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The Ethics of Creativity: Francesco Mattina and the AI Art Controversy

Updated: Jun 28

The Ethics of Creativity: Francesco Mattina and the AI Art Controversy


Superman Action Comics Action Comics #1069 by Mattina, withdrawn - Lex Luthor with Superman
Action Comics #1069 by Mattina, withdrawn

Introduction

Francesco Mattina and the AI Art Controversy: a well-known artist in the comic book world, has recently come under scrutiny for allegedly using AI generative tools in his DC Comics covers. This accusation comes on the heels of previous controversies where Mattina was found guilty of "photo swiping" and tracing other artists' works, leading to his dismissal from Marvel and other projects.


Tracing and rendering techniques have long been debated in the art community. While referencing photographs or one's own creations for specific pieces is generally accepted, outright copying from other professional works, especially when paid by major comic companies, crosses a line. It's been reported that Mattina has taken from fellow DC and Marvel artists, as well as those commissioned by Sideshow Collectibles, blatantly retracing their work.



Ai generated image from a PonyXL checkpoint by Duskfallcrew of a red and black haired cyberpunk cat eared male.
Ai Art in a quasi Comic Book Style by Duskfallcrew

While we're largely into AI generative art ourselves, with our background we have a very extremely nuanced outlook on this issue. Feel free to keep reading for more information and responses to many popular articles out there.


The Proof


Comic Book Resources (CBR) highlighted the situation:

Based on:

"Last week, star comic book artist Adi Granov alleged that Francesco Mattina, an artist who regularly did variant covers for DC titles (and who had three solicited covers set to be released in September 2024), used generative artificial intelligence (A.I.) at least in part on his covers. Well, DC has now pulled all of Mattina's future covers, including the previously solicited covers."


This change was first noted by Rich Johnston, with many covers now listed as "To Be Announced." In one instance, DC moved a cover meant for a future issue up a few months to replace an upcoming Mattina cover.


Comic Book Clique on Facebook also weighed in:


"Successful comic book artist Francesco Mattina is under fire for allegedly tracing other artists' artwork and passing it off as his own. In a thread created by @NebsGoodTakes on X, the user accuses Mattina of stealing, with evidence laid out in copious examples of this supposed blatant thievery.


The artist has not only stolen from other comic book artists but also artwork featured in Sideshow Collectibles or the actual figures themselves. He continues to get work as a cover artist, particularly for DC Comics. Rumor has it he's currently using AI to create variant covers. Look at these examples and judge for yourself."

The controversy has raised important questions about the ethics of creativity in the age of AI.


While some see generative AI as a powerful tool for innovation, others view it as a shortcut that undermines the integrity of traditional artistry. When a professional artist, especially one working for major companies like DC, resorts to such methods, it challenges our understanding of originality and craftsmanship.


As readers and art enthusiasts, we must grapple with these ethical dilemmas. Should artists be allowed to use AI tools to expedite their creative process, or does this devalue the art form? Is it acceptable for professionals to trace and modify existing works, or does this constitute artistic theft?


BleedingCool Weighs in:

Francesco Mattina being accused of swiping many of his covers from existing artwork from other artists. It wasn't an uncommon claim at the time and he was cancelled a bit for it. Marvel Comics also dropped using him, though DC and Dynamite didn't seem that bothered. Well, this weekend, that went up a notch as the likes of Adi Granov and Scott Williams accused him of using AI in his recently released artwork for DC Comics. Scott Williams is especially notable as he is the inking partner of DC Comics Publisher and CCO, Jim Lee. And with tweeting a simple "F-ck this hack." Bleeding Cool reached out to Mattina without response, but what went down? (Published Sun, 16 Jun 2024 09:57:09)


Look, I get it. AI can be a powerful tool, and I've even used it myself to create some amazing pieces with Stable Diffusion. But let's be real, using it in a high-profile comic book cover without being upfront about it is just asking for trouble. It's like playing with fire, and we all know how that usually ends.


The thing is, the comic book industry has always been about fighting for the little guy, telling stories that resonate with people, and creating art that inspires. So when a well-known artist uses AI without disclosing it, it's like a punch to the gut. It's not just about the art itself, it's about the principle of transparency and honesty.


And let's not forget, the use of AI in comic book art has bigger implications than just one artist's controversy. It raises questions about job losses, corporate automation, and the future of the industry as a whole. I mean, if companies can just use AI to create art, why bother hiring human artists at all?


But here's the thing, AI isn't the only problem. There are so many other factors at play, like disabilities, lack of coherence in the industry, and companies trying to cut costs by using cheap tools like Canva and Picsart. It's a complex issue, and we need to be careful not to oversimplify it.


So, to all the artists out there, let's be real about our use of AI. Let's be upfront about it, and let's make sure we're using it in a way that benefits everyone, not just ourselves. And to the corporations, let's not forget that art is about more than just profit and loss. It's about creating something that resonates with people, and that takes human touch and creativity.



