A renowned illustrator lampooned a Tumblr user who "fixed" his cover of "The Amazing Spider-Man."
Online fandoms have embraced "fixing" art as a tool of criticism.
The illustrator's response sparked divergent opinions about the practice of art fixing.
In May, J. Scott Campbell, a comic-book illustrator with 398,000 Instagram followers, sparked a culture battle after he lampooned a Tumblr user who changed his 2009 "The Amazing Spider-Man #601" cover.
The Tumblr user was engaging in a practice known in fandom circles as "art fixing." To express dissatisfaction with an artist's work, amateur illustrators tweak minor or major details and post it on social media. In this particular case, the art fixer's adjustments referenced how Campbell's work is often perceived as overly sexual.
Unlike fan art, which offers playful reinterpretations, "fixing" showcases an alternative that implies there was something wrong with the original work. Just about anyone with a computer has the tools to do it, which can be an infuriating dynamic for accomplished creators like Campbell.
Campbell's polarizing decision to take it upon himself to fix an art fixer's work illuminates the ever-evolving relationship between creators and their critics. Should artists accept that social media has given fans the power to digitally alter their works? Or should they behave like Campbell and establish clear boundaries?
Campbell called out a critic who changed his artwork
On May 4, Campbell took to social media to address how his 2009 Spider-Man cover faced criticism for what many called an overtly sexual depiction of Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker's red-haired love interest.
Tumblr user "nonbinaryfinnmertens," who has since changed their username to "buunbi," posted a "fix" of Campbell's cover. In this tweaked version of Campbell's work, MJ had less cleavage, a more realistically proportioned waist, and a covered stomach. Unlike Campbell's suggestive cover, which critics have said caters to the "male gaze," MJ had her legs folded on the couch in a much more casual and nonchalant manner.
After a screenshot of the Tumblr post made the rounds online, Campbell called out the Tumblr user on Instagram and Twitter and offered some constructive criticism and corrections on their illustration. In a carousel post with several pictures, Campbell pointed to specific flaws he saw in the Tumblr user's rendering of MJ. The critiques of the critique vary from minute details to the overall ethos of the new Tumblr rendering.
"I can't help but notice that rather than looking relaxed and cozied into the couch with her warm coffee as in the original, MJ instead now has the energy of a perky obedient puppy! This doesn't seem to be the MJ I know, but who am I to say," Campbell wrote in the post caption.
He concluded the post with a dig illuminating his issue with the dynamic between creator and internet critic: "Hey maybe Nonbinarryfinn is onto something," the artist said, "maybe unsolicited correcting no one asked for is fun!!"
Campbell was met with both support and frustration for his criticism of the criticism
While the comments section on Campbell's Instagram post was flooded with support from fans, others were critical of an established illustrator going out of his way to shame a relatively unknown internet critic.
Still, the post garnered thousands of comments from readers and prominent fellow writers and illustrators who offered words of encouragement.
Tom Bancroft, an animator at Disney, wrote on the post, "Seriously, I don't blame you a bit Jeff. Making unsolicited drawing suggestions is one thing, but redrawing the art is wrong!" Frank Cho, a writer and artist at Marvel Comics, commented, "Way to go, Campbell!"
But some also perceived the Tumblr user's "fix" as commentary on the history of objectifying women and presenting one-sided, heteronormative fantasies in comic books.
In the following days, Campbell doubled down on the controversy by weighing in on a Twitter discussion about MJ's torso structure on Instagram.
The controversy is part of a larger discussion in the comic-book world
The backlash is indicative of an ongoing debate in the comic-book industry of who gets a say on the direction of content and whether it's valid for high-profile illustrators to publicly lash out at obscure fans.
In an email to Insider, Campbell stood by his decision to fix the fixer and criticize them on social media. He described it as a "teachable moment" in which he demonstrated that art fixing is an "obnoxious trend" that wasn't only negatively affecting him but also the broader "artistic community."
After the uproar, to capitalize off the viral attention, Campbell auctioned off the original artwork on eBay for the nonprofit Fresh Artists and then, a few days later, invited his fans to draw his cover of "The Amazing Spider-Man #607" in their own style and post the new renderings using the hashtags #DrawThisInYourStyle and #ReDrawASM607, which has garnered thousands of illustrations.
"Hopefully, the next art fixer will think twice before putting it out there and remember that an entire art community spoke up at once with one loud voice to say, 'We don't want it!' I'm looking forward to more #DrawThisInYourStyle challenges in the future where artists can interpret a piece in their own way and have a positive space to do so," Campbell told Insider, despite his critics.
When asked about the criticism that his style is hypersexual, Campbell said, "My art is certainly pretty sexy at times, on rare occasions perhaps even a bit sexual. But in all actuality, my artwork is far more in the spirit of the girl-next-door pin-up calendar art of the 1950s and '60s."
The controversy over the cover of "The Amazing Spider-Man #601" is likely not the last of its kind. There are blogs devoted to art fixing, giving space to illustrators and fans to change art to express their stylistic preferences, offer constructive critiques, and launch their own careers.
But while many view it as a harmless, fairly inconsequential form of internet art, others echo Campbell's stance that it's presumptuous and demeaning to creators.
