Now when I'm talking about tracing, I'm not talking about reference or blocking or inspiration or any of that. I'm talking bold faced theft of an image. Cribbing compositions or poses from your inspirations is old hat in the illustration industry. I've seen Gary Gianni drop in the odd figure from Gustav Dore. Frank Frazetta nicked more than a few figures from his inspirations. But we're talking appropriated pieces of an original whole not a whole appropriated image. When you're just flat out copying an entire work there's none of you in it, and that makes it not your work. I don't care if you change the colors, flip it around, splatter half tones on it, it still isn't your damn work. It's just embarrassing.
I suppose the crossroads that this particular brand of plagiarism brings us to is "does original work sell?" Recently I was reading that new interview with Bill Waterson that's making the rounds and in it he pleasantly states that people are attracted to what they know, it's comfortable and assured. It's the Hollywood model of remakes and sequels. It's got brand recognition. And so I generally have to conclude that no, original work doesn't sell... unless it's part of a brand or has been part of a brand long enough that it can carry its fanbase away from that brand. I feel, in many ways, that fanart is sort of a crutch but it's also a necessity in today's market. It's that brand recognition you use to build a fanbase that can then make your original work viable. Unfortunately that brings us back to the initial problem: the desperate and the hungry will just copy until someone notices and then copy something else to capture that fanbase. Perhaps I should be more disappointed in the fanbases for not being as discerning of charlatans and phonies. But depressingly I don't expect any more of them.