Creator of maligned Virus Vanguard superheroes steps down from group he founded, addresses plagiarism claims
SINGAPORE: The creator of a fictional COVID-19 fighting superhero team has stepped down from the art collective he founded, following controversy over the short-lived group.
Posts introducing the Virus Vanguard team were taken down from the Gov.sg website and Facebook page on Monday night (Apr 20), less than a day after the characters made their debut.
The Ministry for Communications and Information (MCI), which is responsible for the Gov.sg portal, said at the time that the five-member team - which it noted was part of a collaboration with art collective Band of Doodlers (BOD) - was “undergoing a review”.
The superhero team had drawn criticism for a number of reasons, including treating the fight against the novel coronavirus with too much levity.
To date, COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has resulted in more than 170,00 deaths worldwide.
One character, MAWA Man - whose name stands for Must Always Walk Alone, a play on Liverpool's motto You'll Never Walk Alone - was lambasted for playing up the rivalry between the Manchester United and Liverpool football teams.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, artist Mas Shafreen - who had on Monday identified himself as the creator of the Virus Vanguard - said he was leaving Band of Doodlers, which he had founded in 2013,
He added that he took responsibility for the much-derided superhero group.
“As such, I hope that BOD will not be associated with it. BOD has been about inclusivity and collaboration and I am so very proud of how it has grown,” he said.
“I am forever grateful for the many artists that have contributed to the cause and hope BOD will continue to be supported, especially during these difficult times.”
Separately, on their Facebook page Band of Doodlers acknowledged that he was stepping down and thanked Mr Mas for his “years of contribution in not only creating a platform for both budding and veteran artists, but also extending the language of collaboration between the public and the local and international arts communities”.
Mr Mas, who also goes by the pen name Wanton Doodle, also addressed the claims that some of his art for the Virus Vanguard had been plagiarised from other artist works.
Netizens had pointed to similarities between the drawing of one of the characters, Mini Moh, and a picture of Marvel character Peni Parker, as well as that of Care-Leh Dee and an illustration of X-Men member Storm, another Marvel superhero.
“I want to clarify that I did use existing artwork as reference with some adjustments to their pose,” said Mr Mas in another post on Wednesday, adding that he had contacted the original illustrators to inform them of the situation.
On his Twitter account Korean artist Jo Cheol-hong, who drew the original picture of Peni Parker, acknowledged that he had received an apology from Mr Mas.
The character design artwork and backstories were “not part of the paid job”, and were meant for Gov.sg to “better understand the characters, before starting to work on the actual comics which were to be released later”, said Mr Mas.
“I am sorry for causing miscommunication which has led to this. It was never my intention to pass off their works as my own,” he said.
“My intention was to support the national efforts to combat COVID-19 while giving the opportunity for our local community of artists to be part of this work.”
CNA has contacted MCI for more details.