Hey, I reviewed a terrible movie for Wired—with illustrations!
G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the action blockbuster currently in theaters, has about the same action-to-plot ratio as a small boy playing with G.I. Joes in his bedroom for hours on end. If you understand this — that the film aspires to be nothing more than a $135 million version of a kid playing with his toys — it’s pretty damn enjoyable. Need to know more?
Today I did a Google Hangout with New York Times cartoonist Brian McFadden that we broadcast. We talked about the Iraq War anniversary, not raping people, and Bloomberg’s war on soda and cigarettes. You can watch below. We plan on doing another one next week.
Rob Tornoe has an article in Editor and Publisher today on the Bill Day controversy I wrote about last week. I wanted to address a specific defense I’ve heard from colleagues that is summed up by comics historian Michael Rhode in Tornoe’s piece.
“Day has been struggling to make ends meet since being laid off by the Memphis paper, which later had the gall to attempt to buy his work through his syndicate,” Rhode said. “After working a full-time job and being let go after being injured, cartooning is a part-time job which probably doesn’t really pay any bills at all for him. I understand his reusing his own material in these circumstances.”
While I sympathize with Day’s situation – trying to find your way in a broken economy and a dying art form – not being employed full-time isn’t actually an excuse for maintaining basic standards in the field. I and many other political cartoonists have never been employed and never will. For many people it’s a side job that is supplemented with other, better paying freelance work. Without a secure and decent-paying staff job, breaking down your hourly rate as a cartoonist is highly inadvisable. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do original art every week.
Editorial cartoonist Bill Day hit his fundraising goal on the crowd funding site Indiegogo this week: $35,000 to keep drawing editorial cartoons for a year. Day is syndicated through Cagle and, like the rest of us, can’t make a full time living with the rates we are paid. Since he lost his staff position a few years ago, Day has been drawing cartoons part time while working odd jobs and Daryl Cagle launched this campaign in order to keep him drawing. Problem is, Day doesn’t do as much drawing as he used to.
Earlier this week Daily Cartoonist posted a recent cartoon where Day pulled an image of a gun created by Zack Fowler and used it without permission. Once caught, he swapped the cartoon out with a version he drew, but you can see from the comments on the post that neither Fowler nor the papers who pay to run Day’s work knew about this until Alan Gardner’s post. Day hasn’t even bothered to issue a response to Gardner, his silence being almost more damning than the evidence in front of our face. Then there is the anonymously written Tumblr account, That Cartoon Critic, which shows repeated instances of Day re-using his cartoons to such an extent that it’s jaw-dropping. Creating new work every day, week in and week out, is difficult, but not plagiarizing others or constantly reissuing old cartoons is not. It’s time for cartoonists and syndicates to stop aiding this. To be clear, I’m not talking about people who may have drawn similar jokes and had an overlap of ideas with another cartoonist. We’re talking plagiarism, using another person’s art without permission, and literally tracing another cartoonist’s work. We’re also talking about reissuing your own work constantly while presenting it as something new. It’s happened enough now to constitute not an anomaly, but an actual thing that’s wrong with the field. Is it wrong to “self-plagiarize”? Most certainly. Let’s hear what Bill Day has to say about it:
Plagiarism, the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own, and its ancillary self-plagiarism, in which individuals republish work that they have already published, represent significant challenges to scientific journals. Authors have a right to be acknowledged as the source of their own work, and new authors must present their work in their own words.
That’s not our Bill Day, the cartoonist, rather Bill Day the editor of Biosystems Engineering speaking about a plagiarism controversy in scientific journals. Perhaps the cartoonist Bill Day can allow himself to absorb some of the other Bill Day’s wisdom. Cartoonists are sometimes loathe to publicize anything that shines a negative light on our dwindling field. But if we want negative stories to stop, we have to stop supporting people we know are doing terribly unethical work. The fault resides first and foremost with the artist, but syndicates and editors who hold up this kind of work are also to blame. There’s no reason Daryl Cagle should be putting forth Bill Day as a cartoonist to “save” with internet donations when he can’t meet a minimum level of professionalism. I’ll even say this about my own syndicate, Universal Uclick, who continues to syndicate Jeff Stahler’s work after he lost his job for plagiarizing recently after multiple instances dogged him for years. They should stop
During my years criticizing lazy and unethical cartooning habits, I compiled a number of examples that, for whatever reason, other cartoonists weren’t willing to publish or even forward in an email. They would send them to me and I tried unsuccessfully for over a year to get someone more prominent than myself to publish them, as I have lots of other things to attend to than being the poster boy for speaking out about these kind of lapses. But many of my peers won’t so much as link to a plagiarism story when it’s published, content to merely complain privately over beers about people who in some cases survived their entire careers while blatantly swiping the work of others. The result is that many cartoonists haven’t even had to so much as publicly explain why their cartoons look so awfully similar to something else, and many editors are unaware it even happens. I made a decision yesterday to publish these myself on Twitter because to hold on to them any longer would feel like I’m actively covering for some of these guys. I discovered none of these myself, having received them all from other cartoonists and editors, sometimes anonymously. You can decide for yourself what you think. But here they are. I’m done hanging on to them. Here is another example of Jeff Stahler straight up tracing and flipping a Mike Lester drawing. It was never published around the time of his most recent plagiarism scandal and was sent to me by an anonymous syndicate editor fed up with seeing his rampant stealing.
Here is another example of Bill Schorr swiping from MacNelly closely enough that it appears traced.
Finally, here is Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Borgman with some cartoons that look so similar to MacNelly’s that they are clearly swiped. Why swipe when you can draw well on your own? No clue. I’m told he was confronted by some cartoonists regarding the similarity and even came up with an excuse – but not publicly of course. Nothing has been written about it until now and I don’t think his editors were even made aware of the charges.
Again, I post these because I can’t hang on to them any longer without feeling dirty. Too much of this debate takes place behind a giant wall hidden from editors and the public. Talking about all this in the open? That’s an idea more cartoonists should copy.
Andrew Sullivan made news last week announcing his Daily Dish blog would leave Daily Beast, exist on its own, and be supported entirely through reader subscriptions. He was rewarded with hundreds of thousands of dollars from eager readers signing up and looks to be well on his way to hit his goal of $900, 000 for the first year. With readers valuing his blog that highly, I have to wonder what his employer Tina Brown thinks as she shutters Newsweek and lays people off.
The internet is still a disruptive force, disrupting things left and right (with force!) and what if any “model” will emerge to support those of us who work in The Media is unknown and probably a pipe dream. But the ability and willingness for readers to support what they want to read is encouraging. My Kickstarter book is keeping me busy over 2013 and I’m trying to figure out how to drag this career out beyond that. One way is a subscriber list, which you can join for $18 a year and help keep the cartoons coming.
We’re running a modest operation here and the money really does make a difference. (I’m not quite in the $900,000 range right now.)
What do you get? All my cartoons early, before they are released here or anywhere else, along with commentary, sketches, and other extras. Some readers subscribe because they want the cartoons early and enjoy the extra material. Others view it as a way to support my work and account for reading them online all year. I can say it’s provided a much needed counter to lost clients and has allowed me to make 2013 the first year that I work full time on editorial cartoons.
And hey, you’ll also get my annual holiday card mailed to you every year, like this one I sent to friends in family in 2005. So sign up!
A new publication for comics journalism. Go get it now. Full endorsement.
Here’s how to get your mitts on our preview issue today: