Concentric Circles by Jonathan Hickman #3 – Bring Me The Head of David Mack!

March 12, 2008

Okay, so I really wanted to talk about soccer this week (apologies… apologies all around), but that has been relegated to a bit at the end.

Instead, a crazy, but not so surprising, thing happened last week that I have to comment on – David Mack got crucified on the Internet.

It started with Rich Johnston’s Lying in the Gutters column and then rapidly spread to most comic message boards. If you want to read through a discussion or two, go here, here, here, or here (there were more, but this should effectively illustrate the point).

I probably should be clear about one thing up front – I’m a David Mack fan. And while I’ve only had the privilege of briefly meeting him once, he came across as an extremely cool and relatable guy. So, know that I’m not being flip when I say how disappointed I was in the whole thing.

But it’s probably not for the reasons you think.

First off, concerning my frame of reference: While I may occasionally refer to myself as the artist or writer on a project, I don’t really think of myself that way at all. I’m a guy that can draw a little bit, write a little bit and design a decent amount – and all of those things come together to make me a quasi-efficient storyteller. I wish I had more talent, but I don’t – such is life. So when I use photo reference in my work, many times it’s either out of necessity, insecurity, laziness or some combination of all three. This, of course, is not the reason that everyone uses it.

Arguments about the validity of photo reference, reference in general, intellectual property and related legal issues are not limited to Liefeld, Land and comics, but also extend to Warhol, Liechtenstein and fine art. What’s a swipe? What’s homage? Hell, what’s parody? Aren’t all three inferior when compared to the work of real artists? (These arguments are easily recognizable from the links above or the fifty million other times it’s been discussed online) This debate won’t end soon or anytime in the near future.

So be it.

Part of our (the comic community’s) problem with issues like this is the very nature of the group itself. Fans intermingle with Pros and the difference between the two is often blurred by the perception by the latter that many of the former lucked into being published or knew someone in the industry. You can go to any of the comic art boards (say, penciljack or digital webbing) and frequently find professional artists getting hammered for anatomy, lighting or storytelling shortcomings by guys that haven’t been published but swear they could do it better – and sometimes they’re right and they could – which only makes things murkier. This has led to a general Wild West attitude where latest exploits and bravado have replaced body of work and, well, manners. Which is one of the reasons the invective was so hot around Mr. Mack – This is the way in which we consume our own. The other is that, for the most part, up until last week, his work was universally loved and appreciated.

I have no idea what the deal was with New Avengers #39. Whether it was because of time constraints, misguided attempts at being clever, too many commitments, laziness or the need for a quick check from Marvel to fuel an out of control vellum addiction – It really has nothing to do with my point, which is that the real tragedy of last week was as follows:

The belief that David Mack is somehow now a marginalized talent comes on the heels of what is arguably one of the finest ‘story as art/art as story’ narratives ever in comics – Kabuki: The Alchemy.

This is not the work of a hack, or a pretender or a fraud.

Sorry, it just isn’t.

So, dissect him however you want, do whatever it is that you need to do in protest. Refuse to buy New Avengers the month it comes out (Actually, scratch that. I understand that Bendis has taken out a mortgage on his third vacation home so he can buy a helicopter to jaunt from Chick-fil-a to the movies and back again – so let’s not leave the guy in a lurch – buy the book, just read the words… whatever) Just let me leave this subject with a single piece of advice on how you judge whether someone is the real deal or not – swear to God, it’s this easy…

Look at what they do next.

Personally, I feel confident that David Mack will once again blow our hair back.


Okay, on to a story that I want to quickly bring to your attention before I run out of words. The buying and selling of young boys for the gain of European soccer clubs has now reached tragic proportions.

Read about it here: Football Trafficking – the new slave trade

There’s nothing to really say, it’s just sad.


In news about me, Pax Romana #2 came out last week – Thanks for all the kind emails and such – and I finally finished up a script I’ve been working on, so I’ll have news about that soon as well. And in a week or two, TRANSHUMAN #1 comes out. Funny stuff, make sure you pick it up.

As always, If you’ve got comments or questions, post ‘em here or send me an email at (no attachments, please.)

Jonathan Hickman is the creator behind The Nightly News and Pax Romana as well as the forthcoming books Transhuman, A Red Mass for Mars and PLUS! You can find him online at either or


  1. Wow…in the simplest of terms, he’s copying. How you could say he’s not, I’d like to hear. I’ve seen tons of homages over the years, but those are always credited. Wow.

