Saturday, 2 October 2010

Rad dead red zombie kitsch from HELL

At the Brand Licensing Europe trade fair in London earlier this week, I picked up this leaflet:
One of the most famous photos in the world, is now a legendary license!
This is the copyright protected photo taken by the legendary Cuban photographer Alberto Korda Guitterez. It depicts Che Guevara, legendary and romantic hero of the Cuban revolution on the 5th of March, 1960. Little did he know that it was destined to become one of the world’s most famous and recognized images, revered by Cubans, Central and South Americans and young idealistic Americans alike. Che has come to symbolise the epitome of the struggle of the working class and the oppressed everywhere. Even those who don’t know who he is know and recognize the image, adding to this “coolness factor”. The image is now available for licensing for a number of product categories and has been the subject of a very successful licensed apparel program in the United States and Europe, among many others. The excitement grows monthly as new image treatments are developed and new categories are added. Noted rap and hip hop artists have worn clothing with the Che image in the past year. Numerous international companies have licensed the image to symbolise the revolutionary nature of their company’s vision. It appeals to a wide spectrum of demographics for different reasons, and now it is available to enhance your licensing program.
As this BBC News story from 2007 explains, the popularity of this particular image of the late Mr Guevara is largely due to Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, who produced several poster designs based on the Korda photo on the late 1960s, initially in a psychedelic hippy style, then in the more familiar simplified red and black and yellow star brutalist stencil style. (Lots of examples from him on Flickr.)

As a child growing up in Ireland I enjoyed Jim Fitzpatrick’s illustrations, derivative as they were of popular American comics and art nouveau cheesecake. I knew him at the time mostly for his highly saturated and over-embroidered illustrations of Irish myth, his Thin Lizzy album covers, and his paintings for Captain America’s, the Grafton Street burger restaurant.

Later my friend Stephen introduced me to the sport of spotting poses in old American comics that had been swiped by Fitzpatrick. A favourite artist for him to copy was the artist Barry Winsor Smith, who had first become successful drawing Conan the Barbarian. Early rip off efforts by Fitzpatrick perfectly replicate the unnaturally small foreheads seen in BW Smith’s drawings.

Jim Fitzpatrick declared his Che Guevara images to be copyright free, in order to aid the cause of revolution worldwide, but you shouldn’t expect a similar attitude from the rights holders of the Korda photo, no matter how revolutionary your intentions. In 2005 the film maker Bruce LaBruce was sued for using the image in his ‘agit-porn’ movie The Raspberry Reich. Read his account here.

For more Che merchandising madness have a look at this thread from 2006 on the Typophile message board. It starts off with a discussion on a satirical Che cover illustration for the magazine Communication Arts. The fun really gets going on the third page of comments when the artist responsible, Cuban born Edel Rodriguez, turns up to respond.

Earlier on Airforce Amazons: Best use of a Che Guevara t-shirt.

2018 UPDATE: Jim Fitzpatrick has by now ended up exactly as you would expect, spreading pro Putin and pro Assad conspiracy garbage on Twitter. There’s not much room for brains inside those deformed Barry Winsor Smith-style barbarian skulls.

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