Separated At Birth: Keratin and Adam Ellis' Instagram Comic

Keratin is a short film directed by Andrew Butler and James Wilson that was featured exclusively on the Directors Notes website after running in film festivals last year. Keratin is a black-and-white film that follows a man who enacts a strange magical ritual.  When asked "Where did the idea for Keratin come from?" and "Did you draw from any particular sources when developing the idea?" they replied;

"The original concept was inspired by a short online cartoon we saw which we developed further, drawing on our love for dystopian stories and imagery."

Nothing further than that. The creator of that cartoon had more to say on the matter however. Adam Ellis wrote:

This film is a fully plagiarized, shot-for-shot remake of my comic. The filmmakers didn't ask me for permission to adapt my work. They didn't even notify me they were doing so until the film had already been released and was winning awards at film festivals.

Separated At Birth: Keratin and Adam Ellis' Instagram
Movie screencap/comic strip comparison, courtesy of Adam Ellis.

The comic they stole is deeply personal to me, maybe the most personal comic I've ever made. I drew it shortly after I left my day job because of disputes over ownership of my personal work. The comic is about self-care, reinvention, and personal growth.

Separated At Birth: Keratin and Adam Ellis' Instagram
Movie screencap/comic strip comparison, courtesy of Adam Ellis.

They talk about working with Jay Thorpe to develop the character. Did they tell him he'd signed on to plagiarized film? Did the other cast and crew know? How are they not mortified to make this and then release it online?

Separated At Birth: Keratin and Adam Ellis' Instagram
Movie screencap/comic strip comparison, courtesy of Adam Ellis.

After ghosting me, all the filmmakers made their accounts private or blocked me. I should've known they never intended to honor my request to pull the film. But hey, I guess it's nice to know my stories are out there winning awards, even if I'm not credited.

Separated At Birth: Keratin and Adam Ellis' Instagram
Movie screencap/comic strip comparison, courtesy of Adam Ellis.

He also shared a letter from the producers after the film had been shown.

Separated At Birth: Keratin and Adam Ellis' Instagram
E-mail courtesy of Adam Ellis.

The comic in question can be found here. I would link to the film but it seems that Directors Notes have suddenly taken it down for some reason. The interview can, however, be retrieved on the Wayback Machine. Today the website reported the allegations and their decision to pull the piece.

Upon discovering this we immediately reached out to Ellis to discuss the matter further (via Instagram DM) and to Butler and James (via email) asking them to clarify the situation – to which they declined to comment – and removed the interview from our pages.

For clarity, we would like to state that Directors Notes was in no way involved with the creation of Keratin nor have we profited from the film's existence. We are however regretful to have used our platform to help promote the film. Had the full facts of its genesis been made clear to us at the time would have declined to run the interview.

As has been pointed out by many commentators, when asked about Keratin's inspiration Butler and James' response: "The original concept was inspired by a short online cartoon we saw which we developed further" fails to credit Ellis as the creator of the original online cartoon, nor does it detail the email conversation the filmmakers had with Ellis or his request that they pull the film from festivals.

Is that justified? That is not for me to say, of course, that is the job of you, dear reader of Bleeding Cool's Separated At Birth, to judge. But remember all that fuss between Dan Clowes and Shia LaBeouf?

Separated At Birth used to be called Swipe File, in which we presented two or more images that resemble each other to some degree. They may be homages, parodies, ironic appropriations, coincidences, or works of the lightbox. We trusted you, the reader, to make that judgment yourself. If you were are unable to do so, we asked that you please return your eyes to their maker before any further damage is done. The Swipe File didn't judge; it was interested more in the process of creation, how work influences other work, how new work comes from old, and sometimes how the same ideas emerge simultaneously as if their time has just come. The Swipe File was named after the advertising industry habit where writers and artist collect images and lines they admire to inspire them in their work. It was swiped from the Comic Journal, who originally ran this column, as well as the now-defunct Swipe Of The Week website.

If you see any similarities, feel free to send them into richjohnston@bleedingcool.com.

 

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.