The Future of Art and AI


As a content creator for an AI generative art training and collection website, I find it crucial to question our ethics moving forward. Fan creations are one thing, but why are professionals resorting to these methods? Time constraints for individual panels are understandable, but covers are usually commissioned months in advance. Shouldn't there be ample time to produce original work?


This discussion isn't easy, especially on a platform dedicated to AI generative media. However, critical thinking is essential. Wolfsystems previously covered a similar topic, highlighting the nuanced debate around AI in professional settings.


What should our stance be? Should we embrace all AI as "just a tool," or should we treat it as such only for professional reasons, keeping in mind the broader ethical implications? Blurring the line is an ongoing issue—where do we draw the line? Are we headed towards a future with "AI-generated toasters"? (Personally, my toaster seems to have a mind of its own already!)


The Ethical Dilemma


The ethical dilemma here isn't just about the tools but about the impact on the industry and the individuals within it. Are we harming anyone? Are we putting artists out of jobs? The use of AI in art creation raises these and other questions about the future of creativity and professional ethics.


As always, the debate strings in the question, "Where do we draw the line?" If I hear "Just use a paper and pencil" one more time in response to these discussions, I might just proverbially dump a brick of stink in the New York sewage system and mail it to your house (in Minecraft). No I won't literally do that, it's just the frustration of everyone speaking on that the blind can do it, why can't you? Or someone with cerebral palsy can paint with a brush why can't you?


While it's not okay for a big-name artist on a comic book cover to use that sort of tool without a valid reason, there are unique situations where tracing, rendering, and even AI generative tools are acceptable. These tools won't necessarily lead to job losses. The same questions resurface: What's okay and what's not?


As someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder, ADHD, CPTSD, and Autism, I champion spaces where it is okay to use these tools. I regularly use ChatGPT and other AI tools to help me piece together articles despite my executive dysfunction. In my creative work, I've generated chibi artwork for alters in my system. Social media rhetoric often suggests "Just use Picrew" or "Just download a picture," but this feels as absurd as the old "You wouldn't download a car" anti-piracy ads. Yet today, you can 3D print a car—or a house.


My Background and Commitment


As someone with a Bachelor's degree in Communication Design, a background in studying Asian studies, and a long-standing passion for comics, I approach this issue from both an academic and personal perspective. Art runs in my family—my mother holds a degree in fine arts, her grandfather was an artist for a local newspaper, and her sister is a local photographer. Given my background, I feel it's my duty to critically examine these issues and share my thoughts with my audience, both academically and casually.


A Catalyst for Reflection


I recently re-discovered this issue through a recent video on YouTube. Although I didn't watch the entire video, it struck a chord. The contentious nature of art debates, often framed as "You can't do this because I said so," throws ethics into a chaotic blender. It's baffling how many videos approach the topic from an "ANTI AI" stance, feeding into a "thou shalt not" rhetoric—"Art says you can't, so I say you can't, and I know what I'm talking about."


I won't link the video, as my intention here isn't to specifically target a video, and while I have quoted a singular comment from the video itself, rest assured no ill will or harm is meant towards anyone that is qutoed.


Contentious debates often cite artists like Greg Horn and Greg Land, with accusations even extending to Greg Land using AI. Salvador Larocca is also thrown into the mix. While I am against AI being used for professional covers for various reasons—especially when not heavily edited and redrawn to be one's own—I acknowledge the complexity of the issue.


A YouTube comment that caught my eye stated:

"Now I know who to avoid when buying comics. The biggest reasons why I get comics are 1, my dad loves it. So it’s a nice thing to bond over and 2, the art. And no way I’m gonna buy art from an artist who steals and uses AI when they have the ability to draw on their own. Dude is a disgrace to comic book artists. And just artists in general."


Comments like these give me the "ick" when it comes to consuming media. The black-and-white stance of condemning artists for using new tools without understanding the nuances can be disheartening.


Final?


If AI work is theft, and referencing anything is theft, we are left with a conundrum: Is any non-original idea abelist? Must we call in the thought police?


It's clear there are boundaries to be set in this ethical future. This brings to mind the guidelines we're dealing with regarding Stable Diffusion Version 3. While not an attack on Stability AI, it's worth noting the confusion surrounding the release of the 2b edition, where access and licensing were unclear. Unclear guidelines bring uncertainty, and unclear ethics create a muddy situation for us all.


What more can we ask for? I don't know. What more could we hope for? A lot. This is the 2024 version of everyone's nightmares. What I'm certain of is this: We need to take the time to address our feelings. Ethics are not always set in stone, and it's time we untangle this mess.


Ethics shouldn't be gatekept. With my experience and personal connection to art, I aim to foster an open discussion on these critical topics. How do you, the reader, feel we can untangle it?

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