Friday, November 4, 2011

The David Simpson Plagiarism Scandal

Yet another case of plagiarism by fellow cartoonist David Simpson has been exposed. Simpson lost his job at the Tulsa World in 2005 after he was caught copying a 1981 cartoon by Bob Englehardt of the Hartford Courant. Lately, Simpson had been drawing for Urban Tulsa. A week or so ago, alert cartoonists recognized a cartoon about giving a jump start to a bomber in a junk yard as having been copied from a cartoon drawn by the late Jeff MacNelly during the Carter administration -- even the other junk in the cartoon was in exactly the same place. Rival publication This Land then unearthed three more copied cartoons. The resulting calumny has forced Simpson into early retirement.

Since the Urban Tulsa doesn't keep an on-line archive of its cartoons (and I guess Simpson is the only cartoonist in the world who doesn't post his stuff on the internet), This Land posted pictures of Simpson's UT cartoons requesting help spotting any more plagiarized work. I spotted three right away: #3 is straight out of an August, 1972 cartoon by Pat Oliphant; #12 rips off another Oliphant cartoon from December, 1975. #35 copies a Jim Borgman cartoon from August, 1985.

Then there's #16. It's not the entire cartoon that is copied from a September, 1975 Jeff MacNelly cartoon, it's just the garbage truck. I remember that garbage truck well.

Because I used it as a model for a garbage truck in a May, 1987 cartoon.

The garbage truck was the sole focus of the original MacNelly cartoon, which blamed New York City's sanitation workers for their contribution to the Big Apple's financial mess. The cartoon showed the Manhattan skyline inside the back of the truck.

Back in the Reagan administration, we didn't have the Google like the kids of today have. If I needed to draw a garbage truck in a cartoon, my options were a.) draw one from memory, b.) see if the dictionary has a picture of one, c.) drive around town until I found a parked garbage truck and draw it, or d.) Don't I have a cartoon of a garbage truck in my scrapbook somewhere?

So I'm reluctant to include Simpson cartoon #16 in the list of plagiarized cartoons, because it would mean I plagiarized, too. Besides MacNelly's garbage truck, I've referenced horses drawn by Pat Oliphant, whose drawings of horses in motion are some of the most alive and vibrant you will ever see in black and white. I certainly don't copy them, and I also reference Animals: 1419 Copyright-Free Illustrations of Mammals, Birds, Fish, Insects, etc., A Pictorial Archive from Nineteenth-Century Sources selected by Jim Harter (Dover Publications, Inc.You can probably find it in the art section of your local bookstore) .

We cartoonists copy images all the time. Just think of all the cartoons riffing on Shepard Fairey's poster of Barack Obama over the word "HOPE." (The poster image itself was swiped from an April, 2006 photograph by freelance photographer Mannie Garcia for the Associated Press.)

When Moammar Khadaffy was killed, several cartoonists whipped out cartoons showing the remnants of Pan Am flight 103 at Lockerbie, Scotland. Some didn't even bother to draw the image, but rather scanned the photograph and used that image as the basis of their cartoons.

Bob Gorrell
Creators Syndicate Inc.

Oct 20, 2011
None of them credited the photograph or the photographer. Was that plagiarism, then? The copyright notice at Wikipedia would seem to say yes. The "Fair Use" doctrine gives us cartoonists the wiggle room to say no.

By the way, just to be clear: I do not in any way think there is any possibility that David Simpson ever saw my 1987 cartoon about Ronald Reagan and the Contras. I'm very certain that he referred to Jeff MacNelly's cartoon when drawing his garbage truck. But since I remember the 36-year-old cartoon I used as a model for a cartoon I drew 24 years ago, I find it utterly incredible that Mr. Simpson claims he can't remember where he found his sources.

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