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Comic Riffs
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Posted at 03:10 PM ET, 01/18/2013

SEEING DOUBLE: Looking for truth, originality and plagiarism in an Internet world

Like Manti Te’o, I want to believe.

I want to believe what the Internet tells me is mostly truth, and that my contacts aren’t Catfishing me, and that even cartoonists who make a professional mistake are more like Manti Te’o the Blindly Gullible and not Manti Te’o the Possible Hoaxer.

I want to believe that the Internet isn’t just constantly handing us a big yellow wristband encouraging us to “LieStrong.”

Then I re-learn what I’ve always known about the Internet: It’s made it so much easier to plant a widespread lie — while also becoming such a powerful tool for getting closer to the truth.

So it was this week with cases of both apparently independent inspiration and highly dependent copying.


A Post cover from this week. (NEW YORK POST - .)
Earlier this week, Chicago Tribune political cartoonist (and “Prickly City” creator) Scott Stantis noted on his blog that a new New York Post cover bore a simple, bold visual in advance of Lance Armstrong’s two-part interview with Oprah about doping (Part 2 airs tonight on OWN). The large cover image was the iconic yellow “LiveStrong” wristband of Armstrong’s foundation to fight cancer — only this wristband said “LieStrong.”

Stantis, it turns out, rendered the same concept late last year, and sort-of raised the possibility in his blog post that his cartoon had inspired the tabloid cover.


Scott Stantis’s version of the idea. (courtesy of SCOTT STANTIS / Chicago Tribune - .)
.

That’s entirely possible, yet I want to believe that the Post arrived at that idea independently. Why? Because I independently arrived at the same image last year.

[CARTOON CONFLUENCE: When multiple Steve Jobs artists arrive at the same great idea]

Whether I’m writing a cartoon or a headline, I often seize first on the most basic and vital elements. In this case, you’ve got Lance’s lies, and you’ve got that ubiquitous plastic bracelet of his that offers such a countervailing message of strength and hope and good. And because my mind often works like a Scrabble rack, forever rearranging, it’s not a big leap to arrive at “LieStrong.” (A Google Images search, in fact, will show you just how widespread that idea has been since at least last August.)

But then there’s the case of Bill Day.

Early this week, I began to hear from a handful of contacts that Day, the pink-slipped, recently “Indiegogo-ed” political cartoonist, had recently lifted an image from art he found online.

Day, who is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons, drew an assault rifle, but visually copied a copyrighted image rendered by game-developer artist Zack Fowler and published on Fowler’s “deviantart” page. Shortly after the cartoon was published online, Day’s syndicator and boss, Daryl Cagle received an email about the visual lift and (rightly and to his credit) told the cartoonist to redo his work with an originally rendered weapon — which Day did.

“Bill thought the Deviant gun image he found on the Web was an unattributed photograph of an actual assault rifle,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs earlier this week, explaining what transpired. “In his cartoon rendering, he made what he thought were sufficient alterations to the gun ‘photo’ for it not to be copyright infringement of a photo, as part of his transformative image using the gun in an editorial cartoon opposing Congress and the NRA and their support of assault rifles.

“I sent Bill a copy of the e-mail that was sent around on this and asked him to take the image down,” Cagle continues. “Bill was happy to comply and he redrew a similar replacement cartoon in his own hand.”


The “before” and “after” versions of Bill Dahy’s rendering of an assault rifle — after the first one lifted a copyright image by Zack Fowler. (BILL DAY / Cagle Cartoons - .)

When multiple artists arrive at the same idea or image, Cagle calls that a “Yahtzee.” But Cagle is absolutely clear about Day’s lift: “This isn’t an example of Yahtzees or eerie similarities.”

(Day did not respond to Comic Riffs’ request for comment, instead forwarding our email to Cagle.)

[THE POST’S OMBUDSMAN: Has technology made us all plagiarists?]

Complicating matters, though, is that Day recently completed an Indiegogo campaign — started by Cagle — to raise more than $35,000 in funds to “replace” Day’s newspaper-staff salary. Some of his colleagues are saying that the visual lift might have given some donors pause had they known. (And some colleagues, including Matt Bors and Ted Rall, also find Day’s re-use of his own concepts and art problematic.)

[CROWDFUNDING A SALARY: Indiegogo drive launched for Bill Day]

What much of this boils down to is that on a shifting professional landscape, editorial cartoonists maintain the need to be taken seriously as journalists — and not lightly as graphic “comedians.” (To read my piece on that prickly debate and “visual plagiarism,” click here.)

Stantis wants to make sure his creativity is rightly acknowledged when it’s warranted. And some colleagues want to make sure that those who lift copyrighted work — or re-use their own work — don’t reflect poorly on the profession.

[NEWSROOM PLAGIARISM: Why are cartoonists treated so differently from their journalistic brethren?]

Speaking from experience, editorial cartooning practiced passionately can be mentally laborious work — one typically now without the bigger riches or broader fame of being a Comedy Central satirist or “SNL” head writer.

[CARTOON SCANDAL: Scenes from a plagiarism case]

They are entertainers. They are journalists. And they are largely a passionate and dedicated community of professionals.

And so they are to be celebrated for seeking fresh satiric bait and for not being intellectually lazy bottom-feeders — even in the era of the Catfish.

By  |  03:10 PM ET, 01/18/2013

Tags:  bill day, scott stantis, zack fowler

 
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