Open for Debate: Being Beaten to the Punch(line)


We’ve all been there before….

…Or if you haven’t, prepare yourself as it WILL happen. That moment when you realize that project you poured yourself into was already done, and by someone with more notoriety. Now what do you do?

I bring this up because I recently dealt with a situation like this. I illustrated a piece I intended to use as a print at shows, and was quite excited about it. Minutes before sharing with the world, I found out that a notable t-shirt designer already did the same concept, months prior, so I had a choice to make. First things first, I contacted the T-shirt designer, who was plenty nice and gave me her approval to share/sell it. Despite getting permission, and the fact that my interpretation of the same idea was unique, I still decided against it.  While I shared it online for those interested, I chalked up this as a lesson on researching FIRST before you jump on some epiphany you have late at night. Instead I set it aside and worked on a fully original concept that could stand on it’s own… and the key point is, I could FEEL GOOD about that.

Because I’m betting you’re quite interested in what this print design was, and how it compares to the “original” design, it’s probably in poor form for me NOT to show it. However, keep in mind, this article discussion is NOT about these particular pieces or critiquing them, it’s about what to do when you’ve been “beaten to the punch”. Below is a side-by-side of the two pieces.


Sharing this with thanks to “Bamboota” Shirt can be found at:

I’d also like to note, as it’s a hot topic lately, that I know many in our community take issue with drawing other artist’s Intellectual Property for profit, or even just to showcase in your portfolio. When you weigh in parodies & fair use, it’s a confusing and interesting debate about the legality of it all, especially with the high prevalence of print artists in Artist Alley. But again, not really the focus on THIS discussion. For more on Fair Use, please tune into our NEXT podcast, as we managed to drag an actual lawyer onto the show! Willingly!

My Decision

So, why did I opt to ditch my honest hard work and move on, when I was given permission by the original artist? Various reasons, but really it came down to 3 factors.

  1. It was ONLY a print design. Had it been a full comic or graphic novel story I spent months working on, I may have tried to alter it first.
  2. The original artist was fairly more well-known than I, and her work is prevalent at many comic cons. My design may come across as the knock-off, or worse, an intentionally plagiarized rip-off. I would be opening my reputation up to these uninformed accusations. True or not, rumors spread fast.
  3. In the end, my conscience had to sleep at night. It didn’t FEEL right to go ahead with this, in full knowledge that the idea existed already.

Now, some may say “Dawn, to your own knowledge, you didn’t steal this idea. It was just a coincidence.” Or maybe point out “Nothing is original anymore, it’s all been done.. just give it your own touch and it’s yours!”. Or you may try to soothe my concerns with advice like “Your fans will know you wouldn’t do that & support you!” I’ve heard them all. But the final decision was based on the 3 points above and asking myself: Is it WORTH IT?

I went with my gut. Maybe I just needed that peace of mind more than I had the desire to move forward with my own version of “Groot Loops”. In the end, I’m quite happy with the follow-up print I have illustrated, which seems to be the only one of it’s kind (online at least).

But the Question Remains: What is Ethically Right? What is the Best Business Move?

Considering all the possible outcomes, would you knowingly share/publish/sell a concept that has been done already? It doesn’t even have to be so exact it could qualify for copyright infringement… I’m speaking of enough parallels between the two that accusations or assumptions could be made. Do you confidently go forward with it, figuring everything has been done before anyway, so why drive yourself crazy? Or do you consider altering your work, or even reinventing it completely, to at least have a clear conscience?

Go ahead and post your thoughts in the comments!


DawnPicDawn Griffin is the resident “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her formative years either playing street basketball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the syndication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and you can find her portfolio site HERE.  She can be easily bribed with ice cream.


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  1. As far as I’m concerned, it really depends on a couple of factors. Is it an obvious parody, like the Marvel VS DC videos? Then it’s fair game. (And you should be allowed to monetize that, without fear of the original creator suing you. It’s ridiculous that itsjustsomerandomguy and people who make “abridged” comedy series can’t cash in on those because they’re scared of getting sued.) Are you just drawing fan art, and making it very obvious that you don’t actually own the character, just the fan art? That seems to be standard practice at cons, and also fair game.

    But if it’s a single gag repeated, or something really, really similar to a preexisting work (I’m thinking like the character designs are exactly the same but with glasses and different hair colors), then it depends on the following:

    Have you already monetized it and provably didn’t know the preexisting work was out there? Then it was okay while you were doing it, but you should either get the preexisting work’s creator to OK continued monetizing of the work or take the piece down.

