You remember that post about the homestuck t-shirt design contest collaborating with hot topic? And how Hot Topic are the biggest art theifs?  This is recent.  As you can see above, I stumbled upon Hot Topic’s website and they are selling a very popular fan art put on a t-shirt, and did not ask permission from the original artist (rismo).

This shows Hot Topic still continues their art thievery.  Hot Topic are still taking art from artists without their permission.  This is disrespectful and appalling.

TL;DR: My emotionally charged response to a vigilant student’s deviantArt comment sparked some heated debates both on that site and here on Tumblr–inadvertently besmirching the reputations of two institutions that are otherwise known to bring joy to many. The truth is, as it turns out, this is just the age-old story of the artist who unwittingly signed away the rights to his art after he failed to read the fine print.

Okay. So. Here we are. One week and a hundred thousand notes later. Gang, I love you. I do. When this thread popped up on my dashboard I was overwhelmed with the feels. Thank you so much! The passion and energy you showed at the mere possibility of an artist being bamboozled by a big company just filled me with so much jubilation. I totes wanted to post an update right away, but I just didn’t have all the facts. Over the past few days, however, representatives of deviantArt and Hot Topic have reached out to me directly. 

It is apparent to me now that neither Hot Topic nor deviantArt had a hand in this shirt’s creation. Honestly, it’s crazy to me that dA ever got dragged into this in the first place. Unfortunately, some rebloggers picked up that torch and ran with it when they saw that the original comment came from deviantArt.

Now, it must be known that I get to do my fair share of official art for Cartoon Network and its licensees. I LOVE having this opportunity! Why then did I have such a knee-jerk reaction upon seeing this particular piece of art turned into merchandise? Why did it not even occur to me that it could be legit? The answer is due, in part, to the turbulent history of My Neighbor Jake.

My Neighbor Jake

My Neighbor Jake. Oh, let’s call it MNJ for now. MNJ has been bootlegged like crazy in the last two years. You need only do a quick search on eBay or Amazon and you’ll find a bevy of merch available. Mostly junk. The only “official” uses of MNJ of which I was previously aware were the original limited edition prints for Mondo Gallery and the limited edition Adventure Time comic book cover for BOOM! Studios. Ironically, the pirates making posters and other things are doing so with scans made from the comic book cover. The art is a tad different on the comic version and the crop is a dead giveaway. 

Two years before all this, around the same time MNJ went viral, the design almost became an official shirt through different means. I had just started designing shirts for WeLoveFine (Mighty Fine) and became one of their MFA team members, working on officially licensed shirts for a number of properties. In those days, though, I was told CN wanted to avoid pop culture mashups with Adventure Time on official merch, so this iteration of the shirt did not happen. It’s a shame, really, since I’m sure it would have done well. My Neighbor Jake Tee

Evidently, CN’s attitude about mashups has changed over time because the shirt you see in Hot Topic is officially licensed.

How did the Hot Topic shirt come to be? Good question! Well, as I’ve learned, when I gave the image to BOOM! Studios to use as a comic book cover, about a year-and-a-half ago, I signed this document for them that acts like an invoice, non-disclosure agreement, and contract all rolled into one. For the sake of communication, this doc is referred to as a “voucher” when communicating with the publisher. This week, I confirmed with BOOM! that the original voucher describes that all rights to “the work” are turned over to the licensor, which, in this case is Cartoon Network. Sooo…CN is probably legitimately able to do what they wish with the image, since I think they own it now.

The agreement with BOOM! is confidential, so I won’t go into the wording, but as you can imagine, to a starry-eyed artist, the verbiage is a little confusing–not unlike any other legal agreement. At the time, I was just thinking “oh cool, it’ll be on a comic book!” It is my fault. I did not consider future ramifications.

I bare no ill will toward BOOM! or Cartoon Network. Everyone I’ve dealt with at these companies has been rad. This is just how work-for-hire stuff works. I wouldn’t question it at all with other Adventure Time art that I’ve created for them. Those get turned into merch regularly. Just today, my son was at Hot Topic and he found a BMO lanyard that was made entirely from another one of my comic covers. That’s totes cool. I suppose I just hadn’t thought of MNJ as traditional work-for-hire art since it was pre-existing and had quite a reputation of its own before it became a comic. With hindsight and a better understanding of the agreement, I’m not sure I would have sold MNJ. It’s just not worth the emotional stress. 

Thank you again for all your support. I know from your messages that many of you already own this shirt and now you have awkward feelings about that. Please feel good about it. I want you to be happy wearing it! At this point, I feel like My Neighbor Jake belongs to everyone. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta get busy on some new art! Just keep livin’, y’all!