Unoriginal or Rip Off? Cliff Chiang and Mighty Fine Tees

This past weekend Mighty Fine Tee's revealed a new line of women's t-shirts featuring Marvel comic book characters depicted in the iconic style of Patrick Nagel's album artwork. But that wasn't the only artist to come to mind when I viewed these new duds - Cliff Chiang has been creating very similar parodies for years.
Like showing up to Prom in the same dress... (Chiang's take at left)
In Mighty Fine Tee's defense, they have a lot of really awesome, original designs available through their site. I myself own a Scott Pilgrim tee from their store, and I am seriously considering buying this art nouveau style Shadowcat tee. But these new designs have only been online for a day and already several of Cliff Chiang's fans have pointed out the similarities, myself included. This case is a little less cut and dry compared to some of the blatant infringements that have been brought forth by artists, such as Jess Fink's recent battle with several t-shirt vendors and one Etsy user. When comparing Mighty Fine's "80's throwback tees" vs. Cliff Chiang's series 12 In. Remix, no one owns an exclusive copyright to parody, but it is a little embarrassing on Mighty Fine Tee's behalf. After all, how many people are out there creating mash-ups of comic book characters and album covers from the 80's? Well, at least two now. Not only do the designs share the same concept, Chiang and Mighty Tee's both have remakes of the same Duran Duran album cover. Kind of hard to believe it is mere coincidence.

Since he created the first remix piece in 2008 to his most recent addition earlier this year, the series has continued to bring exposure of Chiang's work to many people outside of the comic book world. A google image search for "Cliff Chiang" brings up as many hits from his 12 In. Remix series as any of his work for DC. His series went beyond Nagel and includes mashups of Teen Titans and The Breakfast Club to Storm and Janet Jackson. All of Cliff's pieces are instantly recognizable as homages to the well-known original works. The choice of characters are intentional, often humorous, a sure sign that they are successful parodies. Vampirella as a stand in for the infamous Duran Duran Rio album cover is perfect since Nagel often used pale vixens in his work. The love triangle between Jean Grey, Scott Summers, and Wolverine make them an obvious choice for the Pretty In Pink poster. And Batgirl as Prince? Inspired. In other words, Cliff Chiang has created clever, memorable pieces; Mighty Fine Tee's has created some tacky shirts that do not add any commentary to the original works, serve no comedic purpose, and have debateable aesthetic pleasure. Anyone with an appreciation and understanding of parody can recognize 12 In. Remix as original works.

But who knows, Mighty Fine Tee's may have just unluckily created a similar attempt at parody as Cliff Chiang. It's a tough break though. He did it first, and he did it better.

UPDATE: 5/23/11 - Cliff Chiang Is A Classy Dude

"Thanks so much for the heads up. To be honest, I don’t feel like my idea was 100% original to begin with (CB Cebulski and Jason Pearson did Johns Hughes posters on “Loners” a couple years beforeme), but I REALLY appreciate your looking out for me. Those shirts are a fun visual mash-up like the Star Wars Nagel posters (and man, is it hard to draw like Nagel), whereas I try to draw more connections between the characters and history to make an extended gag. There’s room for all of it!"- Cliff Chiang