The other day, I took ink and paper and Count Orlok emerged from the depths of the page.
I remember watching Nosferatu, a symphony of horror (by F.W Murnau, 1922) as a cinephile teenager, when I was 16 or 17. Like most of the German expressionist movies, it is a masterpiece, an influential sublime piece of the 7th art. Maybe it was a little less phantasmagoric or dreamlike than The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari or The Golem, yet it has an enduring appeal, made of horror, accuracy and raw aesthetic due to the absence of elaborate decor or superfluous artifice. These gloomy times we go through could certainly fit in the allegory of the disease spreading everywhere embedded in this film.
Incidentally, Count Orlok, the main character stemming directly from Bram Stocker’s Dracula, was played by the actor Max Schreck, whose surname in German means “Terror”. How apt. He is indeed terrifying.
Klaus Kinski would later, in Werner Herzog’s movie Nosferatu the Vampyre, revive the character, with an undeniable success.
The silent B&W movie of 1922 nonetheless, with the iconic stills taken from as equally iconic scenes, remains a powerful horror one to this day. And this is the image I keep from the movie, along with the final one, where Orlok turns into smoke, struck by the fatal sunlight.
Well, this year feels like a century already, and October is not even over yet!
Speaking of October, I stepped out of my cloud of sorrow (personal tragic events I may post about later) and semi-oblivion (I wish I could drown the former into the latter) to stumble upon that drawing-with-ink-in-October controversy which grappled and still divides the art drawing community. My questions were : “Why?” ” What is it about?” and “Does it matter?”
Not sure if we can answer that, but we can think about it. Ah. Thinktober.
I did some research and here are my thoughts. Maybe the 2 first questions cannot be answered but it definitely does matter.
Disclaimer : 1) it’s a longer post than the previous ones, and 2) as the name In*tober is not allowed to be used any longer, as per its founder’s (J*keParker) new rules set last December, I’ll go by *drawingchallengename*, or *challengename* which I might register too at some point, after all).
Because, hold on to your hats, there IS a two-fold controversy and I can see why, as many of us creators do too.
Ink challenge in October was created in 2009 by J*keParker, a Disn*y employee, to improve and practice (his) ink drawing an skills throughout the 10th month of the year, following a prompt a day, during 31 days. Smashing idea. Others joined in and quickly it became a creative meeting for thousands of artists around the globe, and some were popular artists with amazing skills already and great talent, who had not waited this challenge to amass considerable visibility, followership, products based on their craft and solid success. What followed for this concept was a decade of amazing growth based on a good-natured spirit and attitude. So what went wrong?
First part of the controversy : Trademarking the name after 10 years of piloting the October ink challenge ship and calling in lawyers as echo chambers to forbid artist to use logo and name. So the *challengename* is no longer an inocuous hashtag or title one can freely affix onto their art piece before sharing it with the world/community of artists. Thus restricting the use of said name and depriving creators of the visibility and notoriety both induced and expanded through their very contribution to this particular Autumn art challenge since 2009. For many, it felt like that one person most of us has had a bad experience with : someone you worked with or helped out, a boss, a colleague, a former friend, that steals your work or robs you of the reward for your efforts, belittles your contribution, forgets to put your name on that article you wrote, forgets to acknowledge that negotiation you eased and won, eclipses that crucial help and encouragement you provided, deliberatley omits to praise and recognize the part you played, or attributes your work to someone else if not him/herself, all in order to shine brighter in the light of the ensuing success… It felt like a betrayal and a backstabbing, and as such, it is as despicable as it is immoral. I suppose it certainly felt so for many artists of the *namechallenge* community. (I for my part have no exact idea about how to feel about it.)
As his name grew overtime in notoriety, turning him into a very successful entrepreneur, the founder has had the priviledge of reaping the benefits of his *challengename*, which are plentiful : his paying online courses about drawing and inking, a massive followership on SocMed and on his Youtube Channel, books, standard and exclusive (as in *challengename+year* special editions) art supply boxes, collaborations and teamups with affiliates and, last but not least, his own illustrated books, prints, comics, stickers, original art and patreon memberships, available on his website shop. He is not a struggling artist.
This online creative get-together has brought him fame and $$$, and it’s a good thing. Participating in the challenge was a fun way as well as an incredible opportunity for artists of all walks of life and style to commune while create amazing art around 31 prompts. It was suposed to be (as per the founder’s own words on his Instagram account in 2018, reposted on a DevianArt chat) “…a month long celebration of drawing, creativity, and self-improvement.”
This ink challenge would not have gained such popularity, let alone the massive participation across the globe and the feverish anticipation, if no one had boarded the *challengename* ship and posted and reposted their creations around the prompts on their platforms, encouraged in so doing by the founder. Mind you, *challengename* has also its own official Social Media accounts. It’s an entity on its own. This spread of joy was like a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the participants’ pieces of art were the very fuel that helped the lil’monster grow, expand, attract more participants (and later on, sponsorships and monetary collaborations enjoyed by its founder only) and everybody was happy. It was also the opportunity to connect with fellow artists, to marvel at their skills and imagination and to encourage beginners who were bold enough to enter the arena. (I myself was very happy -and exhausted upon completion)- to participate in 2018. It was fun, it was a way to stick to a plan efficiently, as well as a fab way to meet and marvel at other artists’ work and creativity while getting better at it and at inking.) So this challenge was a good & generous deed, looked favourably upon by the art deities such as Athena, Polymnia and Apollo.
Or so it seemed.