  2. as far as photo referance is concerned, i don’t have a problem. i draw (not profesionaly) and i use photo reference all the time. not traceing, referencing. panel swiping is different but cut the dude some slack. it’s one issue, lets not forget the rest of his brilliant works over one issue. be dissapointed, don’t slander the guy unless he makes it a habit, and move on.

    @ mr. Hickman. have you ever concidered doing a sports comic. like say about…um… soccer. soccer (or futball) and basketball would make for dinamic visuals in comic form and givin a good story, i think would make a kick (pun intended) ass comic. maybe a limited seires based on "The new slave trade." just throwing that out there. i’m a resent convert to your work (thanks to this column) and love it. keep up the good work.

  3. Good article, I had not heard about this.  Although it would mean that I care about what happens at Marvel.  I was a little shocked looking at the pictures and found it odd that DD was noticed second since it was the first one I noticed.

    Also I agree Mack is an exceptional artist and I’m sure he will blow our hair back again at some point. 

  4. PymSlap (@alaska_nebraska) says:

    That’s a hell of a thread.

    If there’s anything good in it, it’s the tidbit Maleev offers up that he drew illustrations for a future Mighty Avengers issue. That’ll be good, I’m sure, like NA 38 with Gaydos. I loved that.

  5. I think the generally positive consensus of Mack’s art is really what makes him such a ripe target for this kind of thing. He’s got tall poppy syndrome working against him, as much as the usual malignance of would-be professionals, and petty postulators.
    I don’t think future projects will ever wash this kind of thing from some minds, especially when there’s a lot of retroactive realisations of references. Mack’s stuff really gets sold in a particular league, and consequently a lot are, maybe understandably, going to feel cheated when they learn it’s not quite fine art in the way they thought it was.

    To Mack’s credit, something as accessible as the DVD extras for the Daredevil movie shows open admission of photo referencing, even if magazine references are only implied.

    I think, at least for fans, honesty is as big an issue as the creation of original pieces of artwork. The photo reference debate rages on!

  6. i could personally care less how the art gets there. it makes absolutely no difference to me at all if the cover for an issue contains something that was traced from some obscure magazine i’ve never heard of and will never see. if i am aware that something was plagiarized, it could potentially take me out of the story. but when it comes to referencing something i will never ever be aware of, it makes no difference at all.

    i can understand the point of view of the struggling artist who "thinks they can do it better" and how they might feel frustrated that someone is getting work over them when they’re plagiarizing. but, seeing as im not an artist, it doesn’t affect me in the least.

    also, i personally never even thought that was the final cover for the comic anyways. you assume it’s echo, but there’s no handprint on the face. and echo doesn’t have braids either. it just wasn’t echo. 

    @docsamson – did you read hickman’s article? he’s not denying mack copied something.

  7. @nickmaynard: yes sir I did. And I just posted my gut reaction to learning about it, not what Hickman had to say about it. If check out the other links he provided it’s not just one issue either, and from what I saw it wasn’t just photo reference, there was an example of comic to comic copying there too.

  8. "I’m a guy that can draw a little bit, write a little bit and design a decent amount"

    The humility there is laughable coming from the best creator at Image :-p

    And yeah, I don’t have a problem with swiping images for a cover or even for technology. I couldn’t do it, so what do I have to complain about? However I will say that once a creator begins to trace for every panel, then that’s a problem.

    I should also  read Kabuki heh?

  9. I’m with SixGun…I don’t mind it. Maybe artists tend to have more of a problem with such thing, or maybe I lack integrity, but I just don’t see what the big deal is.  Looking at the several example os "swipes" from the Lying in the gutters link, it just looks to me that he’s an artist who was thinking, "Hmm…What’s a good pose for Echo?  You know, there was a cool picture from with some chick that captures the mood and attitude I’d like to convey, why not draw that?…Or a pose from a wedding magazine…or a couple of people instensly kissing?"

    Isn’t that what a lot of artists do…paint things they see?  Is the crime that he didn’t think of the actual POSES?  Is it copying? Sure, but, again, any artists that paints what they see is copying something that already exists, like Warhol and his soup can.  Why should we care?

    I don’t even really love David Mack’s stuff, but all this hooplah is crazy. 

  10. Look at the other links he provides, the 1st one has an example of him copying from an Adam Hughes Gen13 mini.

  11. Is this book coming out today? Everywhere still says 3/12…

     Also, the new altered cover is quite good as well, so I must say, even though Mack took from something, he was apparently able to make something good and fitting to replace it.

