Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

January 16, 2013

Accusations Of Plaigiarism Strike Bill Day At Tail-End Of Crowdfunding Campaign On His Behalf

imageAlan Gardner has a strong write-up on an accusation of plagiarism hitting the cartoonist Bill Day at the tail end of a major crowd-funding effort on his behalf. I'm glad Gardner was on top of that and hope you'll go check out his story. Someone contacted me yesterday about this and I didn't connect Day to the figure for whom funds are being raised, despite my own post suggesting that people think about supporting that effort. In fact, I think I threw ten dollars that way myself.

This is the kind of thing that gets really ugly really quick. Editorial cartooning both takes plagiarism claims super-seriously, and -- I know this may not make sense -- not seriously enough. It can drive someone from a job, but rarely damages the personal standing of the cartoonist or keeps them from awards and rewards. It's also such a fundamental sin in the eyes of so many that to suggest nuance of any sort in processing the issue brings with it sputtering fury, which tends to make the issue less rather than more discussed. Also, because it's a no-nuances issues for so many, people with objections to the cartoonist on political grounds or who just think that guy/gal sucks are sometimes super-eager to use the issue as a battering ram against them. Like I said, ugly.

There are two types of plagiarism that form the basis of such accusations, and they operate a bit differently.

The first is stealing an idea, which is almost universally derided yet kind of difficult to fully prove. There's some crossover with accusations against strip cartoonists in this area, and as someone who wrote 1000 gags a year for a few years I can tell you I likely repeated some I either heard and forgot I heard or that I came up with concurrently.

The second is stealing a visual element, which is where things become a bit weird. This is much easier to prove because of the amount of visual information on-line these days. At the same time, people sometimes don't have the same problems with this as they do with stealing an idea. Bill Day claims that he thought the art reference being used was a photo-piece instead of photo-realistic art, which is deeply difficult to believe given the clear labeling of said art. At the same time, I'm not sure if he had just said that he used a piece of art as reference that some people wouldn't have a problem with this and that others would switch their criticism to one of propriety and degree. I mean, I know some people would still 100 percent object, and it's definitely not something I'd want my editorial cartoonist doing were I an editor and would consider it a warn-able then fire-able offense. Still, I think there's enough swiping of elements going on in comics pretty routinely that some people, at least, would see this as simply more of the same.

I think the editorial cartooning field is much better off having a rigorous no-exceptions, no-gray area policy with this stuff, particularly right now. That's an entire form that's under assault. No matter what happens to Day, and whether or not this has a drastic impact on the crowdfunding campaign, this should remain a pretty compelling issue going forward. Here is the page on how to seek a refund if you contributed and want to go that way.
posted 4:50 pm PST | Permalink

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