In 2007, Daniel Clowes published a short story in graphic novel form. On Monday, Shia LaBeouf debuted a short film he'd directed that used narration from Clowes' original word for word.
On Monday night, LaBouef took to Twitter, acknowledging that Clowes' work was his "inspiration" and offering an apology "to those who assumed I wrote it."
Neither Clowes nor his publisher Fantagraphics was approached by Shia LaBeouf or his representatives to ask permission, according to Fantagraphics editor Eric Reynolds.
LaBeouf "made no effort to obtain the rights to the material," Reynolds told The Times. "That a cog in the Hollywood machine could commit such a blatant transgression -- it's baffling."
Clowes' story "Justin N. Damiano" was published in 2007 in the anthology "The Book of Other People." Edited by Zadie Smith, the book included stories by award-winning novelists David Mitchell, Jonathan Lethem, Dave Eggers, George Saunders, A. M. Homes and more. Clowes and Chris Ware were the only two graphic novelists included in the collection.
"Justin M. Damiano" has appeared elsewhere since then, most recently in Fantagraphics' "The Daniel Clowes Reader: A Critical Edition of Ghost World and Other Stories, with Essays, Interviews, and Annotations," published earlier this year.
LaBeouf's film, "HowardCantour.com," changes the name of the main character but not much else. Both start with the critic thinking to himself:
“A critic is a warrior, and each of us on the battlefield have the means to glorify or demolish (whether a film, a career, or an entire philosophy) by influencing perception in ways that if heartfelt and truthful, can have far-reaching repercussions.”
In both, the embittered film critic talks to a freelance colleague, goes with her to a diner, visits a press junket, confronts a rival, is unexpectedly invited to dinner with the film director he plans to pan, remembers how an ex-girlfriend and he bonded over that director's earlier work, returns to the diner and imagines himself romantically connecting with the waitress, and publishes the pan after all.
"And so I hit the upload button and launched fifty unstoppable megatons of Justin Diamond into the ether," Clowes' story ends. LaBeouf's film -- no longer available online -- also ends with the critic uploading the negative review, using the word "megatons."
"It's an idiosyncratic line, and it's repeated verbatim," Reynolds told The Times.
"It's disturbing he would do that, being on the record as a fan of Clowes' work," Reynolds said. "I can't imagine what his rationalization was."
For his part, Clowes has experience working with Hollywood. The film "Ghostworld," which launched Scarlett Johanssen's career, was made from a series by Clowes. As Reynolds describes it, the process was typical: production company Mr. Mudd "legally obtained the rights and included Dan in the process." Clowes went to the set and consulted with director Terry Zwigoff.
For his work on "Ghost World," Clowes was nominated for an Oscar. The award was for adaptation: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.
Clowes also wrote the original material and screenplay for the film "Art School Confidential."
"His work has been optioned many times over the years, for many different things," Reynolds said. "I'm sure if Shia's people had contacted Dan's people, he would have entertained the idea." If Clowes hadn't been willing to sell the option on "Justin N. Damiano," Reynolds says, "Shia would have had to make a different film."
LaBeouf has not yet responded to a request for comment.
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