  12. So what’s the difference between this and the hatred everyone projects at Greg Land?

    I think it’s probably time we all just accept that photo referencing is a thing that’s done, and it doesn’t necessarily mean the artist is a hack.

    But then, at the same time…

    This is a tough one.  Clearly.

  13. DocSamson,

    Hmm, for some reason that does seem different to me.  I still am not really angered, but now just wonder "Why?"  Isn’t Mack a decent enough artist to draw two panels of a woman standing blandly?  It just seems weird to me.  then again, he did add the "touch" of Echo’s broken nose.  

    Still, your point is understood, that this isn’t jsut swiping poses but actual panels from other comic artists.

     for some reason it still doesn’t bother me too much, at least not nearly as much as someone buying a Gen13 mini series. 😀

  14. PymSlap (@alaska_nebraska) says:

    Sometimes it’s okay to use other people’s photos or drawings, like shrinking a recognizable photo down and putting it on the pages of the Daily Bugle, or on a billboard. Or transferring a classic rock and roll album cover into a painting hanging in someone’s office, like Fury’s Bosch in Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk. Or pictures from previous scenes showing up on SHIELD monitors. I like it when they do that.

    (although it’s usually cooler to draw something original, like with rock albums, I’d rather see a new envisioning of "Sgt. Pepper’s" than another copy)  

  15. Really, who cares? If it was done better before – whether it’s a photo, painting, or a comic page – why not use the best? I frankly couldn’t care less as long as it’s not a shot of Captain Carrot in the middle of a New Avengers issue.

  16. I’ve been teaching perceptual drawing and painting for the better part of a decade, and this experience has led me to the following conclusions:

    When an artist draws a human figure (or anything else) they inevitably use one of four sources:  they are looking at a real, three dimensional model; they are looking at a photograph of a model; they are looking at another drawing (theirs or another artist’s); or they are drawing from their imagination.  

    When are artist draws from imagination, they are invariably drawing on the memory of drawings they have done from one of the other three sources.  In other words: all drawing is copying.  Sometimes it might be from memory, but it is always 100% of the time copying, and it has been ever since someone first picked up a burnt stick and made a mark on a cave wall.  

    It’s interesting to me that people who do not draw often hold tightly to this myth of the artist as pure, protean creator.  No artist is. We see stuff; we think it’s cool; we copy it; after a while we’ve copied enough things that our original sources get hard to pick out, but they are still there and occasionally they are still obvious. It is certainly true that each artist adds their own touch–these are habits of mind and hand that cannot be helped or faked–usually in the spots where they’ve made mistakes! 

    That’s how a visual art tradition works–and comics is certainly no exception.

    How many ways are there to draw a person standing in profile? 


  17. As long as the book is out on time and looks good, I don’t give a fuck who photo references.  If someone’s stealing, involve lawyers/cops, otherwise leave me out of it. I get enough drama from role-players, I ain’t dealin’ with any of it in comics unless it’s funny.

    People take their hobbies too fucking seriously.


  18. I don’t have anything against Land or Mack.  Right or wrong, it’s just something that’s not important to me, or, more than likely, to most people in the comic-reading community.  This outcry is just another product of this insular internet comic community that we like to hang out in.  It’s just a different version of the Mary Jane Statue Controversy of 2007 ™:  it’s just something for people who like to bitch to bitch about.

     I went to two shops and both had sold out of Pax Romana.  Ho hum.

  19. @ErikL. AMEN.

  20. the only thing that could kill my love for New Avengers was if Bendis decided to swipe the story of No Country For Old Men in an issue… Plagarism in writing is more irritating than using real world influences in your art….


    I am oblivious until the internet throws up on this issue every few months….

    GREAT ARTICLE…. iFANBOY contines to take over the comic book internet

    hey how did I not win a Darwyn Cooke GLASS…. cmon 

  21. There was no question Mack was copying other people’s work. The magazine cover of the woman with braided hair reapportioned for a cover featuring Echo was most shocking to me. It’s the same pose and figure exactly. Mack is directly lifting a photographer’s work for  his own benefit. While it is one thing to photo reference and use a light box; using someone else work as your own, regardless of how one dresses it up, is beneath someone of Mack’s talent. 

    Mack should have applied a little more skill to those swipes. I don’t mind the referencing. Just do it skillfully. Greg Land does not do anything skillfully w/r/t referencing.

