The New Yorker wowed pre-Thanksgiving America with a clever and arresting cover illustration representing the country’s racial divide via Ferguson:
Admiration for the concept dimmed a bit, however, when it turned out that cartoonist R.J. Matson — whose work appears in “over 800 newspapers and other publications” — had executed the very same concept in August (see image at top), when the Ferguson troubles first arose. The creator of the Dec. 8 New Yorker cover, Bob Staake, wrote on Facebook that he’d never seen Matson’s treatment.
What does Matson have to say about this? Quite a lot, it turns out. In an extensive e-mail responding to an inquiry from the Erik Wemple Blog, the longtime cartoonist tells us, “I’ve published nearly 5,000 cartoons over 25 years and my divided arch cartoon is certainly not one of the several hundred I am particularly proud of. Heck, I’ve probably done two dozen cartoons with the Gateway Arch as the principal image, and it’s not my favorite among those.”
In regards to Staake’s contention, Matson writes, “I have no doubt that if had seen my cartoon, even after he had come up with the idea on his own, he never would have submitted the idea to the New Yorker.”
Ah heck, there’s no point abridging or fragmenting Matson’s comments, which are compelling on their own:
Editorial cartoonists very often come up with the same idea independently. When five or more cartoonist come up with the same idea on the same day, we call it a Yahtzee.
The most obvious choice of imagery, symbolism, and cultural reference for specific current events at specific times in specific places will often be the same and that will inevitably lead to very similar, if not identical, cartoons. Finding a good joke is like solving a puzzle and very often there is one very best solution to the puzzle. Any cartoonist worth his salt would kick himself or herself for not finding that solution.
To me, the divided arch image was very obvious. Almost too easy. But good ideas always seem too easy after one comes up with them, I suppose. I would expect dozens of editorial cartoonists to come up with the same image independently.
I’ve published nearly 5,000 cartoons over 25 years and my divided arch cartoon is certainly not one of the several hundred I am particularly proud of. Heck, I’ve probably done two dozen cartoons with the Gateway Arch as the principal image, and it’s not my favorite among those.
For what it’s worth, I like Bob Staake’s drawing very much. I have no doubt that if had seen my cartoon, even after he had come up with the idea on his own, he never would have submitted the idea to the New Yorker.
This has happened once before with New Yorker covers.
See my cartoon commentary on the ever-changing themes of the McCain presidential campaign, which was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 31, 2008, and compare it to the Barry Blitt New Yorker cover from 2012 making the same point about the Romney campaign with the same homage to Norman Rockwell.
Barry and I both drew for the New York Observer which had years earlier published a great cover illustration by Victor Juhasz showing Angelina Jolie as the Norman Rockwell sailor adding a new tattoo to the list of her paramours. So we were not the first and the second cartoonists to think of using the famous Rockwell illustration as the basis for a joke.
The McCain cartoon was widely reproduced in the US and around the world. It made a lot of “Best Cartoons of the 2008 Campaign” lists. Of course, I drew that four years before the Barry Blitt New Yorker cover appeared, so one can excuse the New Yorker’s fact checkers for missing it.
I drew the divided arch cartoon for my syndicate, caglecartoons.com, on August 20th, and I have no idea how often it was published around the country, or if it was published anywhere.