Wales Millennium Centre faces backlash over AI comic course

Wales Millennium Centre faces backlash over AI comic course

Balancing innovation and tradition: the controversy surrounding the Wales Millennium Centre's AI comic course

by Suswati Basu
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The Wales Millennium Centre, a renowned arts venue in Cardiff, UK, recently found itself in the middle of a social media storm after announcing a new course aimed at helping aspiring creators craft their first comic or graphic novel using artificial intelligence (AI). The initiative sparked a fierce backlash, with critics arguing that the national arts venue should prioritise supporting local creatives instead.

It has since responded to How To Be Books, apologising for the course description not “fully reflecting” their approach, as they planned to not publish the final piece in its AI form. It added: “Like all organisations, from the creative arts to healthcare, we are navigating our approach to AI, and we’re fully aware of the impact this technology could have in a number of areas of our organisation and the artistic community – both positive and negative. We’re grateful for all the feedback we’ve received over the past few days, which will help inform us as we carefully consider our future approach.”

Read: Authors’ pirated books used to train Generative AI

The course, advertised on the Wales Millennium Centre’s website, promises to guide participants through the entire process of crafting a comic book or graphic novel with the aid of AI tools. From storytelling and character creation to layout and editing, it offers a comprehensive curriculum aimed at helping individuals produce their first draft. The programme includes access to paid subscriptions for various AI tools during the course.

Wales Millennium Centre offers AI comic books course, that says: "Whether you’re a comic book enthusiast or you’ve just got a story you’ve been itching to tell, this course is designed to give you the support you need to create an impressive first draft. It will help you develop your storytelling skills, learn to experiment with generative AI and improve your storyboarding and editing skills.  

"On Day One you’ll learn about comics, story structure and practice getting drama into your story. To get you inspired there will be lots of different styles of comics on-hand and you’ll get a free visit to the graphic-novel-inspired VR experience Battlescar. You’ll learn to use AI tools like Midjourney to get ideas and create a character, with expert tips on how to create a consistent look for your characters and backgrounds. Finally, you’ll start to get your teeth into writing the story for your comic and making a character.  

"On Day Two you’ll be making a page or two of your comic. You’ll learn how to use the layout to move your story along and use Comic Life software to quickly try out different layouts. You’ll bring together your character, with environments and dialogue to tell your story. Finally, we will all share our comics and try out a few tricks to animate frames for social media.  

"You will get access to paid subscriptions to several AI tools during the course, and we will also show you free alternatives you can use at home."
Wales Millennium Centre showcases AI comic book course on website. Credit: Wales Millennium Centre.

However, the controversy began when the creative arts centre took to social media to promote its new course on using AI for comic creation. The post showcased the opportunity, but the response was far from unanimous support. The Society of Authors also joined the conversation saying it was “disappointing.”

Wales Millennium Centre post on Twitter/X says: "Empower your comic book dreams with AI! 
Join our two-day course to craft your first comic or graphic novel. Let's bring your story to life. 
Available to anyone aged 14–25 – book now."
Wales Millennium Centre offers AI comic book course

A backlash from local creatives

Many social media users and members of the creative community voiced their concerns over the centre’s decision to offer a course based on AI comic creation. Critics argued that an institution of such stature should focus on nurturing and promoting local talent, rather than encouraging reliance on AI tools. The sentiment was that this move could potentially stifle the growth and recognition of local artists who already struggle to make a mark in the competitive world of comics and graphic novels.

Supporters of the local creative scene maintained that institutions like the Wales Millennium Centre have a crucial role in providing opportunities and platforms for local artists to shine. Wales has a rich artistic heritage, and nurturing local talent is seen as a means of preserving and promoting the unique cultural identity of the region. Hence by offering a course centred around AI-driven art creation, the venue was accused of neglecting this important responsibility.

AI and copyright concerns

One of the key objections raised by detractors is the ethical issue associated with the use of AI, particularly a tool called Midjourney. This specific AI application utilises data from various images to generate new content, which can potentially lead to copyright concerns. As images become more difficult to trace to their original sources, artists worry that AI-generated artwork may inadvertently infringe on copyrights or intellectual property rights.

The online backlash also prompted several passionate responses. One user implored the establishment to reconsider its approach, stating, “Please rethink this urgently! This is NOT the way. There are many comic/graphic novel creators in Wales who I know want to encourage more young people to bring their stories to life. But NOT like this. You have real influence and need to be supporting Welsh creatives.”

Wales Millennium Centre apologises for lack of clarity over course

In a statement, a spokesperson for Wales Millennium Centre told How To Be Books that it “champions artists,” whilst nurturing and showcasing creative talent in Wales through a range of initiatives and programmes. Due to the growing interest in AI, the venue believed that there would be interest in an entry-level AI comic book course as part of a test with two local creatives, “melding their two interests – comic book creation and innovative technology.”

It clarified, however: “AI is used to help flesh out those ideas into something tangible to help the young person consider the interplay of visuals, layout and dialogue in their story. The work is not intended to be published in that form, but could be given to a graphic novel artist to further interpret it through own their craft.”

The course will discuss ethics surrounding generative AI, particularly in relation to copyright and creating original work., it added, while stating: “We are confident that this is a positive use of a prolific technology that young people are already using to fill in gaps in their ever-developing creative skills, enabling them to express themselves in ways they may not otherwise be able to. We are sorry that the course description did not fully reflect our approach and we are taking steps to rectify this.”

Hence, it remains to be seen whether creatives will accept this use of AI. The tension between harnessing the power of new technologies and supporting traditional artistic practices underscores the ongoing debate about the future of creativity in the digital age.

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