Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thieves, Cowards and Clones

Today's Bizarro is brought to you by Amateur Crime Fighters.

After this cartoon appeared in the paper last week, I received two emails. One was from a polite person wondering if I had seen a Far Side cartoon from the late 20th century with a similar joke, and one from an impolite person accusing me outright of stealing the old Far Side cartoon and thinking no one would notice.

As I politely explained to both, widely-read cartoonists like me don't steal from even more widely-read cartoonists like Larson. Why? Because I have an I.Q. above that of a houseplant. You could never hope to get away with it, and what is more embarrassing that being caught stealing?

In truth, this kind of thing happens to professional cartoonists all of the time. There are hundreds or thousands of us searching our brains every single day for jokes, a twist on fairy tales or popular culture or recent movies, a way to turn a common phrase into an unexpected meaning. It is only natural that more than one person comes up with the same idea from time to time. The cartoon above is not all that unique, really. You take the common phrase, "let sleeping dogs lie" and think of a new way to illustrate it, this is pretty much what you get. The sort of things a dog might lie about are even likely to be similar. It's just the way the human mind works.

Professional cartoonists will pretty much all concur on this. We've all unintentionally published gags similar to our colleagues, and all had others publish ones very similar to ours. It just goes with the job, none of us waste much time pointing fingers because it's only a matter of time before we are the seemingly guilty party.

As a person who has judged caption contests before, I can tell you from experience that this happens to non-cartoonists, as well. If you publish a given picture and ask people to caption it, no matter how many entries you get, around three quarters will be in the same couple of veins of thought. None of us is as unique as we'd like to think.

My apologies for not having memorized more Far Side cartoons back in the last century. If I had, I would not have published this one. But as far as I can tell, no harm was done. I appreciate the two readers who wrote to call this to my attention, although I appreciate the polite reader far more. One of the downsides of the Internet is that its anonymity often fills the cowardly with false courage and incivility. (Hence the need to moderate comments.)


Victor Rivera said...

I got another cartoon idea for you!
You should do one about a penguin (or a polar bear, it really doesn't matter), but they should say they're bipolar.

It's hilarious, and completely my own idea.

(straight face)

Love'ems, Victor

Zucchini Breath said...

Yep, it's all been done. It's funny you should post this today because I plagiarized you yesterday!

ojeano said...

Every word of your essay is *exactly* what I was going to say!

(I predict 28% of your comments on this one will be about the same as what I just said.)

LOVE the cartoon. Never have seen it before.

morganthe3rd said...

If I had time to send complaints to cartoonists I'd write something to Marmaduke!

Tegin said...

are you trying to tell us that you're a bipolar, dan?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that you have a bulldog which isn't a bully in your strip. They are sweet and funny, if sometimes stubborn dogs, which tend to get an unfair rep as overly aggressive.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I saw every single one of Gary Larson's cartoons back in the day (or in reprints since), and yet when I saw yours I felt no sense of familiarity!! I've always said, having the attention span of a gnat is its own reward.

monsterzero said...

regardless of where it came from, definitely an A+.
thanks again for making my kitty wink!

Unknown said...

Dan, quick question; what's your opinion of John Stossel?

uhkholij said...

I hate getting beaten up by the internet tough guy

but then I remember what he actually looks like

Foye Lowe said...

A word to the wise: Only steal a word or two. That way you can't be accused of pagiarism.


elizabeth said...

Well i could say that good artists borrow, while great artists steal, but is seems to me that great cartoonists should simply ignore the crazy person that bothers to send them a letter.

(Luckily this is a comment full of letters rather and a single one.)

jmarcv said...

Well Dan, your publisher is more open minded than the New Yorker!
click on 'first pages' in book sections, then go to the 4th page, the cartoon of the woman and her child.