Robot 6

Editorial cartoonist loses job following plagiarism allegations

It’s one thing to steal an idea and transform it into something new; lots of creators have stood on the shoulders of others. It’s another thing to copy something and make it into something worse.

The Daily Cartoonist has been hot on the tail of David Simpson, an editorial cartoonist for Oklahoma’s Urban Tulsa Weekly. The story started last week when blogger Alan Gardner noted similarities between one of Simpson’s cartoons and an old cartoon by the late Jeff MacNelly. They weren’t just similar concepts; Gardner overlaid the cartoons and they line up pretty well. He told the Poynter Institute’s Bob Andelman that it looked like Simpson didn’t photocopy the older cartoon but redrew it, down to the small details. The main difference between them was not visual but conceptual, as Schlock Mercenary creator Howard Tayler points out in comments to Gardner’s post:

The original cartoon has a lot going for it.

The regurgitation isn’t funny because the metaphor doesn’t apply as well. Simpson’s not just stealing — he’s doing it BADLY.

And the curator of the MacNelly estate also dropped in to say, “Stumbling across this article just got me very busy. … Stay tooned, folks!”

Be that as it may, this week’s issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly contained another Simpson cartoon and no comment on the controversy; the editor and publisher told another blogger he had no comment and if he did have one, it would be in the paper itself. It took Gardner’s readers about five minutes to find the MacNelly cartoon it had been copied from, and again, Tayler notes, the cartoon fails to make its point coherently — unlike the original, which was well thought out. Perhaps that’s because Simpson was trying to shoehorn the concept to fit the art, rather than come up with a fresh concept and design the cartoon around it.

A commenter on another post about the case claimed to have e-mailed the editor and publisher of Urban Tulsa and gotten this response:

“Hi Keith – I can appreciate your being upset about Simpson’s plagiarism. As soon as it was brought to our attention, Simpson was let go. We had already gone to press with the last one before it was brought to our attention, which is why it ran.”

However, there are conflicting reports as to whether Simpson resigned or was fired.

Simpson lost his gig as editorial cartoonist for the Tulsa World in 2005 following accusations that he plagiarized another cartoon; in this case, it was the words and the concept rather than the visuals that were lifted. Ironically, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Cartoonist Hall of Fame shortly before losing his job; that honor was rescinded this week.



It’s kind of a shame he lost his job. I don’t like plagiarism, but if we’re totally honest about ourselves, most editorial cartoons printed out in the many hundreds of newspapers across the country are so generic that they might as well be. And it’s hardly the fault of the cartoonists. It must be incredibly tiring trying to be witty seven days of the week and coming up with tired spins on modern politics.

Brigid Alverson

November 2, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Some people made that point on the comment thread, but this goes beyond that—it looks like he put the MacNelly cartoons on a light box and traced over them. If nothing else, that’s a copyright violation that exposes the paper to potential litigation. I agree being a cartoonist is hard, but it seems like what he was doing almost made it harder, because the concepts really weren’t a good fit with the images.

Copying IDEAS is one thing… you can legitimately claim to have seen it, absorbed it and forgotten it had been done before… but this is out and out, no-doubt-about-it TRACING of someone else’s work with very little, if any, differences. Firing is about the only course of action you can take at that point.

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