I pay attention to language, well, because I need to do so. The right word is so important in conveying an idea. All too often some words or phrases are used so much that they tend to lose real meaning.

For instance, one grossly over-used word is “love.” People use “love” for every expression of affection or approval. In some cases, the use seems to be automatic.

I’m going to use another over-worked word to describe someone and that word is “hero,” but in this case I think it is completely justified.

The person in question took up a cause to question the status quo and to be an advocate for group of people who had been victimized.

You might know him, as he’s a Chicopee resident who spent decades teaching art in Springfield. His name is David Barsalou.

Yes, the guy who has also been a member of the Chicopee School Committee for years as well.

Barsalou and his work has been featured in a new documentary which is on DVD as well as being available on the free streaming service Tubi. The movie, directed by James Hussey, is titled “Whaam! Blam! Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Appropriation.”

Now some of you may be familiar with Lichtenstein, who came into prominence in the early 1960s and the beginning of the pop art movement. In fact, some art historians consider Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol to be among the most important artists of that movement as well as among the most significant artists in 20th century art.

What gained Lichtenstein his fame were large canvases of what appeared to be comic book or comic strip images, in many cases complete with the Ben Day dots — those tiny dots of color that were part of an inexpensive color printing system, used by comic book publishers.

His canvases often took images from romance and war comics. Critics found them to be elevating “low art,” as what they considered comic books to be, to “high art.”

Lichtenstein’s work now commands huge prices. The film noted a recent sale for $165 million. His paintings are featured in museums around the world.
The dirty little secret is that Lichtenstein simply went through comics, found panels he liked and reproduced them, in some cases almost exactly. He never noted he was copying anyone and those people in the art world who figured it out believed they were examples of “irony.”

Nope. They are examples of plagiarism, at least in my eye. And of course, the actual artists who first drew those images were never compensated by Lichtenstein.

I met Barsalou many years ago when he first staged an exhibit of his research work. As a comic book fan, I was astonished to see what Barsalou had done. He looked at Lichtenstein’s paintings and found the source material for them, the actual comics, and he identified which artists created them.

Since then, Barsalou has been continuing the search. Take a look for yourself at flickr.com/photos/deconstructing-roy-lichtenstein. Barsalou’s relentless efforts to reveal the truth about Lichtenstein has been attacked by the fine art world and dismissed, but he has continued and thousands of people have visited the site to see the truth.

The film strives to present both sides and interviews key people in fine arts who defend Lichtenstein. The Lichtenstein Estate has also been very critical. After all, they license images for prints and other products.

Barsalou is prominent in the film as are interviews with current cartoonists and two hugely respected veteran artists. With the exception of one artist, all of them condemn what Lichtenstein did. It’s very moving — and sad — to see a guy like Russ Health, an amazing and celebrated comic book artist known for his detailed and authentic depictions of war, to endure a poverty-stricken retirement when his appropriated work is worth millions of dollars.

Barsalou was talking about this situation well before anyone. He raised the questions about whether it is moral or ethical to take someone’s work and present it as your own with the idea that your treatment of it will make it worthy of interest.

And that to me is heroic.


Some very sad news occurred last week. Jonathan Evans passed on the evening of Jan. 10. Thousands of people knew him from his days on WREB and WMAS and thousands more knew of his work at The Herbarium in Chicopee, the business founded by his wife Kathy Duffy.

Jonathan immersed himself in the science of herbal remedies and gave sound, sensible advice to his many, many customers. He was always reading the latest information from the field and made sure that all products he sold were of the highest quality. His store was one of the anchors of downtown Chicopee and drew people from out of the region.

I met Jonathan in 1982 when I was hired at WREB. I was the afternoon talk show host and he was the mid-day guy and definitely the most popular of the three of us (the other being Ron Chimelis in the morning). He built a huge, attentive following. Later, he worked with the late George Murphy on WMAS.

He was a good friend with a keen mind and a ready laugh and although we sometimes didn’t see each other for a long time, when we did see each other there was no barrier. Once I started working at the Chicopee Herald in 1999 with an office around the corner from The Herbarium, we saw more of each other. I always enjoyed our conversations.

My sincere condolences to his wife and daughter.

G. Michael Dobbs has worked for Reminder Publishing for 23 years of his nearly 50-year-career in the Western Mass. media scene, and previously served as the executive editor. He has spent his time with the publisher covering local politics, interesting people and events. The opinions expressed within the article are that of the author’s and do not represent the opinions and beliefs of the paper.