I’ve been meaning to write for some time and have finally resolved to do so following your recent escapade in Paraguay. (I do realize that it was several years ago, but I only just found out about it a couple of weeks ago.) We need to have a talk.
Now, we’ve had a long history together, and I like you very much, another reason which prompts me to write. I do know you love appearing in print – who doesn’t? – but you really MUST pay more attention where you do so. You simply can’t clamber up on just any book cover offered by some publisher; you are supposed to ask first.
Ever since your first appearance in the 1991 Tolkien calendar, and the encore on the cover of the one-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings – not to mention a host of other editions, all duly accounted for, I’m sad to have to point out you’ve occasionally gone astray.
First of all, you wandered off to Slovenia, of all places, and while I do concede that the title lettering has a certain panache, you did come out rather greenish-grey, not very becoming.
A Slovenian edition of The Lord of the Rings, with a certain panache in the title lettering but a certain lack of permissions for use.
In 2003, you were in Turkey, on packages of bubble gum! That awful orange background would have been enough to keep me away. (The gum wasn’t very good either, by the way, but I kept the wrapper.) I suppose I should be grateful I haven’t found you on other foodstuffs. (This said, I’m quite partial to peppermint-flavoured ice cream; if you’re going to stray, it might as well be on something that I like.)
Gandalf in Turkey, on chewing gum.
Then there was the Ukraine and Serbia, both surprise appearances. You’ve also been a little less discerning than I’d like in other places as well. Those two odd covers in Bulgaria, for example, where you let the publisher re-paint a lot of the picture, and that book in Germany, where you didn’t stay long enough to appear as you were, and they did a portrait from memory. Oddly enough, these seem to involve you donning a red cloak. If you don’t like the grey, we could talk about it, but honestly, that is how you are described in the book.
Gandalf in Belgrade, both on an edition of the Lord of the Rings, on the Fellowship of the Ring and on David Day’s book. (The various editions pictured on that cover front and back are all illegal uses, at least as far as my images are concerned.
Left: A very odd cover commissioned by a German publisher, though Gandalf has swapped his grey cloak for a red one. The next edition of the book featured a new image. Centre and right: Gandalf in red again, this time in Bulgaria, and in curious circumstances.
You do look like you have a guilty conscience on that Russian cover, looking over your shoulder. Also, you’re backwards, you really must make sure if you’re going to let publishers pirate you, they should at least keep you the right way around. You visited Basque country in the same year you were in Turkey (you do get around), admittedly in another image, but still not one I would ever have remotely entertained the idea of approving. Do you recall what the publisher said, that all three Tolkien covers they published were original works, created with Middle-Earth themed elements?
From left to right: Gandalf in the Ukraine, wandering in Basque country, and looking over his shoulder (backwards) in Russia.
You were all over things with that games publisher in Holland – booster packs, binders – I’m still very peeved about that escapade. But, if it’s any consolation, you’re not alone in your wayward ways, that Nazgûl with the Dark Tower is VERY popular with Russian heavy metal bands, and has appeared on dozens of albums, none of them with permission of course. But then, I kind of hesitate to remonstrate – the Witch King is hardly an amenable fellow, and as for the fell beast, those things have a wicked bite. Ulmo, Lord of the Waters gets around pretty well too, for a guy who can’t leave the sea. Do you recall that Spanish publisher who used 23 (twenty three!) of my illustrations without permission? Happily they agreed to a fee, but I might never have noticed if we hadn’t been in Valencia for an exhibition. (That Turkish publisher comes in second with only eight, but they never bothered to reply.)
Gandalf in the Low Countries, making an appearance on a binder and on a card box, all without checking beforehand.
And now I discover that back in 2006 you sneaked into Paraguay without a visa and ended up on a book by an author who had a fellow writer condemned to a couple of years behind bars for plagiarism. You really MUST mind the company you keep. People are going to think I somehow condone all that. I confess, though, that I’ve always wanted to visit that part of the world, so I did enjoy appearing in the papers there, even if it was in conjunction with something terribly ironic and so very awkward. (You’ve been to all these countries I would love to visit. Surely you could have sent a card or two.)
Gandalf in Paraguay without a visa.
You see, this is the problem, you can’t just think of yourself in these matters. I drew you to make a living and I’m counting on your assistance to continue to do so. You need to explain to publishers that while you can’t necessarily judge a book by it, the cover is nevertheless an important element of the whole and deserves a minimum of attention. You can remind them that they pay the printers and the distributors; why I bet they even pay the caterers when they order in lunch for editorial meetings! Mention that sub-right fees are not very expensive, especially if they publish in a small territory. Mention that nowadays, if you do a Google search by image, chances are that if it’s indeed one of mine, the first hit that comes up will be my web site. So you can stop them right there when they tell you they tried to find me and couldn’t. You are a VERY well known Gandalf and you should not undersell yourself.
In turn I will send them to the picture rights people at HarperCollinsPublishers, and they can work out a fair fee for your appearance. (Please remember to ask them to send copies once you’re printed, I always forget and I hate having to go back and scrounge up contact details and beg copies for my archives.) You have ended up occupying quite a section of shelf space, in a number of languages, it’s an accomplishment you can be proud of, so don’t ruin it by appearing on some unrelated cover with some publisher who thinks you do all this for free. Tell them it’s a livelihood, like any other. They don’t leave the gas station or the restaurant without paying, do they, or decline to pay their phone bills or rental cars?
Here are a few fallacious arguments you might hear:
“We didn’t know whom the image belonged to.” I think I already answered that one. Google. If they found an image of a high enough resolution to use in print, surely they can do an image search.
“We didn’t know how to contact the illustrator.” Suggestion: that they take out an Internet subscription.
“We only used part of it.” Now that’s like handing back half a sandwich and asking for a refund.
“We made changes to the image.” That one is even worse, not only pirating the image, but disfiguring it as well, which is insult Photoshopped on injury if you ask me. Remember that editor who said they had done “original covers based on Middle-Earth themed material”? Tell them to look up “moral rights” on the net.
“It’s a collage, so it’s an original artwork.” I won’t even comment on that one.
“We’re showcasing the your work.” That one is my favourite, for sure. That’s as bad as swiping a book and saying you only did it to promote the author.
“What’s all the fuss about? It’s only a picture.” Tell them it’s the principle of the thing. That may sound a bit old-fashioned, I concur, thou shalt not steal and all that, but copyright is copyright, if they expect theirs to be protected, they should simply respect others’. Or is that a bit too old-fashioned as well? (Also, they must realize that another publisher in the same territory is not going to put in a legitimate request if the image is already pirated in the same bookshops, mustn’t they?)
I agree, some of it leaves you tongue-tied, so you’ve got to be on your toes. Just say to them “You know, sub-rights for re-use of an image can be acquired for a modest fee, for the cost of the price of a few dozen copies of the book, so it would just be so much simpler to ask.”
And while we’re having this conversation, it’s been seventeen years since you were stolen, along with ten other originals, from the exhibition in Sedan, France. Surely the people who still have you, along with Eowyn & the Nazgûl and The Uruk-hai, might think you’ve been staying with them long enough, and that you might come back home now?
Yours, as ever,