Hit Reblog: Comics That Caught Fire – An Interview with Katie Shanahan

After speaking with Megan Kearney about her experiences on Hit Reblog: Comics That Caught Fire, I also wanted to chat with Katie Shanahan for a different perspective. Specifically on what it was like to have a person’s work being used without their permission and for commercial purposes.

RP: What was it like being chosen and being part of this anthology?

Katie Shanahan (KS): It sounded like a fun way to showcase the wonderful and weird experience of seeing people’s creations go viral. And it was great to see Megan’s adorable comic art depicting everyone’s stories.

RP: Is it more or less frustrating that other artists are experiencing the same thing you are going through with people using your art?

KS: It can be frustrating, but there’s a comfort in the solidarity of knowing I’m not the only one experiencing these kinds of situations.

RP: What lessons or takeaways have you gained from this whole experience?

KS: To make sure I have my name clearly displayed on any art I post online! There isn’t much I can do to prevent someone from erasing my signature or posting their own website’s logo over it (it’s happened many times). The best I can do is try to make it easy for people to find me.

RP: What advice do you have for other artists out there about how to handle this situation.

KS: It’s hard to say because everyone handles it a bit differently. Some artists don’t mind having their art shared uncredited, and that’s totally fine. I tend to be more on the side of wanting to correct it because I’ve seen it negatively impact artist friends, but at the same time it can be an exhausting and overwhelming up-hill battle. I’d say, go with your gut feeling. Talk with your peers about their experiences. Decide what battles are most important to you, but please don’t let it discourage you from creating!

RP: Through this book, did you get a chance to talk with the other artists and hear about their experiences first hand?

KS: Not yet, but if I get the chance at a future comic festival I’d like to chat with them about it.

RP: This trend of reposting and using other peoples artwork for merchandise without credit going back to the artist, would you say it is on the incline, plateau, or on the decline?

KS: I like to think it’s on the decline, but I can’t say for certain. There was a time maybe five years back where it seemed like everyone was experiencing these situations at the same time, so it definitely felt much worse.  I think because everyone was so vocal about how it negatively affected artists, it made people more aware and more conscientious about crediting artists and alerting them about art thefts. That being said, an artist friend recently found their work printed uncredited and without permission on a shirt sold by a major clothing chain, so there’s a ways to go before it’s really gone.

RP: You and other artist had a similar reaction of being outraged by this theft of your work, whereas other artists like Craig Froehle, is just happy that the work is out there and people are talking about it. Do you think the fact that you and other artists make a living off your art is something that people don’t really consider when reposting work?

KS: I’m very happy to see people connecting with my art and sharing it, it’s one of the greatest joys of making art! What gets me frustrated and disappointed is the attitude of “someone shared this for free, and now it’s mine to profit from.”  I make a living working in the animation industry so I’m fortunate that things like this don’t impact me financially, but I’ve seen similar situations directly hurt my artist friends. Having a popular content-sharing website post your art with credit can lead to commissions and freelance work. The same website sharing your art without credit benefits the website (they get the clicks and ad revenue) but the artist is left out in the rain. It is amazing to see something you’ve created go viral. But while I’m grateful to see it connect with people, I can’t help thinking “it only take a couple seconds to add my name, but you didn’t think it was worth the time…”

RP: All the works have gone viral, but not all have gone viral in the same way. Some of the works, the comics have just been reposted online, whereas others (like yours) have been used in physical advertising or merchandise sales. Do you think the outcome of how they have gone viral impacts the reaction to it, either being outraged or happy your work is out there?

KS: Absolutely. Having my art shared uncredited was what lead to the billboard situation. They saw my work uncredited on a meme-sharing website, and believed that meant it was public domain and free to use in an advertisement campaign. If they’d approached me and asked to licence the art for their company I’d have been more than willing to discuss options. Instead I found out about it when a kindly person sent me a photo of the billboard. It was such a bizarre experience.

RP: At what point do you feel it crosses the line from being a viral thing in getting exposure for your work to theft?

KS: When someone is profiting off another person’s art without their consent, I consider that theft. Whether it’s being put up on a billboard, printed on a t-shirt, or posted uncredited to content-sharing websites.

RP: What are some ways or things people can do to help artists be recognized for their work?

KS: If you share someone’s work, please credit them! If you see uncredited art out in the wild, share the artist’s name and website in the comments. Let’s work together to keep making the internet an awesome place for creativity and community <3

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