Homage a trois
Sounds a little dirty, don’t it? Or at very least, a little French. Horrible, horrible French. Frenchlish, in the same way there’s the concept of “Spanglish”.
Though come to think of it, ever since that little incident in 1066 (“Hey England, you got any Norman in ya? Would ya like some?”), English is stuffed full of all sorts of French words and concepts. So much so that the phrase above actually makes perfect sense in French: even though their spelling is “hommage”, in modern times it means basically the same thing as “homage” in English.
It doesn’t make perfect sense for this article, though, since the literal translation would be paying tribute or respect to “three”, when what I really wanted to do was just make a sleazy pun on “menage a trois” (which in English we’d call a “threesome”), while also discussing the idea of controlling your brand without suffocating it.
Interesting then that while googling I ran across a set of Flickr photos of a staged performance expressing some similar thoughts: http://www.raddanovic.com/blog/2010/02/24/hommage-a-trois/
“We work from an understanding that paying tribute establishes authority, while at the same time undermines it.”
How true that is, and how important to acknowledge, both as a creator and a fan of a work. The reaction to the tribute may speak reams about you as both a person and an artist, and furthermore these days also gets all tangled up in issues of copyrights, trademarks, and “fair use”.
For instance, I think just about everyone’s aware that companies like Disney and Mattel take a very dim view of any use of their characters’ likenesses in a way they don’t approve of, whether the end product was meant for commercial gain or not. These sorts of lawsuits generally get slapped down by courts in the United States because of the First Amendment and parody precedents, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people having to do a de facto cease and desist just because they can’t cope with the court costs of defending themselves, or because a gunshy publisher or ISP pulls the plug on them.
On the self-publishing front, a lot of creators end up with a lot of stomach ulcers over their designs being ripped off and put on t-shirts, etc., to be sold to others without any compensation or even credit to them (I honestly think the lack of credit is what hurts the most). Some like Bill Watterson just threw up their hands and never bothered with merchandising or trying to control the merchandising of their characters, and that’s why the plague of “peeing Calvins” started popping up on bumperstickers and window decals everywhere. They’re all technically illegal and violations of copyright/trademark, but no one was going to the trouble of pursuing them. Even if Watterson had, the question would then become, is this a protected parody or not? And is this interfering with your livelihood and your own marketing, or just merely a matter of you being uncomfortable with seeing your characters used in such a manner (if that ain’t enough for Mattel, it probably ain’t gonna be enough for you)?
Anyhow, where am I going with this, you ask? Well, I wanted to talk about a piece of fan art we received in response to our call a few weeks back, by the talented gentlemen of the webcomic Up to My Nipples, Will Moore and Jesse Simons. Jesse contacted me to warn me they had an idea but it was going to be racy, I basically responded “how racy are we talkin’ here?”, and then next thing you know the completed page was in my Inbox for evaluation.
I laughed, and Dawn laughed when I showed it to her, but we had a bit of a dilemma on our hands. We’ve always considered the Zombie Ranch site and comic to be something of a PG-13 experience, and although there wasn’t anything wildly explicit going on, I admit a gatekeeper part of me went “whoa”. We really appreciated their efforts on our behalf (including formatting everything perfectly with our weird comic dimensions), but after some discussion decided it would probably be a little too jarring to use straight up for a guest week.
We gave them our complete blessing to publish it on their own site, though, and they did so last week. Mildly NSFW, if you didn’t get that already, but if you’re down with that, check it out! LINK
You might even end up with the opinion it’s really no big deal and Dawn and I are being big ol’ prudes about this (especially ironic since the weekend before the preview arrived we’d been watching a Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation marathon). Feel free to share that opinion, honestly, we were just going with our instincts here. But I DID want to give Will and Jesse their due for their hard work and some referral to their own site, especially because they are genuine fans of Zombie Ranch and were very polite and generous in all our communications. Far as I’m concerned they didn’t even need our permission to publish since the source material is properly noted and the comic is obvious parody. I mean, Chuck acting as the voice of reason and prudence? Preposterous!
More than that, what they presented gave me some ideas. Not regarding rampant zombuggery, mind you, but my devious little brain has figured a way I might actually be able to reference their work more solidly down the road. Might not be this month, or the next, or even this year, but there are notes. There are plans. That’s the best part of a good parody/homage, after all, it gets you thinking and questioning. So thank you, Will and Jesse, and I can only hope this homage to your homage suffices for now.