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A Zombie Novel, by which I don't mean...

I see that Diana Wynne Jones’s final book completed by sister, and that it will be out (from HarperCollins, who at the moment don’t seem to have a page for it yet) in the Spring or Summer. And I, for one, am very excited about this—I have read more than a dozen of her books, and enjoyed very nearly all of them. Some of them I have enjoyed very much indeed. And while I don’t know any of Ursula Jones’ stuff, I don’t on the face of it have any qualms about her co-authorship. So: author I like having her ouvre extended posthumously by close kin: happy Vardibidian.

Oddly enough, one or two down from the DWJ story on the Publisher’s Weekly site is an article on An Anniversary and a Rebranding for Richard Scarry, in which the Random Penguin is re-releasing some of Richard Scarry books with new covers. The writer of that article, Sally Lodge, interviews Richard “Huck” Scarry, Jr, who is a professional illustrator and who evidently has continued to produce Richard Scarry books after his father died. And I found the whole thing quite repulsive and commercial in the worst sense of that word: art-like works being produced merely to exploit a market. So: author I like having his ouvre extended posthumously by close kin: gripey Vardibidian.

Now, to be fair to myself, I’m not sure how anyone could ever read an article extolling the rebranding of anything without being disgusted by market capitalism. So I was in a gripey mood by the time I got to the bit about the kid (now nothing like a kid) continuing to milk the dad’s intellectual property. I was all primed to think of it as cheap commercial exploitation, because the rebranding is cheap commercial exploitation. Perhaps perfectly reasonable exploitation—hey, the market is what it is, and I have most of the Oz books in the Dover editions with matching covers myself. Of course, the Oz world has its own exploitation issues.

And the kid—well, it’s like the zombie strips in the comic strip syndicates. I mean, really? I like the Busy, Busy World, but isn’t there enough Richard Scarry in existence? We need more?

The thing is, I’m sure “Huck” Scarry doesn’t think of himself as tapping his dad’s money factory. I suspect he thinks of himself as completing the work, guarding the legacy. Doing all the stuff that Ursula Jones thinks of herself as doing. I think he’s wrong, and I suspect that Ursula Jones is probably right—if I am in fact correct about their opinions of their own actions, which maybe not. Still.

And of course the whole other issue I have talked about before, where I remain deeply, deeply skeptical, as an American, of some sort of inherited right to profit from somebody else’s work, just because of a genetic link. Smacks of aristocracy to me—and I suppose I have to say, it smacks of that kind of nasty aristophilia that Diana Wynne Jones so clearly subverts in her books, over and over.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Having looked at the article, I don't think what Huck Scarry is doing is "continuing to milk the dad's intellectual property." He's a professional illustrator who has trained himself to illustrate in his father's style, among other styles. If his work in this vein is no good, it deserves to be criticized for its shortcomings, but I guess I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with his decision to work in his father's style. He is not relying on "some sort of inherited right to profit from somebody else's work" (that would be living off royalties) but is rather carrying on the family business. If he were a restauranteur cooking with family recipes operating a successful restaurant opened by his father, would that be problematic?

Yes, the rebranding stuff is distasteful and Huck Scarry's collaboration on it is problematic, but that is a marketing scheme that is quite apart from his doing actual work in writing and illustrating children's books. From what I can tell from TSOR, mostly what Huck Scarry is doing with his father's characters is doing the illustrating for basic readers that have stories using the Busytown characters that spin off from particular books. Decrying this as "art-like works being produced merely to exploit a market" seems a bit harsh.

In a different vein, I was a bit surprised, given the direction of this note, that the recent Christopher-Tolkien-edited The Fall of Arthur didn't appear in it. That seems to be very much an example of the sort of thing you are concerned with here, so I wondered what you thought of that case?


Hm. My feeling has been that there are a lot of "new" books with the Richard Scarry characters in recent years with the Richard Scarry, Jr name on them. My take is that he has been cashing in on that name, and on the intellectual property, in the proliferation of these licensed works—on the other hand, your take also fits the facts just fine, and is closer to his. And greater-spirited, which is nice, too.

I should probably add that it's not as if it would really be better for the Random Penguin to carry on milking the Richard Scarry line without the participation of Huck Scarry. More seemly, maybe? Would the never-ending and ever-diminishing Disney versions of Pooh Bear seem less utterly shameless with some Milne involved? I don't know.

The article makes the argument that Huck Scarry is the best person for that illustration job because of his training growing up in his father's studio, not just his blood—and the Jones family presumably shared certain cultural touchstones that make Ursula Jones a good candidate for that job. But of course that's true of Prince Charles and the Crown of England—and there's a case to be made for that, as well, I suppose. The problems with it are in the aggregate, not necessarily the specific, and don't necessarily have to do with the intellectual property end.

Which is where Christopher Tolkien comes in, I suppose. I haven't been reading about this Arthur poem; I understand it's a half-draft that the author abandoned to the back of the drawer, and is now being published with editorial essays, etc. Now, again, I'm coming in to this with a good deal of baggage, because I think that Christoper Tolkien has spent decades profiting off of publishing the stuff in the back of his father's desk drawers, and mostly it has been stuff that ought never to have been published and sold to an unsuspecting public. And yet, some of it has been good quality stuff that simply never got out of the drawer… I tend to find that sort of drawer-emptying edition annoying anyway (as I have written about in re Dashiell Hammett), but when it's a child profiting off the parent, it does get a little further up my nose.

Why? Well, it's an anti-aristo bias, I guess. And no, I'm not terribly consistent about it—I think it's sweet that the Mullany family still makes WHIFFLE balls, even though I kinda recognize that the current generation didn't get to their places on merit. So there's that. I guess for me it's a kinda perfect storm of licensing, nepotism and the practical perpetuity of intellectual property going on.

Thanks,
-V.


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