nitta swipes
Frank Santoro was right! Popular boys love manga-ka Youka Nitta has admitted to lots and lots of tracing.

In her webpage notice, Nitta directly acknowledged that she traced Diesel’s photograph for the opening page of Stand on Vessel. She added that she is somewhat naïve in her awareness of copyrights, but acknowledged after much reconsideration that the illustration infringed on the copyrights of Diesel and the people who shot the advertising photograph. Nitta’s webpage notice went further in acknowledging the tracing issue than her earlier July 3 blog entry on the issue. Nitta promised to deal with these issues more carefully in the future, and apologized profusely to Diesel, the people involved, and her readers.

In Japan swiping is a very, very serious offense, and if this were a truTV special, Nitta would be caught red-handed, as this unofficial page of swipes shows.


  1. To make one distinction–I worked there for years and can show you many examples from many well known and respected manga-ka (including Junichi Nojo and Egawa Tetsuya, to name two of my personal favorites) where it is really clear photo reference is used in their work. The problem is not relying on photo ref per se, which is not considered a serious offense in itself, but that she swiped from such an obvious and topical source ( which is someone else’s intellectual property). I would assume–this being a good ad– it was familiar to members of the manga reading audience, and hence, easily noticed for what it is.

  2. i think if they made any money off the photos they swiped they might owe the original photographers and their clients some $$.

  3. Scanning a photo and using a gray scale version of it for a background is one thing.

    Taking a photo and deciding what line weights to add, tones to place, and blacks to spot is another. That at least takes an artistic contribution from the person doing the copying.

    That said, it’s a little dumb to use a photo that’s popular enough everyone will know you traced it, and it’s also lazy to trace a whole photo so precisely instead of just using it, or part of it, for reference.

    But still, was not the original work transformed? Taking a popular ad for jeans featuring a hetero couple making out in a dangerous situation, and recreating that so it’s obvious the image is the same as the ad’s, but making the couple same-sex… can’t it be said that the new image has created a new context, or commentary on the ads imagery and concept about “living on the edge”, so to speak? In the ad, it’s dangerous for the couple because their on the edge of a building. In the comic, what’s more dangerous for the characters: being on the edge of a building, or because their boys in love?

    If this illustration was done as just a single work of art, it would be obvious that a commentary is being made on the ad.

  4. John really hit it, above (their/they’re notwithstanding). I’m not inclined to beleive the artist intended it, if there’s truly been a history of direct, nonstransformative tracing of images. But intentional or not, Commentary Happened. I’ll pause a moment from my day to say, “Oooo.”

  5. …this is good reasoning and I would subscribe to it in other cases. It could hold here as well– until you look a little deeper at the swipe page and see that this is basically her standard operating procedure. Nitta repeatedly uses blatant rip-offs of primarily fashion ads for varying effects, and not (it would seem to me) primarily for social commentary. I would guess she is telling the truth in her statement, she simply didn’t know or realize this was a bad thing to do. I bet it just never occurred to her not to do it–but I bet it will now.

  6. Obviously a swipe and apparently has been one of ‘those’ artists for some time now, with no remorse.

    Thieves who get caught deserve their punishment.

  7. But is what she did a violation of copyright? She used someone else’s art to create her own, but that doesn’t in and of itself make it infringing. Sure, it’s derivative, but that’s a very vague part of copyright law. She’s not really reproducing someone else’s work, but recreating it. Does her use of the images effect the market value of the originals?

    An artist doesn’t have to intend to make a commentary on something with their art to actually be making a commentary on it. Nearly all the images she swiped are from ads that present very specific gender roles, and her versions alter the perception of those roles.

    I’m not condoning what she’s done, but I’m more offended by Roy Lichtenstein’s work.

  8. Agreed, again (on Lichtenstein too). However, in the highly competitive world of manga (and comics for that matter), there are many incredibly talented artists who are able and willing to–again and again– produce startling and unique page compositions without needing to rely on borrowed ideas, and we tend to value those ones over those who make a habit of relying on the imaginative/conceptual work of others to gain the verve of a good idea. One can’t help but feel a little cheated when you discover that an innovative page composition was in fact lifted almost wholesale from an unacknowledged secondary source, especially one which has seen wide exposure in the form of contemporary advertising.

    The best one could hope for is that she is a young artist and is learning as she goes. I would certainly hope it doesn’t harm her career in any lasting way, and given time, she will undoubtedly produce a body of work free of second-hand swiping.

  9. She is exceptionally good at converting images from our world into manga “space,” but I agree that one can’t help but feel a little cheated when one is expecting not only a brand-new image, but also insight into a particular artist’s vision–not a collage of recycled visions. Different expectations go along with different types of art (compare what we might want from a graphic novel to, say a fan who wants a painting that perfectly replicates that moment on screen when Hero A smooches Hero B on television show Will-Remain-Nameless). I also hope she’ll absorb some lessons from others’ compositions–copying the great masters, in a way. My very perfunctory googling shows her to be not-so-young an artist, but there’s always time to learn and grow, and start over.

