Fans are furious at AI art generator for imitating illustrator

An AI-generated illustration in the style of Kim Jung Gi
(Image credit: 5You)

AI art has been causing massive controversy since the release of the latest generation of text-to-image generators, and the backlash shows no sign of going away. Now fans of an acclaimed South Korean illustrator are livid after someone created an AI model that replicates the artist's style just days after he passed away.

If you're not sure how AI art generators work, see our guide to how to use DALL-E 2, which is one of the most popular of the new generation of synths. Basically, they've been trained using many thousands of images and captions to allow users to create art by typing a short text prompt. Some open-source generators allow users to create their own models by giving them further training on specific image sets – and some people don't see that as a fitting tribute to an artist.

An illustration by Kim Jung Gi for Marvel Comics

Gi was famous for his highly intricate style, as seen in this work for Marvel's Civil War II (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Best known for Tiger the Long Tail (TLT), the South Korean illustrator Kim Jung Gi was widely admired for his ink-and-brushwork manhwa (Korean comicbook art) and for his stunning ability to live draw massively detailed scenes from memory. He passed away suddenly on 3 October aged 47, and within days an AI 'tribute' was available. 

Within days, a former French game developer who uses the name 5you had fed a load of Gi's work into an AI program to create a model that allows anyone to create images in Gi's artistic style. 5you said he intended the model to be a 'homage' to Gi's legacy. But while some of the results bare a close superficial resemblance to Gi's intricate work, the response has been vicious.

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The comic book writer Dave Scheidt was one of the first professionals to react. “Kim Jung Gi left us less than [a week ago] and AI bros are already ‘replicating’ his style and demanding credit. Vultures and spineless, untalented losers,” he said in a tweet. Meanwhile, the cartoonist Kori Michele Handwerker wrote: “Artists are not just a ‘style.’ They’re not a product. They’re a breathing, experiencing person."

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Fans have also reacted furiously. 5you's original tweet has received thousands of responses and retweets, the vast majority of aghast at his creation. "This isn’t paying hommage… this is something totally different. Absolutely disgusting, vile and despicable. Shame on you," one person replied. "Of all the tacky and completely tasteless things AI artists have done, this one takes the cake. You’ve accomplished a new low none of us were anticipating," someone else told 5You.

People were also critical of the results of the AI model. "It's missing all the subtle brilliance of his linework," one person wrote. "All the masterful angles and perspective in his compositions. All the character in his faces, and all the imaginative concepts in his designs. This is technological slurry."

5You seemed surprised by the backlash. "For some reason, a few people are raising concerns about me pillaging his work or disrespecting his memory," he tweeted. "Obviously this work, even if it was perfect, wouldn't replace an artist's mind and talent. It's just a new way of exploring his style." He's picked up the odd defender too. "At some point yall are gonna need to explain why doing this by hand is good, but doing it with a computer is evil," one person wrote.

Such controversy in AI art will surely continue, and we expect to see more irrate artists and fans, at least until a solution has been found to copyright issues for the original artworks used to train the AI. So far, we've already seen artists up in arms after AI art won a competition and we've seen copyrighted AI art that looks uncannily like Zendaya. But on the other hand, we've also seen some fun experiments like when someone used AI for a hilarious upgrade to '90s video game characters. It's going to take time before AI finds its correct place in the mix of creative tools.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.