Influence, plagiarism, copying etc, is a difficult subject in any creative profession.
It’s been said that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery, but I have a feeling it was a plagiarist who first said it. In court. On his knees.
It’s bollocks of course.
In its purest form it’s the sincerest form of laziness…

In a profession like cartooning though, it can often be difficult to distinguish between intentional plagiarism and (unfortunate) coincidence, and between influence and identity theft.

I reckon most cartoonist at some point must have drawn a cartoon and realised afterwards that the idea was not a result of their own brilliance, but an unintentional ‘rip-off’ of an idea they’d seen in the past. As most cartoonists themselves are eager follower of cartoons, it is not entirely surprising that this can happen.

In order to avoid it, some cartoonists deliberately refrain from regularly looking at other cartoonists’ work.
I personally stopped my almost daily trawl through Daryl Cagle’s website after it last happened to me a couple of years ago with a cartoon about the Iraq war. I didn’t realise the mistake until I saw my drawing in the paper the next day, and suddenly made the link to a cartoon I’d seen on the Cagle website a few days before.

It’s an honest mistake of course, but embarrassing nonetheless – even if you’re not ‘caught’.

Of course, when it comes to ideas, references and metaphors, many of them are so commonly used that it is impossible to say whether the use of them stem from one cartoonist in particular, or if they simply are so ‘obvious’ that many would have picked them up anyway. This is regularly illustrated by the fact that several cartoonist do virtually identical ideas on the same day.

But what about more deliberate copying?
Most cartoonists will at some stage in their career have looked someone else’s cartoons and caricatures and picked up elements that work particularly well, to use in their own drawings. Things like style, line, colour and composition. That kind of influence is mostly harmless – and a natural step in the progress of finding your own unique expression.
For the cartoonist being copied, it might indeed be flattering, as long as the line between flattery and identity theft is not crossed.

When new politicians enters the scene, there’s a race between cartoonists to see who first ‘gets’ them. Particularly when it comes to party leaders.
Take an example like Blair’s eyeball, which I think it’s been established that Steve Bell first coined, and which others, myself included, subsequently adopted some extent.
It’s natural, maybe unavoidable, that this sort of thing happens, but where does the line go?
You could argue that the eyeball is a physical attribute which Steve first picked up on, but which everyone must be free to exploit. Or less you would end up in a situation where the first one to draw Gordon with big jowls had the ‘copyright’. A cartoon creation like Major’s pants, would be a more clear cut case, but Steve could be forgiven for thinking that the eyeball was a similar creation.

Run debate!

An afterthought:
I’ve been tipped off a couple of times by a friend of mine about an illustrator in Norway who seems to be tracing some of my characters for his own work. I haven’t got an example to hand, but anyway, they’re so crudely done that I haven’t felt the need to do anything about it. However to my surprise and slight amusement, I found a similarly blatant example of the sincerest form of laziness in a recent edition of Private Eye. A cartoonist, who I shall not name, has copied one of my caricatures of Peter Hain down to the details of the number of wrinkles on his forehead.


It’s an extreme example of course, which hopefully, for this particular individual’s sake, is a one-off.
Still, considering what I’ve said above, I defy any cartoonist to throw the first stone.


12 Responses to “Likeness…”

  1. Adams Says:

    A fascinating, and ancient, subject.
    Personally, and I make no apologies, I learnt grass from Peanuts, sea water from Asterix, many facial expressions from Calvin & Hobbes…
    This is, as you say, one being influenced. And anyone would be lying if they didn’t admit this is how cartooning (and fine art) style development works. However…..
    As far as ideas go, on most days there are a limited amount of stories to refer to and therefore crossovers are bound to happen. I’m usually surprised there aren’t more. (I mixed Brown with the emergency landed BA flight the other day, and couldn’t believe no one else had done it).
    Caricature-influence is a more murky area. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of truly original caricaturists in this country. Of course others copy them. I put this down to a limited talent pool here, and people should blindfold themselves to other styles, stop being lazy, and try harder to get their own slant.
    The example you showed is an outrage. I shall name and shame him as K J Lamb. To see his true talent look at the same Private Eye (issue 1202) on page 27…
    (Also, I see your sketch idea last week of Hain burnt on his sunbed was used by another cartoonist in a national. Coincidence that one, no doubt).

    PS. I used to know a cartoonist who was a truly great caricaturist, but got so lazy before he retired that he ended up photocopying his own caricatures for a new job, and just glueing them on to a freshly drawn body!
    If imitation is the purest form of flattery, Narcissus would have been proud of him.

  2. poldraw Says:

    Good response Christian.
    Thanks for that.
    I like your list of influences.

