Monday, July 30, 2012

A Primer to Commission work - The Question of Content

In 2005, great controversy was stirred through the publishing of a series of caricatures of the prophet Mohammed by a danish newspaper. This was during the aftermath of the US interventions in the Middle East, at a time when anti-muslim propaganda in the Western world was still scathing. The caricatures were not shocking in the least, especially considering that parodies of other major religious movements in popular media have been much more crass (think of the character of Jesus or God in Family Guy, or the depictions of jews in Drawn Together).

The reaction from muslim organizations was unprecedentedly violent. Death threats, boycotts, protests. One is left wondering the shock experienced by the artists who created those images, simple drawings made for hire. Their intent was certainly to cause controversy and provoke conversation-- they may have gotten more than they bargained for.

Earlier, in 2003, the videogame webcomic Penny Arcade ran a fake ad that portrayed Strawberry Shortcake in a BDSM context, parodying the trend of certain videogames of that time of taking well known characters from literature and making them 'edgy'. The company that owns the rights to Ms. shortcake immediately threatened legal action against the artists if the image was not taken down at once, even if said image was well within the parameters of parody and therefore completely legal.

The fact remains that images are powerful. Art appeals to our emotions first and foremost, where instinct hijacks rationality. Add to that the fact that most of the content we enjoy is owned by large corporations who are quite willing to throw their lawyering muscle around in order to maximize their profits whether they're in the right or not, and you're left wondering if you should have a tighter grip on the kind of content you should create as a work-for-hire artist.

Without going down the path of 'being true to your artistic ideals no matter what' (that is a discussion for another time), we have to agree that the kinds of content you create as a public, commercial artist matter, especially in this Internet age where once an image is published, it exists forever. So what can one do? When taking commissions, you WILL be asked to draw things that may be of questionable taste, artistic or moral. So it pays off to have thought of this ahead of time and decide what you are comfortable drawing, and the possible consequences of you doing it. If a customer asks you, maybe offering a lot of money, would you be willing to draw...

  • Violence - Fighting, shooting
  • Gore (horror, or  extreme violence) - Possibly involving blood, viscera, dismemberment
  • Political statements on controversial issues, like abortion, gay marriage or elections
  • Religious imagery - Of your own faith or others', in a traditional context
  • Parodies or critique of Religious imagery
  • Parodies or critique of Celebrities
  • Racist imagery and other types of discrimination and hate
  • Drug use and abuse
  • Toilet humour
  • Sex humour
  • Fan art - Your own renditions of characters you don't hold the copyright to
  • Rule 34 - Explicitly pornographic depictions of copyrighted characters
  • Wish-fulfillment - Drawing the customer or one of his characters
  • Sexual fetishes/kinks - Your own, or others'
  • All possible combinations of of the above

Everybody has a different threshold of what they are willing to draw, for money or otherwise. Some people don't bat an eyelash at drawing realistic renditions of bone and muscles being torn due to violence, but won't touch religious imagery. Some others will gladly draw any fetish under the sun, but would not feel comfortable drawing a caricature of pro-life activists as a political statement.

And speaking of content that was banned for no reason, Song of the South has been off the shelves for the longest time due to containing a portrayal of rural America when slavery was the norm. No DVD release is planned for this movie by Disney, although there are some bootlegs around. I personally don't care much for the live action sequences, but the animated ones are a delight. This doodle of Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox is from that.



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