Anger over the use of AI in art heated up over the weekend after Adi Granov called out DC cover artist Francesco Mattina for using AI in a variant cover for Superman #18.

Granov – a star artist perhaps best known for his Iron Man work – posted the cover in a Facebook post which pulled no punches – especially in relation to the wonky looking S-shield – and even used the H-word.


When image generators first came to prominence the first person who came to mind was the serial plagiarist Francesco Mattina as I thought he’d think all his Christmases have come at once. If you don’t remember, he made a whole career out of photobashing other people’s art (mine included) into whatever you want to call his “work”. I don’t post about artists I dislike, but I neither consider him an artist nor can I hide my dislike for the continued blatant plagiarism. Anyhow, here’s his new cover. Not only is he a hack, but he’s not even good enough to hide the glaring mistake on one of the most iconic symbols in all of pop-culture.

Granov continued in a comment:

Even the S aside, this is just an awful image. Every single detail in it is terrible and super messy. I think I would have to write a whole essay to point out just how badly this was put together, but every element is in the wrong place, badly sized, poorly oriented, etc. Random elements, such as poorly placed giant buttons, earrings, press badge, which don’t exist in the same space as the figure. Even Lex is mirrored with the pocket on the wrong side, not to mention his ear growing out of his cheekbone. But Superman is just a disaster with a dislocated shoulder, that weird leg with random muscles, the cape which is bizarrely much thicker on one side than the other, the disaster of his neck/traps/collarbones/whatever the hell is going on there. Than random pigeons and a castle thrown in with completely illogical starbursts and radial blurs in every which direction to obscure and smudge it all. The S is just the most blatant detail, but make no mistake this really is a genuinely awful bashing of found elements, generated or otherwise.
I never make posts like this, but this guy has been a blight on our industry for so damn long and he seemingly has no remorse as he just keeps on doing it.

It’s fair to say that this error-ridden image fired up a lot of simmering rage that artists are feeling over the use of AI art instead of human effort. Among the more than 300 comments Bill Sienkiewicz, Mico Suayan, Meghan Hetrick, Duncan Rouleau, Jill Thompson, Billy Tucci, Emanuela Lupacchino and many more pros sounded off with brutal put downs.

The original comment was also shared on facebook nearly 400 times…prompting another post by Granov:

I want to reiterate that making a negative post like that really goes against my general attitude towards art and artists, but more so it can also be dangerous as it might be perceived as bullying. Not much gets under my skin in such a way, but certain things really need to be called out. Here I am about 10 days into a traditional painting obsessing over every detail, fighting the materials, mixing paints, etc., which is my choice as I want to accomplish something I am proud of and something the audience can view and hopefully see how much skill, care and time I put into it. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, some might even hate it, but it can’t be denied that I gave it my all.
I am trying to pay respect to the art, the subject matter, to myself and to the audience who I want to be able to have confidence and trust in the authenticity of what they are seeing.
The cover I posted by Francesco Mattina, much like all of his work I’ve ever seen, is a literal antithesis of all of those things. He has had a very long career built upon deceiving the audiences with his cheap digital trickery, using blurs and lensflares to disguise and obscure all of the elements he has stolen from so many of my peers and me included. I am not the first to point this out, it has been discussed many times over the years, but he has always had people defending him even when the evidence was irrefutable.
This isn’t just about him. When I was a much younger artist and much less aware of such things, I saw an Arthur Suydam zombie Silver Surfer cover and immediately recognised the surfboard as just copied and pasted from one of my covers, texture, lighting, everything just as I painted it, with only the areas where I had the Surfer standing smudged badly to disguise it. I couldn’t believe it, a “legendary” artists just wholesale stealing something I spent all this time creating. He wasn’t inspired by it, he didn’t use it as reference, he didn’t homage it, he just stole the whole thing from someone trying to make their way into the industry. Purely out of laziness, or a lack of skill, or any of the other things which mean you aren’t qualified for the job. I wasn’t quiet about it at the time, but that image is still out there published as both the cover and prints.
So back to Mattina. I don’t want to bully him or cause him harm, but he is making a mockery, and has been his entire career, out of all of us. He’s selling you a flashy piece of trash created without any care, skill or honesty. He’s just trying to deceive everyone for reasons only known to him. In my view work like that is hugely damaging to the industry, to the companies he works for, to all of us artists who actually care but then have our art stolen and repurposed. It’s sad that only such an obvious oversight such as the double S on Superman seems to have finally been irrefutable, but it’s the perfect example of how little he cares. Even if he is using Al, or if he is stealing other people’s work, even if Al is the future, as so many claim, then at least do it well. But he is even awful at cheating and couldn’t see that the literal main element of the whole cover, the Superman logo, is messed up. That is not a mistake, that is pure oversight on his part where his cheating slipped through as he was too lazy to even look at his “creation” to make sure the most basic of elements are correct.
He cares so little for the art and the audience that he can’t even put effort in to cheat well.
I don’t wish him or anyone like him any harm, but I also want the harm they are doing to all of us to stop. I could think of dozens of my artists friends trying to break into the industry who could have done a much better and far more honest job. It’s damaging to them as much as it’s dishonest to the fans and to the artists he has stolen from over the years. It must be really disheartening for a young artist, like I was back with that Silver Surfer, to keep motivated when you are seemingly competing with someone making a total mockery of the things you believe in.

