Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Are Your Cartoon Gags Original?

It's a nightmare scenario. You sold a gag cartoon and they sent you the money. And then, just a few days later, a very similar cartoon appears in another magazine.

Or, a friend contacts you and says, Hey, I saw your latest cartoon. Did you know it's a total rip off of ___________ (name of famous cartoonist)?

You can call it déjà vu or great minds think alike or whatever. But it can and does happen in gag cartooning.

Should you the cartoonist check and double check and then triple check to make sure that your idea is original, pure and brand new BEFORE it gets sent around to editors?

A couple of my gag cartoonist friends obsess over originality, using their COMPLETE NEW YORKER CARTOONS CDs and Cartoonbank searches to check if their ideas possibly came to Carl Rose, Warren Miller or Mort Gerberg before now.

I believe the editor (or, in The New Yorker's case, the fact-checking department) that needs to be on the lookout for these cartoon repeats.

But, even at the NYer, the fact checking slips up. Click here for a case in point.


Anonymous said...

""Everything that can be invented has been invented."

Charles Duell, Commissioner of US Patent Office, 1899

Maybe that is true of gag toons. (unless it is referring current events, new technology, new products, etc)

Shane said...

Sometimes when I come up with an idea that seems too good to be true, I also search the NYer archives.

Brian Fies said...

This is exactly why I could never be a gag cartoonist (aside from general lack of the necessary humor or skill). My brain absorbs crap so well that after a while I can't tell what came from where. For years I had an idea for a great sci-fi short story that I swore someday I'd sit down and commit to paper. It was great! Then one day I found my story in a collection of classic shorts that I'd read in my early teens, 30 years earlier.

I also have first-hand experience with the related phenomenon, in which two people who couldn't possibly know of each other's work simultaneously come up with eerily similar ideas. It's like you both picked up on wisps of half-notions in the air and put them together at the same time. I think that happens more often than you'd imagine.

My solution is to write about characters and themes that I know are original. Then, even if I subconsciously lift a bit of business from someone (which I haven't yet, as far as I know), the work as a whole still has most of its integrity.

Robert Gidley said...

You think that's bad--poor Harry Bliss does an entire New Yorker cover and then discovers something.

Caution: NSFW, lots of justifiably bad language

Benita said...

Remember my collection of medical cartoons, SUTURE SELF, published in 1999. Leo Cullem of the NYer just published SUTURE SELF in 2009 with a very very similar cover. Now, why didn't he bother to look that one up!!

Shep said...

I do a weekly panel called The Good Shepherd. I originally titled it "For Heaven's Sake."

Something made me research it a little more and I found a weekly strip by Mike Morgan for Creator's titled "For Heaven's Sake." It turns out Mike and I are both in the southeast chapter of the NCS and just never happened to be at the same chapter meetings! Whew ...

The Lite Stuff said...

A little late but--the advent of cartoon blogs complicates the question of originality. For example, early this year I submitted a cartoon to The New Yorker wherein a female electrical outlet fantasized about a male plug. When the cartoon was rejected I featured it on my March 13 cartoon blog Then in the June 1 issue of The New Yorker Julia Suits had a cartoon where a male plug calls "Marsha!" to a female outlet. Had I not published my cartoon on my blog would the right thing to do be not publish it at all since Ms. Suits' cartoon would have been first even though mine had been rejected? Note that I certainly wouldn't have expected any other cartoonist to be aware of my cartoon or blog. Then there is also the question of "same" and "similar" cartoon or cartoon idea. Interesting.

dan reynolds said...

I always check as google images and the Nyer site and sometimes other places before I do a cartoon if I think there's any possible chances my idea was done before.
That's the responsible thing to do.
I have been frustrated MANY times by people redoing a cartoon I've done which has been all over creation on cards, magazines, and which can be seen online. BECAUSE of the net, there should be a lot less remakes of others' work.
I'll never forget (this is a true story that happened before the net) I had told my secretary at work years ago about a cartoon idea I had and that night as I was preparing to put it to paper, I opened the comics to see the EXACT cartoon there in front of me. It was the Moses Parting His Hair cartoon by Larson. Yes, this was it's first run. I had come up with the idea as a take off from a previous cartoon I had done - "Moses First and Last Day as A Lifeguard" which had made the rounds for a number of years as a greeting card. The irony here is that Larson my have gotten the "take off" idea from my work and then beat me to the bunch with the Moses Hair gag. Of course, I didn't do it because it was done first.

Richard Howell said...

I never check for originality. If it's been done before, tough luck. To ME it's original which is the main thing.
By the way, I did a Moses gag. You can see it here (warning: slightly lewd and toiletish):