Kate Kotler writes for Bleeding Cool;
In the two short months since Bleeding Cool broke the story of the comic con grifter, Rob Granito, there have been countless thousands of words devoted to reviling the man written and posted on countless Internet spaces. Conversely: With exception of hearing from Ethan Van Sciver and Mark Waid at the very beginning of this long, strange trip into Granitoland, not a lot of column space has been devoted to giving the artists who were victimized by Rob Granito a voice.
That's about to change.
In the most recent interview with Granito for Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston specifically took time to ask him how he could justify passing off the copyrighted photographs of Anastasia Heonis (better known to the world as alternative model, actress, new filmmaker and writer Acid PopTart ,) as his own work.
"I was really touched and flattered that [Rich] nailed Granito in his second interview, you know?" says our saucy PopTart, "That he said 'Explain to us how you can look at Anastasia's photo and pass it off as your own work?'"
For me, it is Rob Granito's flippant, though not unexpected, answer to this question that has turned this whole sordid affair from a curiosity to something I want to take action about:
"I really thought that girl was somebody else I used to see at different shows. Before you get all "really guy" with me about that, I mean, dude- do you know how many girls are dressing and acting like that at conventions? Looks good but is it original?" said Granito, "But at the same time, it's like, you want to be a public figure, you obviously want attention, you claim to be a model, well, you know that's what happens sometimes, people shoot photographs or you or sketch you, and maybe I just crossed the line but I am sorry."
Perhaps it wasn't intentional, but implied in this statement is that it is somehow Anastasia's fault that Granito chose to steal her work and try to pass it off as his own… that she somehow deserved what happened to her. This statement, of course, was paired with the potent backhanded insult that Anastasia's work isn't "original." I hate to give Rob Granito credit for being intelligent enough to use words in a manner sophisticated enough to communicate the implied intention in this statement (keeping in mind, we're talking about the guy who believes the word "legitomite" is a properly spelled word)… but, wow… just wow.
I was not the only person who was offended by Granito's choice of words in discussing his theft of two of Anastasia's photographs. The statement was, in fact, the tipping point for Anastasia and her husband (Damion Smith) which made them decide that were going to move forward with a lawsuit against Granito for copyright infringement, defamation of character and loss of income.
A second generation American, Anastasia Heonis has been reading comics since she wandered into a comic store at age 17 and discovered Love and Rockets by Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez and the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. Shortly after this discovery occurred, Anastasia moved from her home in Greensboro, North Carolina to Columbus, Ohio where she began doing cosplay at comic and sci fi conventions, which led her eventually to becoming an "alternative model."
"Alternative modeling doesn't pay a lot," she says, "You basically have to be in it because you love the medium."
In the years since, Acid PopTart (a name Heonis began using while working as a DJ) has evolved her craft and created a name for herself as a model and comic artist's reference model. And, in fact, one of the photos which Rob Granito swiped and claimed as his own was part of a 10 page pictorial (titled "Alice's Misadventures in Wonderland" and photographed by Kidtee Hello) which was commissioned by editor Nikki Hobbs of De-Evolution Magazine for their May 2010 issue with a mutual copyright on the photos existing between the magazine and Heonis.
"I actually found out about [the theft] in November of 2010," she says, "A friend on DeviantArt let me know that Granito had ripped off my photo and was selling copies on eBay. So I contacted him and asked him to remove the photos, I was very nice about it, I just told him not to do it again and we'd be cool. I didn't get a response, but when I went back to the listing, it wasn't there anymore, so I thought he'd taken it down. Later I realized that he hadn't taken it down, the auction had just ended and he still had the photo up elsewhere. So I went back and sent him another email – I sent him a total of three emails in November of 2010. I never heard back from him, but at the time I had so much going on in my personal life and I was in the middle of producing my first film, so I didn't have the time or energy to keep after Granito about this — once the auction on the [Alice] piece was over and no new photos of mine went up on his profile, I didn't search him out anymore and kind of lost track of it."
