If you’re worried that pop culture is starting to run out of ideas and is endlessly recycling bullshit, let us put your mind at ease: It ran out of ideas a long, long time ago. And when it comes to ripping off characters, we’re not just talking about broad archetypes here; we’re talking about companies swiping entire designs and backstories, often down to the smallest detail. And why not? It’s not exactly hard to get away with it, and it’s not like the fans care. Before today, did you even know that …
#7. The Main Characters From Street Fighter Were Copied From The Karate Idiot
Dial your memory way back to the early ’90s, when the most popular home console fighting game of all time was Street Fighter II, in which masters of every fighting style, from kung fu to kickboxing to sumo wrestling to … yoga, for some reason, come together to pummel the shit out of each other in a contest that violates every possible rule in every one of those sports at the same time.
The hero of the game is Ryu, the karate expert who isn’t Ken and is best known for that classic karate ability of blowing blue fireballs out of one’s hands. Sagat is the Muay Thai expert from Thailand — you know, the guy who shouts “Tiger uppercut!” Let’s face it, you still have that sound effect in your head. Despite what you might think, there actually was a first Street Fighter. It was an arcade game released in 1987 which introduced both the hero Ryu and primary antagonist Sagat … both of whom stole their appearance from a popular ’70s manga called Karate Baka Ichidai — roughly translated, “The Karate Idiot,” which sounds like the alternate title for Beverly Hills Ninja.
Now, we’ve mentioned before that the Japanese gaming scene in the 1980s kind of played fast and loose with this sort of thing — the Street Fighter II character “M. Bison” was originally supposed to be the boxer who looks a lot like Mike Tyson until they swapped the names around to avoid a lawsuit. Well, in this case, the hero of Karate Baka Ichidai was a character named Yoshiji Soeno, a karate expert with black hair and a white robe …
Ryu, on the right.
… who, to be fair, was himself based on a real guy named Mas Oyama. His nemesis was Reiba, a tall, bald Muay Thai expert with an eye patch.
“They’re nothing alike! Our guy’s eye patch is totally on the other eye!”
There’s no need to bother arguing coincidence here. The character designer for Street Fighter, 22-year-old Keiji Inafune, was a fan of the comic who apparently confused the concepts of “homage” and “straight-up plagiarism.” And here’s why this matters: If they’d done things the right way and purchased the rights to the characters, gamers everywhere could be playing Karate Idiot V right now.
#6. Marvel Comics’ Thanos Is Editorially-Approved Plagiarism
Even if everything you know about Marvel Comics comes from the Avengers franchise, you’ve still heard the name “Thanos” thrown about. He’s the big purple alien with some kind of horrible skin condition who keeps trying to collect all the Chaos Emeralds so he can rule the universe. We think we’ve got that right.
“Earth, wind, water, heart? Wait, no. Triceratops, Pterodactyl, Sabretooth tiger? Come on, work.”
Of course, fans of comics who don’t adhere religiously to brand loyalty might notice that Thanos looks strikingly similar to DC Comics villain Darkseid. And by “similar,” we mean “virtually identical, except for a skin color a few notches away on the color wheel.”
Also, Darkseid skips abs day.
This is not an accident. Fans long suspected that Thanos was a direct copy of Darkseid, down to the fact that both are rebellious members of a council of otherwise benign alien gods, and both seek to ultimately control or eliminate all life in the universe. But Thanos creator Jim Starlin denies this charge, instead blaming his editor, Roy Thomas — a man whose job is usually to prevent plagiarism, not encourage it.
According to Starlin, he was inspired by DC’s “New Gods” series, which introduced Darkseid, but he didn’t set out to totally copy it. He merely borrowed bits and pieces while designing Thanos as an otherwise-original character who looked nothing remotely like Darkseid.
Upon seeing Starlin’s concept art, Thomas thought the idea was great, except for one thing: They should go ahead and change everything about the character until he looked exactly like Darkseid, with enough minor differences that they could plausibly dodge a lawsuit.
Roy Thomas to DC legal.
It wouldn’t be the first time, after all. Marvel and DC rip each other off all the time, and maybe this was revenge for …
#5. DC Comics’ Swamp Thing Is A Ripoff Of A Ripoff
DC is busy throwing every character they have in their hero catalog at the screen for Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and the presumably inevitable Justice League followup. But there’s still one character whom we can be reasonably sure still won’t make an appearance: Swamp Thing.