    I stil love David Mack’s work. He’s one of my favorite artists ever. He clearly has immense talent. And is a very progressive comic creator. We should be so lucky to have him working in this medium of funny books.

  22. Wasn’t Marvel sued when an artist copied a record album cover photo for the cover of one of their books? This kind of photoswiping seems to happen a lot, and not just with any one artist. First, photos like that have copyrights and the photographer can sue over its use since it isn’t just reworked, it is copied exactly. There’s a difference between using photo reference for shadows and poses and then doing this. In the past artists would use photos and then rework the image in their own style, but not copy it this exactly. But such reference can be a trap. Al Williamson came to decide that he was spending more time shooting photo reference than he was on the final drawings so he went cold turkey and used no photo reference on that Flash Gordon mini-series he did for Marvel in 1995 just so he could see that he could still draw without using photos as crutches. He was very happy with the final result.

  23. I, for one, don’t give a shit about cut n’ paste artists, copiers or whatever. Being able to draw well alone is something I bow to. If David Mack is blatantly taking his shit right from the pages of Vouge or GQ and he keeps getting hired, so be it!

     We’re all fucking theives. We live in tradition, we copy our elders’ behaviors and we take what we’ve learned the day before and apply it to tommorow. If David Mack is more brazen about photo referencing and copying images, I think that in a way he’s being more honest than most of us.

    I don’t care about how you create your final product. All I care is that the final product is good. If you’re a theif, that’s between you, your conscience and whoever you have to answer to. 

  24. "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
    All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief" – The Fly (U2)

  25. "If you’re a theif, that’s between you, your conscience and whoever you have to answer to. "

    Um, what about the guy whose work you stole? Don’t photographers consider their work art also?

  26. Hey guys, 

    Long Night of writing, so I just got up….  I’ve briefly read through your comments and I’ll pick some out to answer specifically after I send of some emails, but I wanted to point out one thing:

    The point of this article is not to excuse what Mr. Mack did in New Avengers – that’s not the argument I’m making. it’s to point out that there is an entire body of work, one just completed, that implies that this is an aberration – Not pattern behavior.

    Okay, I’ll be back…


    And did someone just quote Bono up in here? 😉 

  27. I think it’s always great when art can inspire art.  Like, ErikL points out, all art, when broken down, is simply copying.  Mack is a great talent who has proven his skills in the business.  I trust his judgement when doing his artistic endeavors.  Sometimes, we use images to inspire us.  Of course, it’s completely lame if he is tracing, but that’s for him to live with, not us.

    The only time I have an issue with this, well, issue is when faces in the public domain enter comics.  I HATE when people draw Bush as the president, and I can recall Warren Ellis’ New Universals series where LaRocca had half the characters looking like actors from Hollywood, like Bruce Willis and Johnny Depp, which lead me to drop it immediately.  To me this dates the book, and in terms of conveying emotion and character gravitas, it takes all the wind out of it. 

  28. The Ghana site is down, any mirrors? It’s great to talk about soccer,bring on the articles!

    Go gunners!

  29. Neb,

    I’m just curios, but why do you hate when a real person is drawn in a comic? 

  30. whoops, sorry.  i guess you answered that.  but how does it date a book any mroe than clothing style, speech, etc.?

  31. @Neb – But Bush *is* the President of the United States in the Marvel Universe.  That’s something they pride themselvces on – placing their stories in "the real world".

  32. Soccer update:

     Knives 1

    Soccer hooligans 0

  33. @MILK – yes, I would very much like to do a soccer story at some point, but it would probably have to be for a European publisher as that stuff simply won’t sell in the US. Oh, BTW, there is a lot of soccer and baseball manga – you should check it out.

    @DOSSAMPSON – I get your point and it’s the same one many, many people have been making – it’s just not the point I’m making. No one is saying it was right – In fact, most everyone is saying it was wrong, or lazy, or whatever excuse you want to use. That’s just not the point I’m making.

    @MIKEHASELHOF – Good points!

    @NICKMAYNARD – You suck, but I used 3 times this week 😉

     @SIXGUN – You’re a prince – I owe…


    And to be clear…

    It’s a much greater sin to use swipes/homage/etc for interiors than exteriors. Cover art is cover art – it sales the book, it’s NOT comics – that’s the stuff inside. The interiors are the much bigger sin here not the covers.


    @JOSH – To me, it remains a body of work thing. And to add, Marvel, et al obviously have no problem with this… The photo ref argument is not going anywhere anytime soon.