    Did you know the preexisting work was out there? Then you shouldn’t put up your version even if the original creator OKs it.

    • well stated. You pretty much summed up my gut feeling on this issue. It was a perfect storm of reasons that made me decide to NOT sell what was truthfully an original piece (at the time I thought of it). Getting permission from the artist to share/sell gave me the green light to share online for free, but those additional reasons lit the fire under my ass to make something I KNEW was more unique/original, to sell at shows.
      It’s different for everyone, of course. I couldn’t sell my piece knowing it wasn’t the first of it’s kind… and that’s what it came down to in the end.

      • Thanks!

        I think most of the people who are disagreeing with you are coming at this from a buyer’s perspective. I mean, of course I’d be okay buying something from an artist who got “beat to the punch” if I knew they had an OK from the other artist. And I’d definitely purchase whichever work was most appealing to me, personally.

        But from a seller’s perspective this is so, SO much more complicated. You have your reputation to worry about- a few jerks spreading misinformation can ruin your career. Or you might get a reputation as somebody who only does old jokes, which could be just as bad. People might decide your work isn’t as good as the other artist’s and you’re therefore not worth their time and money. Then there’s the guilt if you feel like you’re “taking away” from the other artist, knowing how tough the market is.

        And you’re right. From a seller’s perspective, it really isn’t worth it.

  2. You can tell a joke that has been done before, just as long as you tell it better than the last time it was told.

    So someone else did “Groot Loops.” Yup, it happens. But which one is actually funnier? Which one does it better? Or just in all honesty, does one bring something to the table that the other does not?

    Just because people might have seen one version first, doesn’t mean they will only like that version. If a newer version does something better, they will like that version better. Or if they are different enough in their own rights, people will like them both for what they each have.

    Using this example, yes, they both use the same base joke. But look, one of them adds in a funny line referencing the movie, but the other one does not. BAM! That one now has something new to offer, and people will like and respect that.

    The only time people complain about someone using the same joke as someone else is when the new version doesn’t bring anything new. If you can bring something new, then you’re golden.

    • excellent advice. I think I would have been satisfied with this reasoning, had the other piece been done by someone less notable… or had I been selling these for a while without knowing about the other piece. It’s a perfect storm of factors, really.
      But yes, despite the same title, 2 different artists handled it 2 different ways and that’s pretty fascinating anyway!

      • What does notability matter?
        Do you think people have never stolen and improved Tex Avery’s jokes from old Looney Toons?

        You make it sound like people are going to know this T-shirt manufacturer by name. Guess what? They won’t. It’s a t-shirt.

        • I agree with this line of reasoning entirely.

          Also, I for one have definitely used and (hopefully) improved on Tex Avery’s jokes from Looney Tunes…you emulate what you want to become, right?

        • Legally, it means very little, considering these are both parodies falling under “fair use” most likely.
          She seems to have a good thing going with her cereal box + superhero mash-up designs, Loki Charms being the one I see all over conventions. She seems to have a bigger following than I do, that’s for sure. My concern was people at a show in her Groot Loops shirts pointing out that my print has already been done. Is this one drawing worth my having to defend myself, possibly repeatedly, at a show? Nope, not really. Most importantly, it’s not worth my anxiety of this possibility happening. And yes, you may be correct and it may never actually happen, maybe her “following” isn’t as big as it seems. But I’d like to not risk it over a silly print, is all.
          Thanks for your feedback! Many say I WAY overreacted, and I could have/should have gone forward with the print and ignored any naysayers. So you’re not alone.

  3. I do think conventions and the internet are two separate markets. On the internet, YES, you look like a big ol’ copycat when you see the two jokes side by side. People may associate your name with the lack of originality, and it won’t reflect well on you. But in a convention setting? You’re probably going to be the only vendor at the show with that print, and even if you aren’t, chances are low that the same person will see both and compare them.

    We don’t get angry when we see two different cotton candy vendors at the same county fair. They both taste fine and they’re probably comparably priced. So we figure they’re interchangeable, and we buy whichever one’s closest to us at the time. That’s how I see fanart at conventions.

