Can a Graphic Novel Change Attitudes On IP?

Ricky Rouse Has a Gun (SelfMadeHero), a new graphic novel from Jörg Tittel, illustrates all the weirdness of contemporary copyright culture — and our need for new sources of inspiration.

These are strange days for intellectual property. We live in quotes and click-able links. We accept retweets as a measure of meaning. Curation is, like, a career. The value of an original idea has changed, profoundly. It’s only worth its refraction.

It’s revolution, maybe. Or maybe it’s just fun. Author Jörg Tittel and artist John Aggs examine the issue of creativity in the quotation economy in Ricky Rouse Has a Gun, published by SelfMadeHero. It’s a 180-page action-comedy set in a Chinese knock-off theme park, filled with unprotected sex, gratuitous violence, and – worst of all – a rip-off rodent. And it’s an absurd, beautifully illustrated statement on where we are in IP, circa today; complete with a foreword by Christopher Sprigman, co-author of The Knockoff Economy.

Ricky Rouse Has a Gun was announced today at the London Book Fair over a conversation with The Guardian’s tech reporter Alex Hern, digital music columnist Helienne Lindvall, and our very own Matt Mason. Your first look is here.

Download the BitTorrent Bundle, and unlock the music video (set to an original track by James Lavelle), plus 33 pages of the new novel. Then, continue the debate. Tweet your questions to @newjorg, @helienne, @alexhern and @mattmason with the hashtag #rickyrouse.

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Words with Jörg Tittel: On Rip-Off Culture, and the Internet’s Next Creative Wave

BitTorrent: Ricky Rouse Has a Gun is a stranger-than-fiction look at counterfeit culture. What can readers expect?

Jörg Tittel: First and foremost, readers can expect a crazy amount of fun. It’s full of likeable and hateful characters in equal measure, insane chases, explosions and hyper-violence (a lot of it involving mascots) and even a little dose of heart. I guess the sophisticated Hollywood pitch would be something like: Die Hard in a Chinese knockoff Disney theme park. It’s an action comedy, a satire of US-Chinese relations and an homage to those awesome 1980’s Hollywood action movies I grew up on. They don’t seem to make them like that any more… in fact, hasn’t our precious “Western culture” started ripping itself off lately?

BitTorrent: The copyright debate is usually the stuff of policy papers, not graphic novels. What inspired you to take on these issues, and treat them graphically?

Jörg Tittel: I love daring, original, outrageous, courageous, insane, politically charged and incorrect stuff. For some reason, it’s those projects that seem to outlast every new wave – and even their own remakes. Take a look at Paul Verhoeven for instance – he’s possibly the master of the “genre” if you will – his Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers (three masterpieces in my view) will weather even the worst reboot.

“I love daring, original, outrageous, courageous, insane, politically charged and incorrect stuff. For some reason, it’s those projects that seem to outlast every new wave – and even their own remakes.”

Besides their endless entertainment value (and 80’s haircuts), these films have layer upon layer of satire and social commentary; they’re a total delight to explore with each new viewing. Perhaps, in some strange subconscious way, I was trying to make my own Paul Verhoeven movie and ended up making this graphic novel instead. Does that make me a ripoff artist by the way? I am not famous anymore. Oh, shut the fuck up, Shia.

BitTorrent: Your background is theater, film, and transmedia storytelling. Can you talk a little about your creative process for this graphic novel? How do you approach building a world (especially one this weird and dystopian)?

Jörg Tittel: I first conceived this as a movie and wrote a screenplay. (Queue boos from the comic book scene: “Not another frustrated filmmaker peddling his stupid movie in comic book form!”). Hollywood folks seemed to love and to be strangely afraid of it at the same time. I guess a lot of people are afraid of big bad mice or something?

“I quickly realized that some of the best graphic novels had touched upon things that big budget films would typically shy away from.”

In the case of Ricky Rouse Has a Gun, a lot of the comedy – and originality, I hope – comes from the visuals. The search for the right artist was long and arduous. Finding John Aggs was like winning the lottery. This book wouldn’t be the same without him.


BitTorrent: These are strange days for IP. What do you see as some of the key issues facing creativity (and copyright) in the post-digital age?

Jörg Tittel: In this bizarre, marketing-driven, “risk-averse” society, original ideas are considered dangerous and unfashionable. Take a look at Marvel for instance – they claim to have planned their movies until 2028. That’s a lot of sequels and spinoffs, if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong: I love a lot of the Marvel movies. But doesn’t it feel a bit like: that’s all we’re getting?

“How can you expect to protect your own IP, if you essentially keep ripping yourself off?”

And combine that franchise mania with a youth culture used to getting stuff for free… how can Hollywood not expect cynicism from its consumer base? How can you expect to protect your own IP if you yourself refuse to create new IP, if you essentially keep ripping yourself off (through legal means, sure, or at least means involving lots and lots of overheads)?

Fancy “new” business models, pseudo-technical marketing babble and global fear-mongering all seem to be leading to a general paralysis of creativity.

“I’m convinced that we’re about to see an explosion in creativity coming from the most unexpected people and places. These are strange, dangerous, exciting days for IP.”

BitTorrent: This is one of the first graphic novels to be published using BitTorrent Bundle. Why did you want to distribute the book using this platform?

Jörg Tittel: Firstly, I admire the technology. There simply isn’t a better, more efficient, more democratic way to share files with the world. On top of that, I admire what BitTorrent is doing with the Bundles – building a global community curious about discovering and exploring the creations of artists new and old – and in whatever medium – and engaging with them directly.

Also, we put a lot of work into the music video which we’re giving away as part of the Bundle. It has its own narrative, a stupidly catchy song, a full-size Ricky Rouse costume and a pretty insane use of “stolen” footage. All done in the spirit of joy, creativity and a bit of madness, too. Fair use. Right?

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