Friday, August 19, 2005

art, newspaper genetics, dead celebrities

I'm posting this link -- -- because I'm not actually certain what I think of it. Or rather, I really like it, with certain reservations. As an art project, paintings were bought from eBay for less than five dollars -- mostly prints of bad art, paintings on velvet and such -- and then handed over to 33 artists who worked into them, painted over them, made things out of them, put them in jars, etc. And will then be putting them back on eBay to sell.

And I'm puzzled about my reservations. I mean, I love A Humument (and was thrilled, when Googling it just then to check the spelling, to see that there is now an official Humument website at and surprised to find I've been spelling it wrong all these years) and working into other work isn't exactly new. I suspect it's just the eBayness of it all, the possible connection to the original artists, that I find myself catching on, because if someone told me about a project where you sent 33 artists out to junk shops to buy art for less than $5 and Do Stuff To It, I'd not blink.

Anyway, it's fun seeing what they started with, and what they ended up with.


And while I don't plan to talk about Beowulf again for a while -- probably until it starts shooting in September -- I am fascinated by the way that the media works. Or at least, the way they copy from each other and don't check things.

Two days ago we got a Variety article and a Hollywood Reporter article. Variety described Angelina Jolie as playing "the Queen of the Night" or somesuch, and added some details that I think they'd either made up or misunderstood or just got from someone who hadn't actually read the script. The Hollywood Reporter simply described her, accurately, as playing Grendel's Mother.

Since then the press articles have followed thick and fast, and are still turning up from all over the world. And I can tell who's basing their article on the Variety one and who's basing it on the Hollywood Reporter, and who's basing their article on other articles in other papers. It's a pity that The Independent, who did a really interesting article, read Variety and went haring off in the wrong direction (, while the Guardian, amusingly, seem only to have read The Independent and their own press clippings, so they're still bizarrely convinced that Beowulf will be made using Stop Motion technology, and that Anthony Hopkins, Crispin Glover et al will somehow be acting by holding themselves in position, moving a teeny bit at a time, 24 times for every second of film. Funny Guardian. Silly Guardian. Lazy Guardian.


On the interview, the moment I put down the phone I thought "Oh the book whose title I couldn't remember at the end of the interview was Grammar Without Tears by Hugh Sykes Davies," and meant to drop the interviewer a line and tell him so, but I forgot. So to make up for it, here's a link to one of my favourite Hugh Sykes Davies poems. It's called Poem.

And in my disorganisation I've mislaid the email from the American Gods fan who thought I'd enjoy But I did, and thanks.

Hello Neil,
I finished rereading the Sandman Collection again the other day, in conjunction with the Sandman Companion.
I didn't see it mentioned so I was wondering, in the final issue in The Wake (The Tempest), you have a scene discussing Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Day and the "remember, remember..." rhyme.
Was this a nod to the 'V is for Vendetta' comic?

Just curious.
Thank you for deciding to write.

No, just a nod to Bonfire Night. What I'm hoping for most from the V for Vendetta movie is the return of cardboard Guy Fawkes masks. I tried getting hold of some in 1996 for my own Bonfire Night, and couldn't, and friends of mine at the BBC said "Oh, we're the BBC, we can get anything," and came back a few weeks later saying "Nobody seems to make them any more". So I shall keep my fingers crossed...


Hi Neil. I have a copyright question that have not been able to find an answer for as of yet and thought I might run it by you. If I want to include a dead celebrity as a character in a short story or novel what is stopping me from doing so? Are there certain permissions I need to attain first? Will an anvil fall out of the sky and land on my head? I know you're busy but thank you in advance if you find the time to answer me. I can't wait to read Anansi Boys. May your well of stories always flow over the brim.

And I really didn't know. So I asked the shadowy figure behind Scrivener's Error, the best blog on matters legal and copyrighty ( And this is his sensible reply....

The answer, as you might have gathered, is "it depends."

* Never use a dead celebrity who was a resident of California or Tennessee
as the central character of a work, or put "words in their mouths".
California and Tennessee have statutes that make "celebrity rights" work
very much like trademarks.

* Don't use a dead celebrity in a manner that might imply that the celebrity
is endorsing a product or service (or, conversely, criticizing a competitor).

* Don't use a dead celebrity in any fashion of attainder--that is, implying
or doing something that might "taint" other family members (who might be
surviving). For example, stating that dead celebrity X was a well-known
worshipper of the Old Ones who raised his children in the ways of Cthulhu
just might irritate any of those children, even though they're not the
"subject" of the statement.

Beyond that, I always advise simple courtesy. If a statement might be
defamatory or invasive of privacy or infringing on the publicity of a live
person, I don't think that statement should be used regarding a dead celebrity.