Carnival Row: An act of inspiration or creative theft?


Carnival Row is a 2019 neo-Noir fantasy series released through Amazon. The plot centers on a pair of star-crossed lovers, one winged and one not, who met on opposite sides of a war. Does this sound familiar?

Saga, the best-selling comic from Image, follows the story of Alana and Marko, a pair of star-crossed lovers, one winged and one horned, who fought on opposite sides of a war. And Saga debuted in 2012.

Carnival Row has allegedly been in development for nearly 18 years. Even if this is true, a project can be in development for a long time and still draw inspiration from additional sources at a later stage of development. Having worked on developing local animation and pilots, I’m aware of how much a show changes from original concept to final product and how much pressure can be brought to bear on a creative team to make a show align more closely to popular intellectual properties.

There is a worrying trend where big budget shows lift character designs, central story-lines and often, large amounts of dialogue from comics,  web-comics and little-known manga without much regard for the original creators, copyright or creative integrity. I’ll be curious to see if additional elements of Carnival Row (those not found in Saga) have been “borrowed” from other comics and sources instead.

Certain story-lines and archetypes are staples in the fantasy genre. For example, both George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Robin Hobb’s Farseer series involve a bastard, his wolf, dragons and political intrigue. But the characters, themes and story-lines are very different. Whereas there are some undeniable similarities between Saga and Carnival Row.


The aesthetic of Carnival Row‘s central fantasy races appears to draw freely from Saga as do several key scenes in the Carnival Row trailers. Some of Saga‘s significant plot points (such as the lovers bonding over a novel) are also included in Carnival Row. However, this is a fairly common plot device in fictional romances. Unlike Saga, Carnival Row boasts a steam-punk Victorian setting as opposed to a space opera one and a vastly different central narrative.

It remains to be seen whether the show simply contains some nods to Saga as a source of visual inspiration or is guilty of creative theft.


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