Pat Mills Faces Fan Backlash Over AI Art and NFTs

So come on, who saw this one coming? A while ago, comics legend Pat Mills (Nemesis, Demon Knight, Judge Dredd, Charley’s War and many more) broke the news that his 2000AD history/memoir was getting a re-release and a new chapter to cash in on/celebrate 2000AD’s 45th anniversary. So far, so good, and I’m gonna say that if you haven’t read the book you should do so as it’s excellent.

Anyway, Pat also announced that he will be getting 45 copies of the book minted as an NFT, a kind of personal digital copy that you keep in your own digital wallet that’s for you and you alone. In addition, each of the 45 people will get a unique piece of AI generated art with the package, and both the book and art (as a bookplate) will be sent physically to the purchaser. So for your £120 you get a physical updated book, and inside there will be a bookplate of the AI art that you now co own (Miilsverse retains part ownership, so if you ever resell it you pay them an unspecified percentage) and it’ll all be signed by Mills. Oh, and there’s also an “Ask Pat Anything” session included, though the format of this is unclear from what I could find, as are details on who exactly “made” the AI art.

So where’s the problem?

I’m going to gloss over one potential problem, which is the alleged HUGE amount of energy used by blockchains and NFTs, because it’s a big issue I simply don’t understand enough about. Suffice to say, this is something Mills has done, and he claims to have done it in the best way possible, and many people really despise the idea. Naturally, Mills says they need to do more research, which is exactly what my mate who believes in a flat earth told me.

Over the past few days Mills has taken a huge amount of flack from fans (not just haters who pile on regardless of what he does) about not just the NFT thing but the fact he is using AI generated art and proffering it as some sort of good thing. The images in question are very good, obviously done with one of the better systems out there, and they are all tied into a Mills creation, such as Slaine, Defoe and the like. Thing is, almost anyone could do similar stuff given half an hour on the same platform. One of the very real concerns is the way AI art basically steals from existing styles, the amount from each depending on what exactly you enter in. It’s even being used to recreate dead artist’s styles with zero going to the artist’s beneficiaries, in a bizarre take on the legendary “Kenny Who?” 2000AD stories. It’s all “unique”, of course, but then again every AI generation is unique (and empty of heart).

So let’s see what people have been saying online. I won’t be mentioning names to reduce the chance of backlash, but every comment here has been made on Twitter or Facebook in the last three days.

A 2000AD creator commented “All those artists that would have jumped at illustrating a Mills character and could have been given some small income. It’s some soulless AI stuff instead.” Another 2000AD creator was equally dismissive, saying “It’ll be a dream come true for him. No artists to share credit, copyright or money with”. The first creator summed up his disdain with “…a writer that has supposedly been so hot on creators rights and the way artists should be credited, Is suddenly employing a device which effectively data mines/strips other artists work. It reeks of hypocrisy.” A further former creator simply called it a “Stupidity tax”.

Most of the criticism has come from fans, such as “It was all rather disappointing. But not that surprising”, and “When I thought that nothing is more useless than NFT, here comes AI generated artwork. I feel old and sound like my father, but guys: seriously?”.

The criticism against AI art was summed up nicely: “It is mostly artwork from living artists lifted from their sites and fed against their consent to the AI so they can make a profit out if it. That Pat Mills supports that not even a week after they stole Kim Jung Gi’s work is really horrifying”.

Some of the hostility stems from the fact that Mills is a creator that has always been rightfully well respected for his huge catalogue of creations (“Does NFT stand for Nemesis, Flesh and Tharg?” quipped one wag). “Really disappointing.” said one commenter. “People have been saying since it first gained popularity that they were concerned AI art would replace human artists. Never thought the likes of Pat Mills would be the one to take the first step toward that. Very saddening”. “Disillusioned, disappointed and a little disgusted, with myself for holding high regard for…well anyone really,” said another.

As it’s online, others were demonstrably more blunt. “It’s just a toxic, immoral, exploitative example of fishing for gullible sycophants,” was one comment, along with “Is this actually real? F**king Jesus!”. “What are reputations for if not for pissing all over?” asked one online former admirer, whilst another succinctly noted “Here’s hoping he can use AI to draw up the sequential art for his next comic. Let him have all the creative input, see where it gets him”.

All the above comments were on Facebook, and it’s interesting that the debate on Twitter leans way more towards the NFT side of things, with Mills defending the hill that he just might have chosen to die on. That said, there are a few people standing by him, such as this person: “Well, good luck to you. I suspect even your detractors would agree that it’d be nice to see you get some money and resources for more creation rather than the comics establishment, and if NFTs are the way to do it, well so be it”.

It’s no secret that creators like Mills have been short changed over the years, and his voice has been loudest when railing against what he and many others see as an injustice. He’s not alone, as many, many others were in the same boat thanks to the way the UK comics industry worked (and still does). Somehow I can’t see John Wagner doing this, though.

There are MANY more comments that I have found online, and this was just through Mills’ own pages and two others who shared or commented about his post. Naturally, you can and should make your own mind up (if you even care), but it’s certainly an interesting debate whichever side you are on.

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