He’s a super … hero? Sort of? … made completely out of plant matter who uses his plant-based powers to protect nature and the swamp he lives in from swamp-related evil threats. So, kind of like if Shrek hooked up with Poison Ivy and had a freak baby.
“I am the Lorax, and I kill for the trees.”
It’s a laughable concept for a character that somehow took off and managed to get its own franchise, but Marvel wasn’t laughing. Swamp Thing shambled onto the comic store shelves only a month after Marvel introduced their own swamp-based character, hilariously named “Man-Thing.”
“You know what they say about guys with long face tendrils …”
DC writer Len Wein chalked the whole thing up to total coincidence, even though both Things shared the exact same powers and origin story — oh, and the creators of both characters were living together at the time. But although it seemed like an open-and-shut case, Marvel decided not to sue. It’s speculated that this is because if Marvel brought on a lawsuit, DC might have decided to mention the fact that Man-Thing looked an awful lot like a character from the defunct Hillman Comics company called the Heap.
Who knew there were only so many ways to make peat moss menacing?
That’s right: The idea of a walking lump of decomposing plant matter as a comic superhero was so popular that it was copied twice, and now nobody can stop the plagiarism train without being called out as a hypocrite.
#4. The Cabbage Patch Kids Were Stolen From A Doll Maker
For those too young to remember Cabbage Patch Kids: It was a line of sort of freaky-looking soft dolls popular in the ’80s and ’90s. Their mythology held that they were babies who were born in a cabbage patch somewhere deep within the Uncanny Valley.
“I fucked all the cabbage moms myself.”
According to Xavier Roberts, the man who started manufacturing the dolls which eventually made him a millionaire, the idea came to him in a dream he had when he was a child, in which he followed a bee (which looked like a tiny flying rabbit) into a secret land where puffy-faced babies sprouted from cabbages. According to the United States legal system, however, the idea came to him after he stole it wholesale from a small-time doll maker named Martha Nelson Thomas.
Thomas was a folk artist who created a series of baby doll toys she imaginatively called “Doll Babies.” One of her frequent customers was Roberts, who had a lot of success reselling them in his gift shop. They looked like this:
It seems she skipped the cabbage patches and got them straight from a burn ward.
Eventually, Roberts had an “original” idea for a doll that happened to look identical to Thomas’ design but had the advantage of him not having to give her any money for it. Upon realizing that Roberts was making a mint ripping off her characters, Thomas took him to court. The ruling was that Roberts was very obviously stealing her idea, but unfortunately, she hadn’t legally copyrighted it, so there was nothing the court could do. (Thomas did later manage to win a settlement out of court against Roberts, so there’s that.)
To add to this tale of assholery, Xavier Roberts eventually found himself on the other side of the courtroom when the Topps card company came out with a popular trading card series called Garbage Pail Kids, which was a direct and unapologetic parody of Roberts’ toy line.
Uncool Carl doubled as a cautionary tale of what happens when Take Your Child To Work Day goes horribly wrong.
Roberts immediately sued Topps for copyright infringement, and this time, the court … ruled again in Roberts’ favor, dismissing Topps’ argument that their flatulent, obese, acne-riddled characters were legal under fair use. Because this is the real world, where the assholes simply do win sometimes.
#3. The Wayans Brothers’ Little Man Was Ripped Off From An Old Bugs Bunny Cartoon
The Wayans Brothers are writers and directors who brought us the Scary Movie franchise, and are thus responsible for the entire genre of terrible parody trash which stank up our cinemas for years to come. The umbrella covers brothers Shawn, Marlon, and Keenan Ivory (while usually excluding the fourth brother, Major Payne star Damon, who kind of likes to distance himself from the family trade).
In 2006, the Wayans, fresh off the “success” of White Chicks, brought us another “original” concept with Little Man, starring Marlon Wayans as a CGI dwarf who plots to steal the world’s largest diamond by pretending to be a baby, in spite of his fully proportionate adult features and five o’clock shadow.
Though the entire concept is, let’s face it, downright insulting to little people on every level imaginable, the very least we can say is that the idea is fresh. Unless you count that time Looney Tunes did the exact same story, minus the sexually explicit jokes, in a 1954 short called Baby Buggy Bunny.