As Granov indicated, Mattina has a long history of being accused of swiping – Alex Garner called him out for swiping a fee years ago, as did artist Lee JeeHyung. And that’s not all.  There’s a long Twitter thread also enumerating many times when Mattina was accused of swiping – including by an art director at Sideshow Toys.

And publishers were aware of Mattina’s rep as a swiper, as reported in a comment by former Marvel Talent Coordinator Bon Alimagno:

Years back when I was still at Marvel, CB comes into a meeting with a printed out gallery of Mattina’s work. And one of Marvel’s lead cover artists at the time had circled specific portions of every cover, to go on the record with what he thought Mattina had swiped from him, and sent that to CB to print out. Mattina had sent Marvel and the artist apologies already before that review, but he didn’t get cover work with Marvel for years after that, maybe not since then. Surprised he actually still does with anybody. And this was in 2010.


Whew. There’s a lot to unpack here.

Starting with a niggling detail, as far as that Superman symbol goes, not only does it have two tails, but the thing that bothers me about it is that it’s way off center – it seems to be floating off Superman’s chest, and the tail is pointing to his right hip, not his belt buckle. Here’s a photo of Henry Cavill where you can see the S-shield does shift a bit…..but not that much. As Granov points out, the way all the elements of the image are constructed they just don’t fit together.

Next, it’s rare to see such a unified outpouring of frustration from the comics industry on any topic. Publishers have been hiring known swipe artists (cough Greg Land cough) for years, but the current onslaught of AI – bringing with it layoffs of actual humans – has created a fraught atmosphere of anxiety. AI is still pretty bad at search, but it’s pretty good at generating pretty images, and improving all the time. But as Granov put it, it’s “selling you a flashy piece of trash created without any care, skill or honesty.” When something like this slips through, it’s concerning.

And how did this slip through? Mattina’s rep is no secret, are editors at DC really that desperate?

Just guessing here, but…..they probably are. Take a look at the September solicits. So many variant covers. So many pin-ups. So many, many pin-ups. I doubt we’ll ever go back to covers like this,


but it would be a bit harder for AI to churn out these kinds of images. (Or maybe not.)

Having once, long ago, been a monthly comics editor, I’m sympathetic to the looming terror of the empty page. Mattina is probably always on time and a heck of a guy….so he gets work. To my very untrained eye, these covers look blatantly AI-generated – maybe not the whole thing but at least parts of the image composition. But if I were on a tight deadline, I might not look as closely as I should.

So what happens next? A few months ago, DC pulled some covers by artist Daxiong after he was accused of using AI. (And those covers were way better than the Mattina ones.) I expect we’ll soon hear the same about these Mattina covers. Clearly, more oversight or quality control is needed as AI-generated images become more and more prevalent. Some people have called for the return of an Art Director at DC, a position once held by Mark Chiarello, before he was removed in one of DC’s endless rounds of layoffs. There is, sadly, only one Chi, but even so, that kind of position might not even work in today’s comics world – especially at DC which is still running with a cut to the bone staff.

The things is…there are so many talented human artists out there. I saw some kids at an SVA event last month who could do better, fresher, more interesting covers than Mattina’s.  Scrolling through this months solicits, I see some striking work by top-notch creators. And I see a few pot-boilers. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

The issue of AI-generated art is certainly not going away, and it’s cropping up everywhere. Who knows, maybe AI will create jobs…finding people who can spot it and call it out when the results are as sloppy as this.


  1. Even if I was ignorant of the use of AI in the image, it’s not that great of a cover anyhow. Not sure what the other cover choices for this issue are, but this would probably be last on the list if I was choosing.

  2. Right? I know the question being asked is, “How does someone with this behavior get work?” but it should be “How does someone who produces stuff like this get work?”

Comments are closed.