    As far as the EYE cartoonist is concerned, I’ll stick to my word and not write a name. Let me correct you slightly though, because I do believe we’re talking about a SHE.

  3. poldraw Says:

    As for the Hain and sunbed cartoon, you’re right, that was probably an example of coincidence. Possibly the most obvious idea in the world, but visually pleasing nonetheless, which is why so many have gone for it in one way or another.

  4. Beau Bo D'Or Says:

    I’m sure the sunbed thing was a coincidence but try doing anything about PH without mentioning the tan!
    A logical progression is the sunbed.
    I used one in an animation alluding to PH’s tan but featuring his replacement James Purnell.

  5. Stephen Collins Says:

    That’s a shocker that one. Good of you not to mention her name. It’s so blatant though, there’s little point in naming and shaming. How could anybody put their name to something like that? Have you written to the Eye?

    Influence and plagiarism are a shonky area. For me, elements of a lot of my early work looked similar in style to my influences – pointy Searle shoes all over the place, starey Steadman eyes etc. At the time I was genuinely convinced it was ‘my style’, but looking back at it now, it was the sort of schoolkid stuff which should have gone on behind the closed doors of an art school (had I gone to one). I was unaware at the time that I was being lazy, and nervous of my own abilities, but still that’s no excuse if you’re striving to be professional.

    But directly copying someone’s work like this is obviously less influence, more plain stealing. Not just copying either – it looks like she’s practically traced it! I thought the third one was just coloured till I looked harder and realised you’ve laid yours over the top. I mean — !??!?!!

    Write in write in I say

  6. poldraw Says:

    I don’t know… All I can imagine is that she must have spent 300 hours trying to draw the man, and then as deadline loomed she copied it as an act of desperation.

    If it was a regular occurrence, or the cartoon was on the front page, I probably would’ve said something. This is just a little bit silly – in a shocking sort of way – and I don’t want to get anyone into trouble for what might have been a one-off mistake.

    What you say about lack of belief in our own abilities is interesting Stephen.
    When it comes to being influenced, I think that is a more relevant explanation than laziness.

    I’ve also done the Steadman eyes, and there is still elements of what I picked up from him in the past, in my work now.
    There are probably a handful of cartoonists past and present that have influenced my work so much that I can pinpoint their contribution in my current style.

    I don’t actually think we stop being influenced, whether we like it or not.
    What changes maybe, is the way we’re influenced. Rather than insecurely drawing the Steadman eyes and Searle shoes, increased confidence in our own style makes us incorporate influences more subtly.

  7. Howard Woodall Says:

    You’re a very generous man, Mr Morland. Private Eye run a feature showing 2 photos with the caption are they by any chance related. Suggest you email editor with your Mr Hain and K Lambs and request her fee.

    I work in the very obscure backwater of Lib Dem News but also contribute occasionally to Iain Dales site. P Hain not easy to draw, my effort appeared on Iain’s site dated 11.1.

  8. poldraw Says:

    Hehe… That’s a very nice idea Howard, sending it in to the “Are they by any chance related” feature.

    I don’t envy you having to draw the orange blob that is Hain in black and white, but you’ve got him. When you’re using colour, all you really have to work on is the hair. Then virtually any orange shape underneath will make it look like the Hainster.

  9. Matt Says:

    I think you should do what Howard suggests Morten.

  10. Likeness 2… « poldraw Says:

    […] in internet terms probably is classed as “days gone by,” will remember a post I did on plagiarism and such in January this year. The latter part of it had an example of rather spectacular tracing of one of […]

  11. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    Hey, cool tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a glass of beer to the man from that chat who told me to go to your blog 🙂

  12. Andy Says:

    I wouldn’t like to condemn anyone for – after hours of failing to get a caricature likeness – copying someone else’s in desperation (although I do understand Morten’s annoyance). I’m sure I’ve done it myself. But there are pitfalls to it.

    What’s interesting (well, for me) is that in the transition from A (Morten’s original colour version) to B (b/w) above, even though it’s a pretty rigorous copy, the likeness is lost, almost completely. This is no reflection on the plagiarist’s talent, I think, just that there is some mysterious, weird magic in teasing out an original drawing.

    When we look at a “quick” caricature within a cartoon, we don’t register just how good the likeness is or why it works. We simply think “Hain” or “Brown” and move on. But pretty much every line in that caricature depends on all the others. Moving a line a millimetre or two,or thickening a line a tad, can destroy the likeness irrevocably. Anybody who’s drawn a pencil sketch to “perfection” and then tried to reproduce it in ink will know this well.

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