    @ERIKL – Thanks for the input.

    @ULTIMATEHORATIO – Sorry you missed out, couldn’t be helped – just wait for the trade I guess…

    @JIMVANHISE –  That’s not exactly correct…

    Jesus, I bet this is a huge word balloon – like something out of an over-wordy-self-absorbed piece of bleh like PAX ROMANA! 

  34. @ Andrew–  Good point with clothing styles and stuff, but it doesn’t seem to bother me that much with super hero titles because we’re talking about a person in a costume, and most of the clothing that the character’s wear tends to be somewhat timeless (i.e. Jeans will always look good with a t-shirt).  Upon reflection, I guess it’s not so much the timeless thing as it is that it takes me out of a fictional world that I’m trying to invest in.  If I want to stare at pictures of Bruce Willis or whomever, I can do that on my computer for free, without investing 3 bucks.

    @ Conor– I always forget that Marvel tries to infuse the real world.  But when history looks back on such a polarizing figure as Bush, will it sully the books that his face appears in?  The optimist in me says that it shouldn’t matter and that the story is what’s important.  But there are people that it would affect, which takes away from the timelessness and accessibility of a story.

    Could that be looking into it too much?  Possibly, but that’s what happens when I don’t work while I’m at work. 🙂

  35. So I guess you wouldn’t have liked the Spider-Man story a few years ago when Spider-Man teamed up with Jay Leno, eh?

  36. @Hickman

     I’m a trade-waiter but I want to get this in single issues for now.  I’ll be buying Young Liars, RASL, Echo, and Pax Romana in singles (at least for the time being) because I want to support the books and it gives me a reason to go down to my LCS.

  37. Fine by me : ) 

  38. @ Andrew~  Oh lord no!  I thought that was awful.  I think I read the first three panels of it and wanted to gouge my eyes out.  Ugh.

    Wasn’t that a back up story or something like that?  I feel like it was a 2 or 3 parter spread out.  Or it was like an ad for something right?  Still, major ugh.

  39. Man! the thing that freaks me the most of this story is that nowadays nothing ever goes unnoticed…like Big brother is watching and can spot the littlest trace on the minimal panel of a comic book page.

    It’s just impossible to get away with crime on the comic book forums.

    Still like a lot David Mack…let’s hope he doesn’t get in amy trouble for the use of those images. 

  40.  @ Hickman. Yes, but if it all reeds left to right i don’t think my dislexia could handle it. and i’m not bagging manga, but it all looks the same to me. to small. we need someone with the visual stylings and know-how to kick that pig. besides, if its a good story, people wont care if its about soccer. if you do however only make it for the forien market, give us a heads-up. i’m in.

  41. I personally don’t give a rat’s tail of how someone draws, traces, or outright steals an image as long as it tells the story the writer intended.  I can’t believe the public outcry over this considering that this is how art has been made for centuries.  It’s not like comics are "fine art", they are produced en masse for a consumer and sometimes an artist has gotta do what they gotta do to get the book to print.  It’s a non-issue for me personally and I say steal away, steal away.  

    Mr. Hickman if you were a chick I would totally do you based on Pax Romana 2.  Oh and thanks to you I had to explain to my wife why I exceeded my weekly 60 dollar comic allowance.  I just couldn’t live another day without the fucking Nightly News trade.  This book is as close to perfection that ink can hope to obtain on a page.  I am really not sucking up, it’s just that good.

  42. I don’t dislike Greg Land because he traces, I dislike him because his stuff looks like those airbrushed Snoop Dogg t-shirts they sell at the county fair.

     Mr. Hickman- I’m with mistersizzle. Pax Romana 2 got me so excited about its universe. It really set my brain on fire. Now I’m gonna buy anything you ever do.  

  43. Thanks guys! 

  44. To me, its just heartbreaking. The original cover did not seem like a reference (cmon man is was copied) imo, and I’m not going to argue it, because honestly who hasn’t by now. I saw a few images of other stuff he’s "referenced" (ya right). and I hate it! Anyway the worst thing about this whole deal is that it seems like he may keep doing this, but as Mr. Hickman said, I’ll have to "look at what they do next".

    On Pax Romana #2: man that issue was awesome, its going to be a mind blowing run, and that last page was killer. I’m dying to see where this series goes!!!

    ps: if he is going for a motif or whatever(…bs…), could he credit or explain it in the issue or something, instead of throwing it out there on some message board.