First of all, this isn’t an article about plagiarism or fan art/fan fiction. If your story, comic etc.. is a direct copy of something else and/or directly based on another published work (and isn’t a parody of it), then this is not the article for you.
It is an article for people who want to make their own imaginative things that are sometimes heavily inspired by other things, and are worried that their work isn’t “original” or “imaginative” enough. This is an article for people who worry that their own imagination isn’t developed enough because they tend to be inspired by other things.
Likewise, I am not a copyright scholar, so none of this should be seen as formal legal advice of any kind.
Plus, I won’t be talking about the distinction between inspiration and plagiarism much (because I’ve sort of mentioned it before). For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that whatever you’ve made has been inspired in a legitimate way (eg: based on generic elements, themes etc… from something else, rather than copying highly-specific exact details).
So, what should you do if you worry that your art, comics, stories etc.. aren’t “original” enough? Here are a few tips:
1) Look closely at your inspirations: If you are worried that your imaginative creative works “aren’t imaginative enough”, then take a close look at the things that inspired you. I can almost guarantee that these things were also heavily inspired by other things too. It’s a universal truth that even “highly original” works are usually heavily inspired by other things, they just contain an unusual mixture or combination of influences.
For example, one of the largest influences on a comedic cyberpunk webcomic mini series that I’ll be posting here in early-mid February is the movie “Blade Runner” (to the point that it even includes a parody of one scene from the film – but, more on that later…)
“Blade Runner” is a groundbreaking film that has had a huge influence on the science fiction genre in general. However, groundbreaking as it was, it isn’t even close to “original” in the strictest sense of the word.
It’s heavily inspired by old film noir movies, it’s inspired by 1980s Japan/South Korea, it’s vaguely similar to old “Judge Dredd” comics from the 1970s/1980s in some general ways, some of it’s most unique interior locations are just slightly altered versions of real buildings, it’s explicitly based on a novel by Philip K. Dick etc… Strictly speaking, it isn’t “original” in the slightest, but it was able to become an “original” film by combining a range of influences in a unique and imaginative way.
If you look at anything that inspires you, you’ll probably find something similar to this. Imagination, “originality” and creative inspiration come from finding things that inspire us and then finding new and distinctive ways to use general elements (eg: elements that aren’t highly-specific enough to be copyrighted) from these things in our own work. It’s an inherent part of the creative process.
So, finding what inspired the things that inspired the things that you’ve made might help to assuage some of your worries about “originality”.
2) Comedy and parody: First of all, if you’re making something in the comedy genre, then you shouldn’t worry too much about “originality”. Although I am not an expert on the legal aspects of this, you have very little to worry about if your work is a general parody of something (or even a direct parody, featuring exact characters, settings etc.. from the thing you are parodying).
Many countries, either through law or tradition, make large allowances for parodies of of other things. The precise definition of a “parody” might vary from place to place, but the importance of allowing people to make parodies is widely recognised.
Even vaguely decent parodies can often contain more originality than you might think – for the simple reason that they will often parody multiple things at the same time. In order to do this, they will often come up with an entirely new cast of characters, a new setting, a new story etc.. even if these things are heavily inspired by something else.
For example, even though my upcoming cyberpunk webcomic features a parody of a dramatic scene from “Blade Runner” – the characters and backstory are somewhat different, even if the scene itself is clearly a comedic version of a scene from that film (with a very slightly different twist on the themes from “Blade Runner”).
So, yes, even parodies are often more “original” than you might think.
3) Find more influences: The more inspirations something has, the more “original” it will look. If you’re worrying that your story, comic etc.. isn’t “original” enough, then this might be a sign that you need to find more influences and more things that inspire you.
For example, I’d been wanting to make a sci-fi comic in the cyberpunk genre for a long time. After discarding the idea of making a “serious” comic (since I seem to be better at comedy than serious storytelling these days), I still couldn’t work out how to make a comedic cyberpunk comic until I started looking at more things in the cyberpunk genre (eg: computer games like “Deus Ex” and “System Shock” – both of which, ironically, were heavily inspired by the works of William Gibson amongst other people).
In the end, my upcoming cyberpunk comedy webcomic series included a range of pre-existing sci-fi influences like “Blade Runner”, “Neuromancer“, “Star Trek”, “Sliders“, “Back To The Future” and “Transmetropolitan“, but also a couple of additional cyberpunk influences like the games I mentioned. Without those additional influences, and the additional knowledge about the genre that came with them, I wouldn’t have been able to make this comic series without seriously worrying about the story being a “rip-off” of the few cyberpunk things I’d seen beforehand.
So, worries that your work isn’t “original” usually just means that you need to find more things to get inspired by.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