In case you’re still inclined to chalk this up to coincidence to defend the Wayans Brothers’ creative talent, the similarities don’t begin and end with a diminutive bank robber stealing back his treasure by wearing a diaper. Both Little Man and the Bugs Bunny cartoon share several of the same specific jokes, including a game of “upsy-daisy” in which the man-baby strikes his head on the ceiling, a running gag in which the man-baby hits people with a frying pan when they turn out the light, and a scene in which the man-baby is caught shaving with a tattoo on his shoulder.
Some writer’s salary was justified entirely by the decision to include puppy slippers.
Oh, and in both cases, the man-baby’s nickname is “Babyface.”
The Wayans’ didn’t credit Warner Brothers as so much as an inspiration anywhere in the credits of their film, which makes us wonder whether it’ll turn out that the plot of White Chicks was stolen from an old Garfield comic.
#2. Foghorn Leghorn Was A Cartoon Version Of An Old Comedy Character
Let’s be frank: The characters created during the 20th century’s golden age of cartoons had hardly a single original idea between them. Pretty much everything back then was written as a caricature of some already-famous human: Bugs Bunny is a carrot-smoking Groucho Marx, The Flintstones are a prehistoric version of The Honeymooners, and Snagglepuss was riffing on the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard Of Oz. There were plenty of moments of genius once the series got going, but the character concepts really did seem like they were frantically slapped together at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.
So you shouldn’t be surprised that the entire personality of Looney Tunes‘ own loudmouthed rooster, Foghorn Leghorn, was I-say-I-say-I-say totally ripped off from someone else’s original creation.
Nice chicken, but about as novel as a baby book written by a blind baby.
Claghorn, that is. Senator, that is. Pay attention, now, boy: The entire basis of Foghorn Leghorn was a character created by comedian Kenny Delmar for the popular radio program The Fred Allen Show. Senator Beauregard Claghorn was a parody of your typical Southern politician of the time, and his schtick was accentuating the regional lingo and making gags at the expense of the North, such as “When I got the chicken pox, they were southern fried!” That’s a joke, son.
Like most of the other cartoons of the time, Warner Brothers was just making a nod toward a popular character so that adults could get a giggle out of the cartoons their kids were making them watch. But, also like most of the cartoons of the time, the legacy outgrew the actual things they were riffing on, to the point where if the next generation after the inevitable forthcoming apocalypse ever discovers a vault full of the comedians of the early 20th century, they’ll wonder why they’re all talking like classic cartoon characters.
#1. Mega Man Is A Redesigned Astro Boy
Mega Man stands among Mario, Sonic, and Hand Holding A Gun as one of gaming’s most iconic characters. Debuting in 1987, the character has starred in about a billion sequels and spinoffs. Which is quite impressive, considering how his entire existence began as a last-minute, slapped-together take on another classic character. This guy:
Want to draw a schoolboy in his underwear but not risk going to jail? Make him a robot!
The original Mega Man began life as a game adaptation of Astro Boy, the Japanese cartoon and manga character that was at the height of his popularity at the time. The Capcom company put together plans to create a video game based on Japan’s favorite prepubescent android, but they failed to secure the license to the character.
Again, if that were to occur today, we like to think they’d go back to the drawing board with a brand-new original character. But by this point in the article, you know that only one option remained on the table for Capcom: Change it juuuuust enough to give them a plausible argument should it go to court. This basically means they colored him blue, gave him a hat, and renamed him “Mega Man.”
“They’re nothing alike! Our guy’s hand cannon is totally on the other … shit.”
The rest they kept. Both characters were created in a lab by a mad scientist in the image of the scientist’s dead son, and both have a rival in the form of an older “brother,” an original prototype created and rejected by their mutual creator — for Mega Man, it’s Proto Man, and for Astro Boy, it’s Cobalt.
Of course, the game series went on to sell 30 million copies across multiple platforms, and the Astro Boy roots are long forgotten. And that, kids, is our lesson for today: The key to ripping something off and getting away with it is making sure your version is more successful.
For more famous characters that were straight stolen, check out 6 Famous Characters You Didn’t Know Were Shameless Ripoffs and 5 Iconic Characters You Didn’t Know Were Ripoffs.