Roy Lichtenstein's pixelated pop art is sort of the go-to example for early American comic art. And his work is certainly notable within the canon of American art history for the way that it married so-called "high brow" and "low brow" artforms. But the history of the comic book industry is also one that's ripe with tragedies of intellectual property theft, of artworks flipped for mass appeal profits while the counter-culture, "lowbrow" artists who created them are left to stagger away in poverty and/or obscurity.
Lichtenstein's work may have been recognizable. But as explored in the new documentary film WHAAM! BLAM! Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Appropriation (trailer above), he may have contributed more to the negative side of the industry. From The Guardian:
"It's called stealing," said comic strip artist Hy Eisman, who has just turned 96 and only recently discovered that Lichtenstein had reproduced one of his images in the 1960s. "I worked like a dog on this stupid page and this guy has $20m to show for it. If it wasn't so tragic, it would be [funny]."
Eisman, who has worked for almost 75 years on a huge range of publications, most recently the Popeye comic strip, is among more than 30 comic artists "appropriated" by Lichtenstein and who believe that they were cheated of recognition.
Recalling that his Private Secretary comic of 1963 was cribbed for Lichtenstein's Girl in Window of the same year, he told the Observer: "I got paid very little for the page, something like $4. He was able to turn it into a painting and make millions. When I saw that he did that to other people, I thought it was a lousy thing to do. But until now I never thought I was involved."
Case in point: here's Lichtenstein on the left and the original Eisman on the right:
WHAAM! BLAM! Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Appropriation is available to rent via Amazon Prime and other online streaming platforms.
'It's called stealing': new allegations of plagiarism against Roy Lichtenstein [Dalya Alberge / The Guardian]