ON THE INTERNET, nobody knows you’re a dog. But more and more, theycan find out when you’re a fraud.
Creating cartoons in a wired world has, of course, increasingly changed the complexities in tracking one’s craft. Your art is more easily discovered and used without permission, but it’s also easier to discover that very plagiarism of your art — whether it’s the pilfering of a political cartoon, say, or the shameless nabbing of a New Yorker gag.
Daryl Cagle, the political cartoonist and syndicator who runs CagleCartoons.com, calls this heightened digital plagiarism “another modern burden for cartoonists to bear.”
“Unfortunately, theft, doctoring and plagiarism of editorial cartoons [are] not uncommon these days … ,” Cagle tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. ” Typically, however, “It is readers or little bloggers doctoring cartoons.”
As an example, Cagle points to how a cartoon of his was recently doctored — from his original:
by Daryl Cagle (used by permisson of Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons)
To this version that Cagle found online — altered, he says, without his authorization:
Sometimes, though, the plagiarism occurs between two newspaper artists, with one breaking all manner not only of journalistic ethics, but also of all professional code among colleagues of the board. In recent years, cartoonists in Oklahoma and Ohio, for instance, have been penalized for what was deemed to be copycat work. (In the former case, David Simpson’s plagiarism was judged to be so chronic that Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Mike Peters dubbed him a “cartoon kleptomaniac.”)
Particularly striking in recent months, though, has been numerous examples of unoriginal cartoon art appearing in the Montgomery Sentinel, a community newspaper that covers Maryland’s Montgomery County in suburban Washington. In example after example, cartoons appearing in the Sentinel have featured art clearly lifted from the work of top cartoonists, but now re-labeled and re-captioned — and re-signed “William Charles.”
The Sentinel re-labeler obviously found the art of such cartoonists as Jeff Parker, Walt Handelsman and Mike Shapiro, as well as the late New Yorker cartoonist Leo Cullum. Cagle calls the Sentinel case “pretty blatant.”
The 2013 Walt Handelsman original — and the recent “William Charles” unoriginal:
by WALT HANDELSMAN / Newsday (2013)
The “William Charles” cartoon that ran in the Montgomery Sentinel.
“It never ceases to amaze me that someone will deliberately cut off the signature line of a cartoon, along with the little ‘c’ in a circle right next to it, and to them, it somehow translates into meaning the theft is totally invisible and they’re now magically free to pass off someone else’s work as his or her own,” Parker, the veteran Florida editorial cartoonist and “Dustin” strip artist, tells Comic Riffs.
“It’s like taking down the ‘No Smoking’ sign in a dynamite factory so you can now be free to light up amongst the merchandise,” adds Parker, whose editorial art is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons.
Jeff Parker’s original, from 2004 — and the recent unoriginal from the Montgomery Sentinel:
by Jeff Parker (2004 Florida Today / Cagle Cartoons; used by permission)
The unoriginal “William Charles” cartoon that recently ran in the Montgomery Sentinel.
“The Internet makes the type of image theft that went on at the Sentinel fairly easy to pull off,” Shapiro tells Comic Riffs, “and, I suppose, tempting to a person inclined to go in that direction.”
Mike Shapiro’s original — and the Montgomery Sentinel unoriginal:
by MIKE SHAPIRO (used with permission)
The “William Charles” cartoon from the Montgomery Sentinel.
The plagiarized art published in the Sentinel was spotlighted online last weekby Rockville Councilman Tom Moore, a former journalist who acknowledges that he is often a target of the Montgomery County paper’s satire. First reached last Thursday, Moore told The Post that he initially expressed his concern about the cartoons last November, at a social function he attended; also at the event, Moore says, was Brian Karem, executive editor of Sentinel Newspapers, which also publishes the Prince George’s (County) Sentinel.
“I told Mr. Karem that his ‘cartoonist’ was stealing artwork from all over the Internet and passing it off as his own,” Moore tells The Post.
“The good news,” Shapiro says, “is that the Sentinel has removed the plagiarized work.” The cartoons were removed from the Sentinel web site last week.
Karem told The Post on Friday that he had the cartoons removed after being contacted by Shapiro.
“I support any effort for artists to protect their creation, and won’t accept anything that’s not original,” Karem tells The Post. “And when I find out about stuff that’s not original, then it’s my job as an editor to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and to make sure what I publish is original.”
(Comic Riffs also asked Karem on Friday whether the Montgomery Sentinel would notify its readers that these cartoons had been plagiarized; he said an editor’s note would be forthcoming. This statement is now on the Sentinel site, with an apology, too, to the affected cartoonists.)
In judging these works to be plagiarized, Karem added that “William Charles” is a pen name for an anonymous artist, who Karem said is an unpaid freelance contributor. As for whether Charles’s work will ever run again in the Sentinel, Karem said: “He’s definitely on the chopping block; that’s two strikes against him.”
(On Friday, a “William Charles” replied once to an email question via an address provided to The Post by the Sentinel; Charles did not reply to Comic Riffs’s follow-up requests for details or a phone conversation.)
Parker, a longtime Florida Today cartoonist, is critical of leadership that would fail to flag a cartoonist whose artistic “style” was all over the map.
“Where were the Sentinel’s editors?” Parker says to Comic Riffs. “How bad are you at editing that you couldn’t notice your ‘cartoonist’ has been wildly swinging from one style to another, like Tarzan on Red Bull?”
And whoever William Charles is, Shapiro is left dismayed — even within the larger Internet culture of common plagiarism.
“While appearing simple, cartoons are of course the result of very hard work,” Shapiro tells The Post, “making it all the more disappointing to see that work stolen by someone claiming to be part of our profession.”
Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.