    • generally, yes. This design seems to make the rounds more at shows (at least from what I have seen) because it’s a T-shirt. The idea of having someone come up to my table wearing a Groot Loops tee is a bit unnerving. But either way, my Groot Loops & reputation isn’t 100% safe from being accused of lack of originality online either, and I do want to protect that as much as I can. Which is why I am no longer sharing Groot Loops outside of this article! It’s Groot Roll-Ups all the way ;0)

  4. I think you’re completely safe selling prints at conventions, and even over the Internet for that matter. Other than the name, which is a pretty obvious caricature anyway (after all, I easily found two other drawings with the same punny name), I don’t really see a striking similarity between the two creations, and in so many ways yours is WAY better. Your drawing is much cleaner; your Groot has much more character and depth; your color choices are much brighter and friendlier; finally, your humor wins hands down and it’s 100% family friendly.

    • Thanks Bob. Chances are very slim that anything would happen, but I’m a “rather be safe than sorry” type person, especially over something as dinky as a print design. I appreciate that you like mine better… but… I know you. You’re kinda biased, LOL!!! ;0)

  5. Glad you published this Dawn, it’s a great topic for discussion! While I totally respect your decision, I think you would have been fine mainly because they are so different from each other. Plus neither of you own the IP anyway so I don’t see where the ‘ownership’ would even come into play. I’d compare this to comedians who do impressions just because one does a ‘Jack Nicholson’ doesn’t give that comedian ‘ownership’ of ‘jack Nicholson’ impressions.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    P.S. I love yours, I got the ‘Fruit Loops’ box right away and I love the prize, I want one!

    • Hi Rich thanks for commenting! You’re right, these are 2 parodies… legally speaking I’m pretty dang safe. My worries stem more from accusations, internet misinformation, and having to defend myself at shows…. yknow how it can be! It ain’t worth it, if ya ask me!

  6. You know… now that I’m thinking more about this, I have a couple of additional thoughts.

    I actually did see ONE guy wearing the Groot Loops t-shirt on Saturday at the Baltimore Comic Con. I probably never would have noticed the shirt except for your situation with the print. Don’t know if you saw the guy – he walked right in front of both of our tables…

    But anyway…

    You and I both know Angela McKendrick. Angela does some terrific digital minion mash-ups. Heck, she is a she-beast when it comes to cranking out Minion mash-up prints. She’s even more prolific than I am! 🙂

    Now, I am sure Angela and I have in our collections the same Minion mash-ups… Spidey, Cap and so on. It would be nearly impossible to not have cross-pollination. And we both go to a lot of the same shows since we both live in relatively the same area where a lot of these shows take place. What I do a lot is after people come to my table and look at my stuff, I encourage them to visit her table too – ESPECIALLY if I get a request for a minion I haven’t done. I almost always suggest they check out her table to see if she has one I haven’t done.

    Now, the thing that separates Angela and me is that her Minions are primarily digital where mine are all hand-drawn so visually, there’s a difference. And I don’t know if this is the case with her, but I also get lots of people that will show me their sketchbooks featuring other Minion mash-ups and will specifically flip to a Spidey minion or a Captain America Minion almost as a way of saying “look, someone did a Spidey Minion TOO – what do you think?”.

    I don’t know if they expect me to get mad or upset or something. Sometimes, I half suspect they secretly might want me to but all I ever do is shrug, smile and say “yeah, that’s a pretty good one too”. And, truthfully, it usually is a really good Minion mash-up. But it’s not like Angela and I OWN “Minion mash-ups”. For me, it’s just something that started out being fun to do but then morphed into this weird, crazy monster…


    Anyway, just another perspective I was thinking about as I was reading some of the responses up above. 🙂

    • eh, yes, good point. And judging from how cool Crystal from Bamboota was with me selling Groot Loops, she obviously didn’t think she “owned” the idea either. I’m not worried about her, I am more worried about a fanboy with a chip on his shoulder. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. She does excellent work and her SDCC appearances and a quick look at social media gave me the impression that she’s got some passionate fans. I suppose anything is possible.

      That said, I did not see the GL T-shirt you did at BCC, but I DID have someone come up and look at my Groot Roll-Ups print and ask “heyyyy, isn’t that a T-shirt or something? I’ve seen it before…” So, even WITH my updated idea, I’ll still get that comparison. The good thing is, I can ask innocently “hmmm, are you thinking of Groot Loops?” and the reaction could be a simple “Oh right! Ha, I like yours too” (as his was). It would take a real asshat to still accuse me of anything.

  7. Unfortunately, when ever you have a fairly obvious joke like that, you’re going to have very similar prints come up independently. I was going to do a Dalek lounging on a couch shouting “PRO-CRAST-INATE!!!” playing video games, but someone beat me to it. Your box is very different, and some are going to like it either way. I would have just gone ahead, as long as it’s not a complete ripoff, there’s room for everyone in the pool!

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