'Fixed that for you' has been a form of critique online for years
"Fixed that for you" - also abbreviated to FTFY - is often used sarcastically when someone online changes another person's work because they dislike it for political or aesthetic reasons. In recent years, people have "fixed" works including a widely panned scene in the 2018 film "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the animation of the 2020 movie "Sonic the Hedgehog."
Ultimately, the practice reflects how democratized online spaces provide ample opportunities for tech-savvy creators, critics, and fans to argue about stylistic preferences. Instead of simply posting criticism, creators can now showcase their alternative and connect with countless others who agree.
In fandoms, art fixing can also take on the contentious dimension of social justice. In the world of comic books, in particular, amateur illustrators have changed art to feature more people of color and in the instance of "The Amazing Spider-Man #601," women who are less sexualized.
But this isn't an entirely new phenomenon for fandoms. Arguably, FTFY has analog roots in fan art and writing letters to illustrators and editors. What's changed is the sense of scale and potential for widespread circulation.
Zachary Jenkins, editor-in-chief of ComicsXF.com, told Insider that the difference between fan art and art fixing stems from its reception. "High-level art fixing is someone explicitly saying, 'I think this is bad and it would be better if I do this or that.' How it's different from fan art is that people get mad about it and they take it as a personal affront," he said.
Campbell argued that the distinction is linked to its intentionality. He said that while fan art "celebrates the original piece," art fixing "displays the arrogance of an individual tweaking existing art with an agenda, often for attention."
For people who might not see anything wrong with their artwork, the dynamic of some random person on the internet going out of their way to "fix" it can seem opportunistic and malicious.
Some comic-book fans say art fixing is public shaming
After Campbell's viral social-media posts, comic-book vloggers were quick to share their own takes on the situation.
On May 5, Clownfish TV, a pop-culture channel with 196,000 subscribers that covers comics and animation, posted an episode in which the hosts largely sided with Campbell and mocked the Tumblr community. Kneon, a cohost of the channel, told Insider that "Campbell was well within his rights to 'fix the fix'" and noted that "the internet has brought us all within a tag of each other" so critics should be "prepared for a response." He said he believes art fixing has become a tool for public shaming.
Ethan Van Sciver, a comic artist and YouTuber with 146,000 subscribers, hosted a live-streamed panel discussion about Campbell that was published on May 9. In an interview with Insider, Sciver offered some measured critique of the renowned illustrator's engagement with the online mob.
"It's a waste of his time because he could have spent that time creating something new and fresh, rather than punishing someone on the internet. That person deserved it, don't get me wrong," he said.
Some said Campbell's behavior reflected the toxicity of online communities
Claire Napier, a former editor-in-chief of Women Write About Comics who also has written for The Guardian, said Campbell actually benefited from art fixing because it encouraged him to change his own work when he fixed the fix.
"Art fixing is constructive criticism, in that it's instructive and can be put to proactive use by those viewing it. It's also literally constructive, in that it creates a new image that stands in direct contrast and context with its original and has the explicit function of claiming a statement," Napier wrote to Insider.
Gwyn is a comic-book fan who represents the changing landscape of an industry that's becoming more conscious of diversity. They are active on Twitter and outspoken about social justice. Gwyn, who does not share their last name publicly, told Insider that they think Campbell handled the situation "awfully" and characterized his response as bullying. Gwyn said the social value of art fixing comes only from its intention and that the "standard" of comic books tends to cater to a "hypersexualized white male gaze."
While in some cases it can be a bullying tactic to exclude others and reinforce that problematic standard, marginalized people who want to express their qualms can use the practice of fixing art, Gwyn said.
The controversy over Campbell's response to an art fixer is indicative of broader discussions regarding creating comics that aren't solely tailored to white straight men.
As companies have tried to be more inclusive, they've dealt with a backlash from very vocal segments of fandom that is reminiscent of Campbell feeling attacked by critique about his depiction of women.
In 2017, women and people of color in the comic-book industry underwent a torrent of harassment in what was soon labeled as ComicsGate. Through social-media platforms, fans mobilized to lash out against creators and journalists as a response to calls for diversity in the industry. They created blacklists of specific creators to flex their influence.
Inverse described the online-harassment campaign as "little more than the latest irate gasp of fading white hegemony in geek culture."
Though Campbell distanced himself from ComicsGate and discouraged bigoted bullying, he dabbles in the kind of reactionary politics that fuels this outrage clickbait economy. On Twitter, he has mocked the notion of the "male gaze" and dismissed concerns of women feeling objectified.
Jenkins noted that while other illustrators have chosen "one-sided forms of engagement," like sending out email newsletters, Campbell is highly available on social media for both his fans and critics.
Despite its risks, this interactivity also comes with its own set of marketing opportunities. There have been thousands of fan renderings in the #ReDrawASM607 Instagram hashtag. Campbell's original artwork features Black Cat wearing an oversized Spider-Man nightshirt and is as salacious as the cover that sparked the controversy.
While some illustrations echo Campbell's pin-up style, other fans have used the hashtag to showcase a range of body types. For instance, cartoonist Kevin McShane offered his unique spin - a jewelry-adorned man playfully mimicking Black Cat's pose as he bites on a pearl necklace.
As comic-book companies push for diversity in hiring and content, some illustrators and critics will certainly continue to respond defensively. But ultimately, it's up to readers to negotiate which content should be celebrated rather than fixed.
Read the original article on Insider