The ‘Originality’ of Roy Lichtenstein’s comic panel art

What do we get when comics and modern art mix? Roy Lichtenstein!

I thought I would do something a little different since I am an art history major. One of my art period that I have an interest in is modern art, and I have recently gone to see a Lichtenstein exhibit. I wanted to give my point of view to the issue of Lichtenstein’s originality.

Roy Lichtenstein (October 27, 1923 – September 29, 1997)was an American pop artist, and one of the leading figure in the new art movement of the 60’s along with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and others. His work was heavily influenced by both popular advertising and the comic book style. His most famous work would be his collection of comic strips, which are close but not exact copies of panels from other comic books.  Lichtenstein used oil and paint in these works. Instead of using the primary colors of red, yellow and blue; he uses the primary colors of a printer which are yellow, magenta and cyan. He uses think lines, bolder colors than the original, and ben-day dots just like a printer would create on paper. An example of one of his best work is Drowning Girl (1963), which came from a story from DC Comics’ Secret Hearts #83.

Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein
Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein
An example of Lichtenstein's Ben day dots and thick line style
An example of Lichtenstein’s Ben day dots and thick line style

When his work was first released, it was harshly criticized by both art critics and the mass media question his originality. In 1964, Life magazine published an article titled “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?” Lichtenstein responded to this claim and others with “The closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and critical the content. However, my work is entirely transformed in that my purpose and perception are entirely different. I think my paintings are critically transformed, but it would be difficult to prove it by any rational line of argument”.  The mass media portray his work as appalling and horrendous, asking the questions ‘Is this art?’ He never took himself seriously and responded to this “I think my work is different from comic strips- but I wouldn’t call it transformation; I don’t think that whatever is meant by it is important to art”.

The comic panels that Lichtenstein took his ideas from were drawn by such artists as Jack Kirby, Jerry Grandenetti, Russ Heath, Irv Novivk, and Tony Abruzzo were rarely received any credit. In ‘Deconstructing Lichtenstein, David Barsalou took his time to search for the original comic and put this side by side to Lichtenstein’s art work, it can be found here This challenge Lichtenstein about the originality of his comic panel collection, but Lichtenstein has copyright infringement on all the work he borrows ideas from. The Lichtenstein Foundation backs up the fact that Lichtenstein did not steal other’s images by having Jack Cowart, executive director of the Lichtenstein Foundation this to say: “Roy’s work was a wonderment of the graphic formulae and the codification of sentiment that had been worked out by others. The panels were changed in scale, color, treatment, and in their implications. There is no exact copy.” This rise the issue of ‘Is being a copyist a crime?’ In many of the top art school in Paris, it is encouraged that students must learn from the Old Masters by copying art that famous artists have produced. A condition that the students must follow is that the scale should not be exact for legal issues.

From David Barsalou's 'Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein'
From David Barsalou’s ‘Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein’
From David Barsalou's 'Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein'
From David Barsalou’s ‘Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein’
From David Barsalou's 'Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein'
From David Barsalou’s ‘Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein’

It should also be noted that during that time period, comics were viewed as ‘bad’ for society given that Fredric Wertham just wrote ‘Seduction of the Innocent’ which indicated that comics is a factor that creates bad behavior in the youth. More of this can be read in Phantommiriag’s blog ( ). Some criticize Lichtenstein of encouraging a patronizing viewing comic as an art. Comics author and artist Art Spiegelman commented that “Lichtenstein did no more or less for comics than Andy Warhol did for soup.”

Maybe Lichtenstein was encouraging comics as a decent literature or maybe he was testing the minds of other to the issue of copyright or maybe he just wanted to paint. Rather than looking at his comic paintings as art, look at it as a parody or a social experiment. His comic strips often parodied in a tongue-in-cheek humorous manner. His art stirred up the minds of the non-art world to question his art. Lichtenstein never took his work seriously and in a way encourages others to criticize to see if they are being influence by the media or making judgments for themselves. His art continues to question the issue of originality today. Although I feel that the original artists should get more credit, I cannot say much against all the standard and legal action that Lichtenstein has on his side. I will say that his art is pleasing to view, the bold colors and the silly speech bubble gives it that Zeitgeist feel.



  4 comments for “The ‘Originality’ of Roy Lichtenstein’s comic panel art

  1. Kerry
    March 21, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    Looking at Barsalou’s side-by-side comparisons, I have to agree that Lichtenstein’s art is more than just a copy. While it is not strictly comic art, lacking sequence, it still makes a viewer consider the hundred different choices that go into every panel and capable of raising interest in the original comic strips that his images are derived/take inspiration from. In some cases, I even prefer Lichtenstein’s reinterpretations to the originals, such as the now famous “Pop!” image. Lichtenstein uses several triangular starbursts to emphasize the sound effect whereas the original only has a circle of radiating lines, and I find Lichtenstein’s to be the more exciting of the two. Nowadays, I do not think Lichtenstein’s art would work as well, because people are more aware of copyright and quick to get up in arms about it. However, it is also easier to approach other artists and ask permission to do creative reinterpretations, so long as the originals are credited. So maybe they would be produced, and without as much controversy.

  2. June 10, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    on a scale of 1-potato whats your favorite colour of the alphabet?

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