Until the ugly face of greediness crawled -a little less surreptitiously than the -legit, surely- desire for the founder to transform the challenge into a cashmachine that we saw creeping in over the years- into the picture in Dec 2019, when the new legal frame was set for the *challengename*, namely the use of the logo and name, going even as far as closing down artists accounts that were still using the *challengename*, as first title for their art pieces. We’re talking stunning art pieces here, created during or for said challenge, which the founder had gladly shared his enthutiasm for before 2020 and for which supportive community he should still be grateful. We all can understand that he is the father of this baby and want to keep teh rights to his intellectual property, no one contests that. It’s just the way he did the trademarking and the way he castigated potential abuses and suddenly censored practices and usage of the *challengename* before any harm was done. (He could have TM it right in 2009). THAT, rightfully perhaps, was seen and felt as unfair and a bit low.
The second thing the founder stated along with those legal guidelines is the now frowned uponuse of digital tablets. Whereas in the past, the founder has expressed his almost neutral point of view on using the digital pad for the 2020 edition, he has now dismissed digital drawing as not embodying the spirit of the challenge. (Founder on his SocMEd, 2018 : “Initially, the challenge of In*tober was focused on traditional inking. Although learning how to ink digitally is a skill separate from traditional inking it is no less valid. If you want to improve your digital inking skills then doing In*tober digitally is a great way to challenge yourself.”) It is also quite hyocritical of him, seeing that in 2017 he teamed up with Autodesk to release a set of digital brushes. But suddenly, digital art is of less value, or unworthy of *challengename* or so he let us arrive to this conclusion in a fashion that is less than honorable, but quite mean.
Now, for the 2020 edition, it was this name-calling and finger-pointing at artists that understandably divided the art community as early as this summer, when his laywers began to ban (sue?) and prevent artists from making sales with their art, or even compiling their drawings as their *challengename + years* creations in order to have a copy for amateurs to buy, or even creating collections of their art. This can deprive them from a source of income most artists can not afford to lose.
During the last decade, with a growing community being so thrilled to participate and share the great spirit of drawing as well as for the name of the challenge itself, the founder has benefited largely from the enthusiam of the art community, be them digital or traditional artists. He and his now trademarked challenge have gained tremendous visibility from the free advertising and marketing campaign brought to him by of a very encouraging community and a hashtag used as nearly as 19 million times so far.
The founder (which by then was famous for this baby) had by that time secured (and let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with that, lucky him) :
# collaborations with pen and paper/sketchbook manufacturers (some sketchbooks deemed “revolutionnary” no less) with the big logo stamped on them (as well as on the boxes)
# prestigious sponsorships and visibility , for instance, the gigantic platform DevianArt has been hosting *challengename* awards (but cancelled it for this year).
# pricey (not my words, but other artists’ reviewing the box) monthly or yearly *challengename* boxes, with supplies such as a *challengename* sticker and sketchbook, paper and pens for $90 or more…
Good for him. But he did not build that community alone.
Second part of the conroversy:
The founder has secured a book deal regarding the *challengename* and how to do it “all year long”. He was bound to release in Spetember a “guide” or a book of advice on how to become a better ink artists. This outcome is fine. Good. Excellent. Something all artist can dream of and cause for celebration. Except if allegations of plagiarism are raised. Plagiarism is not cool.
And sadly for the entire art and ink artists community, this is something that artist Aphonso Dunn alledged in a video released on his YT channel Aug 26 2020. It has tarnished a little more the already stained name of the *challengename* founder. Other artists have since then compared the books (frame by frame, taken from JakeParker’s own vid of flipping his proof copy and Alphonso Dunn’s book, which took 3 years to complete) on their YT channels aaaaaaannnnd there are some unsettling similarities between the already published book by Mr Dunn and the founder’s upcoming book. I was curious, and to be exact, for what I saw on those vids, there are too many similarities for it to be just coincidences. So much so that the book release, based on those allegetions of plagiarism, was put on hold by the publisher. But I leave that part (plagiarism case or not) to the experts. The founder of this challenge has probably not adequately adressed the legitimate objections raised against his latest decisions but he certainly responded in a very insensitive way. It is understandable that he wanted to remind artists of the rules, yet the vast+ majority of artists followed them already and created real masterpieces, there was no reason for this unfair move.
As for the digital art being suddenly demonized by J*keParker and his manner of gatekeeping it, I can’t shake the feeling that it screams “I feel threatened, I am insecure” (and maybe a little jealous, perhaps) so he refreshes the artits’ minds about who the boss is. Maybe this primal reaction had not even reached his consciousness to be rationalized and dealt with in a better way in a proper time.
Nonetheless, and notwithstanding the amazing concept this challenge has been, the apparently contemptuous attitude of JP and the use of legal actions towards some artists within the community who literally made the brand the incredible powerhouse and success Mr J*keParker came to enjoy (and monetize) is bordering on unforgivable.
So, as much as I like a good challenge, I have already completed this one in 2018, so I know I can and could do it if I wanted to. And frankly, this whole mess is something very sad, which only once again illustrates only too accurately how big bucks in the equation corrupts everything. It’s also a textbook of how greed and a complex of superiority coupled with a despicable sense of entitlement can tear a community apart and eviscerate the very notion of respect for others or for their work, and their legitimate right to monetize their talent.
As for me, if I draw, it’s for myself or this project I’v ebeen working on, with my own ideas on my own terms.
So long, F.
( if you want to know more about that, search in your browser inkt*ber controversy)