cat can look at a king. The lowliest in the land can mock and criticise the highest – and that's fine. It doesn't stop the cat from being just a cat, and a king being the king. Of course, it's fine for J Scott Campbell to "fix" someone else's version of "fixing" them. Just as it is fine that they posted a "fix" in the first place. It doesn't take away the original, it merely criticises it – and from a position of someone who admits their own lack of artistic ability. A critic does not need to be able to do the job to criticise the execution of it.
But when the original user did it, it only went so far and carried less weight and authority, they even mock their own work. When one of the biggest names in comic book art does it, uses their name, and repeats it again and again during the critique, it has a very different weight, brings a tonne of fans wanting to please their idol, and go on attack dog mode. Given that only a couple of years ago, Campbell himself was mocking that cover himself, it seems a little disproportionate and disingenuous to do this now, especially in this way.
Of course, it made J Scott Campbell angry to see the image and critique come up again, but his social media responses above were done in the cool light of day, hours later. We are all still coming to terms with the way social media affects people, and the differences between when one person says something and when another in a different social strata does the same, as well as how social media can elevate some people's voices in a way impossible previously. It's something I've had to learn the hard way as well. I think there is one lesson, that a certain someone wrote half a century ago that might come in to play. Maybe we can turn it into a hashtag or something?
With great power, there must come great responsibility.