It wasn't until April 2011 that she thought of the theft again, "It was the same day that Bleeding Cool broke the story, it was around 10:40 in the morning, about the same time on the same day that Holly GoLightly of Broadsword Comics contacted me with a link to Granito's website and asked me about [why my photos] were on his website. I saw it and realized that he was still using my [Alice] photo and he'd also stolen one of my VooDoo Baby photos."
VooDoo Baby is an original character which Anastasia created five years ago with the intention of eventually writing a comic series about the character. Clearly Granito did not have permission to replicate any of PopTart's work, but especially this photo:
"She's never given this guy permission to use any of her work," says husband Damion Smith, "Nor would I imagine that she ever would when some of these pieces swiped were created expressly for specific publications or for her own use, and I'm pretty sure I can name every artist that has been given permission."
The VooDoo Baby swipe was actually linked to her via Granito's Facebook profile, where Holly GoLightly had called him out on using the photo without permission. Anastasia followed up by leaving a comment which said "What the hell is going on here? This is the second time you've [stolen my work]."
Because she was so angry (and who wouldn't be?) when she was given Granito's phone number, she decided to ask her husband to call Granito for her to discuss the matter. After a short conversation in which husband Smith emphasised that Granito needed to remove all photographs of Anastasia from his website and Facebook and apologize for the theft, she followed up with an emailed "cease and desist" letter and also filed a complaint about the use of photos with Facebook.
"It would have been different if he'd taken them down," she says, "If he'd realized 'Oh hey, this was wrong' and then taken the photos down. But, he never did."
It was during this time that the extent of Granitos' theft was being uncovered. "I thought it was just me. I didn't realize he was ripping off everyone," says Anastasia. "At the same time, the Robert Granito is a Fraud Facebook page was launched and I just couldn't keep up, I was bombarded with friend requests and messages of support."
It was via this Facebook page that people began to first suggest that Anastasia file suit against Granito. But, as Heonis and Smith had fallen on hard financial times after financing the production of their first film, Kiss Me Darkly, they did not have the funds available to retain a lawyer and begin legal proceedings against Granito.
That Granito has financially gained from the theft of these photos, while she is struggling to make ends meet is irony which is not lost on Anastasia. "It's just so ridiculous that while I have been selling my CDs so that I have enough money to buy groceries, that this man is making a profit off of my hard work."
When I asked her what she would say if she had the opportunity to speak directly to Rob Granito, she replied:
"I'm going to try to stay professional – but, how do I word this except to say, Rob – I think you're bloody full of shit? I'm tired and fed up with the excuses. I feel like I'm a reasonable and open minded person, but that you apologized and then tried to defend your actions in the very same statement makes the apology very, very insincere. Either you are admitting to wrong doing or you're not, I don't need these excuses anymore. There is no defense for what you did, you did something wrong – take responsibility for your actions, admit you did something wrong and give me a sincere apology. Saying that I "claim to be a model" was immensely insulting, I am a model, that is my job. Saying that because I'm a public figure I deserved to have my work ripped off is also immensely insulting. I don't believe that because I'm a public figure that I deserve to have someone claim my art, my work as their own. I completely understand that if I'm in a public venue that someone might ask to take my picture and that maybe they might do a drawing based on that picture – but, that is not what happened. You stole specific photos which were created for a specific publication and tried to claim them as your own… it's inexcusable."
That just about says it all, doesn't it?
Note: You can donate to Anastasia's legal defense fund via PayPal by using the email darlingoftheunderground AT gmail DOT com.
The photo "VooDoo Baby at the Organ" was originally photographed by Laura Dark of Laura Dark Photography. You can view more of Laura's work at http://lauradark.net/
Kate Kotler is the founding editor of Geek Girl on the Street.com, the editor-in-chief of FilmCatcher.com, a freelance writer/editor/marketing hack and full time geek girl. She loves Doctor Who, Frank Miller, Wonder Woman, knitting, puppetry and she used to be a professional fire eater. See her full resume on katekotler.com.