    Mind you, I’m not apologising for her blatantly tracing the carefully composed images of other artists without giving a thought about how the copy might enhance or shift the message. Just positing that everyone can learn from horrendous blunders. Because this looks like a very long trail of horrendous blunders.

  10. I put myself in the shoes of the photographers who have taken painstaking time and energy to create a shot with mood and design…and then see someone repeatedly swiping these images to make a living and its upsetting. yes, i Don’t want to end a career…but if there isn’t a stop put to it and a pointing out of the mistake…it becomes a compound mistake.

    if i was a client hiring a person that swiped from another source so blatant, i would feel cheated and expect to be compensated .

    just my opinion.


  11. So is that how you say ‘Greg Land’ in Japanese? Okay, childish jabs aside, it’s interesting to see this happen in Japan and for a publisher to catch it. Looking at some of those in the ANN link where other examples are pointed out, they do seem cheap. Some of them I could chalk up to generic romantic poses, but others are blatantly copied. That fur coat one is especially bad. The Chanel necklace one looks cut and pasted.

    Being a bit of a photobug as well as a fan of cartooning and comic art, I can’t stand when the photographer’s work is considered somehow less. That somehow the cartoonist can copy the photograph of someone else and this is ethical? I don’t buy it.

    Yes, the implications of taking male and female photos used for shonen ai artwork is interesting. Actually, one of them was two females who the artist turned male. Though that one didn’t seem as direct a knockoff. Yet is that some reasoning to take a photographer’s artwork without credit? These seem to be not singular works with that purpose. The artist seems to just be swiping cool images they like and cool fashions not of their own design.

    I have heard imitation and copyright is thought of a bit differently in Japan. Certainly I’ve seen first hand entire stores dedicated to mostly.. um.. adult version of copy written characters done by amateur or other artists. Wired’s recent manga issue had a fascinating bit about this. Though this is certainly a different case than those.. parody books.

    Also, not to geek out, but hearing the opinions of a couple of comic creators I like on this issue is fascinating.

  12. Sanctimonious crap.
    Everybody steals. Everybody cheats.
    Does Dave Sim get a pass for tracing photographs in Judenhass or Glamourpuss just because he credits the photographer?

  13. Respectfully…and pardon my french,…but, bullshirt!
    It’s the same darn thing.
    Comic book history is rife with moments of people stealing each other’s stuff.
    Heck, the fine art world is rife with this stuff. Picasso was quoted as saying “Steal from the best!”
    It’s interperative in both cases.
    So what?
    I could see if someone lifted a frame of, say, Paul Pope’s,…and tossed a scan or a xerox into what they were doing,…or copied it line for line…and claimed it as their own,…that would be a different story.
    (Note to” Xenos”…thank you for bringing “Watchmen Babies In V For Vacation” to my attention on your fabulous blog.)

  14. Jesus Lord! I,…a second grade spelling bee winner,…have just misspelled interpretive,…which as I see it, casts my whole comment into doubt.

  15. I agree with the line of thinking that Nitta’s work would be normally regarded as quoting/derivative/commentary unless someone was trying to make a big deal out of it to fulfill their own agenda (re: to stir up negative public opinion so they could win a lawsuit or something).

    If this was a “problem” that had been going on “for years” and it’s a “serious offense in Japan”, then where was the simple phone call to Nitta (or to her publishers) asking her not to do it?

    In the manga world there is a LOT of zeitgeist and borrowing, and one of the great things about Youka Nitta is that she does go beyond the perfunctory and the cliches to tell her own story. She generates ideas and puts in a lot of work, and she earned the fans she has.

    As for the grievances of the under-appreciated photographer: who is to say the person who got the credit for the picture is solely responsible for the arranging the shot? Maybe an anonymous intern contributed ideas or provided some feedback. Was the architect of the building recognized? Were the pedestrians in the background recognized: perhaps one random woman’s choice of a turquoise dress provided the splash of color that balanced the shot. What about billboards in the background?

    I’m sorry that photographers feel under-appreciated, and it’s great that they’re striving for recognition, but to do it by attacking a great mangaka is not only to unfairly single someone out to ruin their career but to deprive all the people who love her work.

    I’ve seen a lot of kneejerk reactions from people who haven’t even seen Nitta’s work in context. Various bloggers just jumped on the scolding bandwagon, eager to get attention by issuing an opinion while the topic was hot, without concern about how they were affecting the life of the person they were ragging on. Where’s the discussion of the ethics of blogging-while-uninformed?

    Furthermore, I’ve seen drive-by comments that look suspiciously like they were made by people who have something personal against Nitta. Perhaps they are all from the guy who was hoping to squeeze some $$$ by suing Nitta’s publishers. Give the motive some thought.

  16. “Does Dave Sim get a pass for tracing photographs in Judenhass or Glamourpuss just because he credits the photographer?”

    I wasn’t aware that he actually did credit the photographers, especially in regards to Glamourpuss (I don’t buy his books, but he doesn’t list them on his DA site, so I sorta just assumed. Also, a lot of fashion magazine ads-which is main source of reference for Glamourpuss-don’t even list the photographer’s name). Also, crediting a photographer is not the same as getting their consent.

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