Thursday, April 12, 2007 | 7:30 a.m.
When online comic strip series artist David "Shmorky" Kelly called out Todd Goldman, artist and head of the David & Goliath apparel company, for reproducing one of Kelly's old images in painting, a firestorm of outrage ensued - online.
Goldman sold one of two paintings featuring a squirrel (which resembles a kitten) praying bedside with a thought bubble that reads: "Dear God, Please Make Everyone Die. Amen," at a Las Vegas gallery.
Kelly, who learned of the duplication Friday, said he created the image for his online comic strip, Purple Pussy, six years ago, and it was published in 2004 in the comic anthology "Keenspot Spotlight."
Aside from a lightbulb, a bow and the word "please" in Goldman's painting, the images are almost identical.
The duplication led to a maelstrom of hate mail, angry bloggers and scores of comic book vigilantes seeking justice for "blatant plagiarism" and "art thievery." There's even an entry on Wikipedia.com that includes an image of Goldman's painting altered to look more like Kelly's.
By Friday evening dozens of bloggers had chimed in. The attacks are brutal. One blogger wrote: "Sue him for all he's worth, plus 1 cent. Then he'll be your slave forever." Others called for Goldman's head.
"If it was just nobody, I would have shrugged it off," said Kelly, who is also a freelance illustrator. "This sort of stuff happens a lot, and it's not even worth getting bothered over. You can send a 'cease and desist' and they'll say, 'OK.' But here's someone taking my intellectual property and ruining it by making money off of it."
Kelly (www.shmorky.com) said he plans to take legal action.
"I would never have a problem with somebody making a parody of my stuff. Parody is OK. What this guy did was trace. Everyone can see that he traced it. There is no denying it," Kelly said. "I do want something out of this: money, and I want to hear an apology."
Goldman issued a statement Wednesday saying that he issued a formal apology and that he will not use Kelly's design again. The statement also says that Goldman will donate his proceeds from the painting to "Mr. Kelly or a charity of his choice."
He said one of the artists working for his company brought the image to him.
"I made a judgment error and didn't research the background of this particular submission," Goldman said. "My intention was not to copy Mr. Kelly."
Kelly confirmed that Goldman e-mailed an apology.
Of the Internet reaction, Goldman said: "This is just a bunch of hater artists trying to take me down. I'm not an online Web guy. I'm not trying to rip people off. I work with a team of artists at David & Goliath. We create thousands of designs."
Artists and bloggers say Goldman has taken characters from other cartoons. Goldman disputes that, saying that some of the characters in question are his own and have been licensed, and that in the past year he has sent 50 cease-and-desist letters to artists doing knockoffs of his work.
"It's frustrating to have my whole career, my creativity, being questioned because of one mistake," he said.
Kelly, on the other hand, says he is "overwhelmed and moved by the reaction."
The flap could boost his career. In Goldman-like fashion he is now selling T-shirts of the original design on his Web site.
Meanwhile, bloggers and comic fans continue trolling for clues on how Goldman's work compares to other artists.
Liz Greenfield, who posts her cartoon weekly on her Web site, stuffsucks.com, says she has received at least 100 e-mails from people saying they believe that Goldman stole her image of a fish in a fishbowl , which says, "Stuff sucks."
"It could be a coincidence," Greenfield, who lives in the Netherlands, said . "It isn't a duplicate that I could sue over."
Another designer, Jessica Fink, is wondering whether her T-shirt image of a bar of soap and the saying, "Rub me on your butt," was taken by Goldman and used in a similar painting .
Greenfield says Internet copyright protection is difficult.
Kelly believes that is what's behind the impassioned blogs: "It's a big deal with the online cartoonists. We're all in this together."