Rip legs and boot-offs

Bill Watterson, creator of the utterly wonderful Calvin & Hobbes, refused to license his characters for merchandise or tie-ins as he felt it’d cheapen them. Predictably, a rash of bootlegs appeared, of which he said: “Only thieves and vandals have made money on Calvin & Hobbes merchandise.” It’s a pretty apt description.

You see, the people who steal other people’s intellectual property (and intellectual property theft is stealing) either to pass off as their own or to make a quick buck tend to be fairly uncreative people with very little imagination; if they were creative, imaginative sorts then they wouldn’t half-inch others’ work in the first place. As they tend not to have a particularly sound grasp on good design process, the likelihood is that they’ll fuck it up.

I mention this because recently a fellow T-shirt-designing-Camdenite by the brand-name of Young, Gifted and Slack stumbled across a rip-off of his truly excellent WWF design. It was, apparently, a pretty poor imitation.

Sometimes I see designs on T-shirts and wish Id thought of it first. This is one such design.

Sometimes I see designs on T-shirts and wish I'd thought of it first. This is one such design.

Two other Camdenite T-shirt-peddling friends of mine have had their wares copied before.

One was KillerStrawberry. An extremely fat man with a large camera asked a lot of questions about KS’s designs. Later, KS was alerted to the presence of a KillerStrawberry on a T-shirt website: it was a strawberry with fangs photoshopped on. The blurb under the design reads “And you thought tomatoes were bad? Forget tomatoes — it’s the attack of the killer strawberries!” As a coincidence it seems highly improbable; as a joke, it’s pretty poor: one of the most basic rules of comedy is that if you have to explain it, it’s not funny. But then of course we’re not exactly dealing with a creative genius here.

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The other Camdenite was Public Grief Junkie (now departed for greener pastures), whose “Dolphins are gay sharks” T-shirt has been ripped-off more times than you can shake a mackerel at. Once again however, people fuck it up. In this case, not by having to explain it but by being too wordy: “Dolphins are just gay sharks,” “It’s true: dolphins are just gay sharks” and so on. They’re changing it so that they can try and side-step being accused of intellectual property theft, but the whole point of a slogan, especially on a T-shirt, is to get your point across in as few syllables as possible, so their versions fall short. As Shakespeare wrote: “brevity is the soul of wit…” He was right 406 years ago and he’s still right today.

Here’s another, more recent victim of the verbose rip-off merchants who’ve added a caption which is completely surplus to requirements.

Another design which I wish I'd thought of.

Another design which I wish I'd thought of.

The rip-off that’s doing the rounds of this terrific image is accompanied by the caption “Elliott’s new friend.” This is like telling a good joke and then saying “Geddit?! Heh heh! Geddit?!” Again, so long as you’re aware of two iconic films, it’s pretty self-explanatory and darkly funny within itself; it needs no clarification. It might seem like a subtle difference but the caption lightens the tone somewhat: it establishes that Elliott and H.R. Geiger’s alien, one of the most terrifying (read: fucking awesome) movie monsters of all time, are actually the best of friends. Without the caption, it’s possible that they’re friends but it’s more likely the alien is about to violate Elliott’s skull with its phallic vagina-dentata-extendo-mouth.

Opposite my stall in UpMarket, there are two T-shirt stalls: one sells rip-offs of designs from Threadless (for better or worse, they’ve not changed a single thing) and the other uses other people’s photos of pop culture icons – Kate Moss, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Vivienne Westwood, more Kate Moss and so on. I never quite got the appeal of wearing photos of cool people. Maybe they make the wearer cool via osmosis, in the same way that wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt makes the wearer a political activist. Both of these – as well as the umpteen previous examples – piss me off no end because they’re capitalising off the talents and hard work of others and giving nothing back.

My point behind all this verbose high-horsery is how frustrating it is to see other people make easy money by shamelessly ripping off the hard work of other designers and creative folks. Nevertheless, in spite of such traps, pitfalls and nefarious persons, they soldier on, occasionally staying fresh and imaginative and for this they should be applauded, whilst the thieves and vandals get dragged naked through cobbled streets and put in the stocks.

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