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Arts

November 27, 2007

Plagiarism at The New Yorker?

In one Seinfeld episode, Elaine becomes frustrated with the arcane humor behind many New Yorker cartoons, so she decides to draw her own. The cartoon—which involves a pig at a complaint department declaring "I wish I was taller"—is accepted, but Elaine is later outed as an inadvertent Ziggy plagiarizer. It appears a similar cribbing has appeared in the most recent Cartoon Issue of the magazine.

The following strip appears across the bottom of pages of 138 and 139 in the November 26th issue of The New Yorker:


Birds in The New Yorker


This cartoon appears on page 28 of The Far Side Gallery, originally published in 1984:


Birds in The Farside


The artist of the more recent cartoon is Lee Lorenz, a 74-year-old former art editor of The New Yorker with several books of illustrations to his credit. Bob Mankoff, the magazine's cartoon editor, tells Gelf that he is sure that Lorenz did not borrow inspiration from Gary Larson's comic. "They are very similar," he says, "but I can guarantee you that Lee Lorenz is not a guy who copies cartoons."

Mankoff explains that the sheer volume of cartoons produced by artists means that there is often overlap of ideas. "Often in the same week different cartoonists will independently come up with identical ideas," he says. "Other times cartoonists generate ideas that have been previously published in the magazine. This is not plagiarism; rather it is the result of very creative people developing many ideas from a few well-established, well-traveled cartoon settings."

A representative from Creators Syndicate, which handles Larson's media inquiries, said that neither Larson nor his publishing house Far Works will comment on the similarities at this time.

What do you think? Can two different (and smart and creative) illustrators come up with the same visual gag? Or is there too much similarity there? Spotted any other cartoon coincidences? Let us know in the comments.

Related on Gelf: The Onion and an online artist come up with a similar joke about overly-religious people and gravity. Here are rundowns of controversies in song and comedy plagiarism.







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Comments

- Arts
- posted on Nov 27, 07
Steve Dores

Very nice spin by TNY. Certainly more creative than the artist.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 27, 07
Todd Jackson

I knew it looked familiar when I saw it... I can definitely see this as a case of parallel thinking, considering the background of Lee Lorenz. A fair amount of cartoonist do use gag writers and if Lee used one of those, I could see that being where the plagarism started (how familiar necessarily would the 74-year-old Lorenz be with "The Far Side."

Todd Jackson
Dead-Frog, A Comedy Blog

- Arts
- posted on Nov 27, 07
marc

I remember a recent comic by the same TNY artist. Once again, a woman feeds the birds. On the next bench a general of some sorts fed birds as well, and the birds were lined up in formation to get the food.

Let's get the icky "P-word" off the headline. I'm sure Larson's not the only one who's ever thought of birds.

Tweet.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 27, 07
liebe

Well I hate to say it, but if it's not unusual, it's not news either.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Ludovic Salorne

Same story drawn by a great belgian comics author named Franquin in... 1978.
He said he was inspired by Alfred Hitchcok and a short story by Thomas Owen.
Link here (in french) :
http://ideesnoires.free.fr/index/pl14.htm

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
John Dryden

What is this? An episode of Seinfeld, come to life?169

The Cartoon (1/29/98).Check it out.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
John Fleming

It's certainly possible for two cartoonists to come up with very similar concepts independent of each other. When I was in college and drawing cartoons for the student newspaper, I drew a spot illustration of a man covering his eyes with one hand while pointing a gun at his drawing table with the other (it was a minor hit at the school of architecture). Later I came across a similar cartoon in a book by the legendary Bill Mauldin where a soldier aims a gun at his disabled jeep.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Peter Rooney

I knew I had seen this cartoon before! I have a book with the Far Side cartoon.

But, when I saw the New Yorker over the weekend, I thought Lorenz had copied the gag from Don Martin, Mad cartoonist. I did a google search of Don Martin and pigeon, and I found a cartoon where a man on a park bench is feeding pigeons with homemade popcorn, attracting an increasingly large flock as well a a crowd of humans, all gorging themselves on popcorn in subsequent panels. A guy says:

Hey mister..this is the best popcorn I ever tasted. How do you make it?

Go to this link: http://community.livejournal.com/scans_daily/4443350.html#cutid1

for the answer!

Funny how the brain and memory works!

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
fev

Am I misremembering, or did Charles Addams do a very similar cartoon for the New Yorker back in the '50s?

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
MrWonderful

This happens all the time in every creative field. Probably other cartoonists have the same 4-panel gag in their files. Once you see a person feeding a swarming flock of birds, how can you NOT think of this?

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Rogadelic

This is probably a cognitive snafu, not a case of conscious plagiarism. Could be that Lorenz saw the first cartoon back in the day, forgot about it, and then, while pondering a standard park-bench premise, inadvertantly recalled the original as a "new" idea. The guy's 74 years old. He's probably looked at 100's of thousands of cartoons, and those images are bound to bubble up as "new" in his consciousness.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
jay

Oh, get a life

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
gs

Isn't there a movie about birds attacking people that might have served as common inspiration? If only I could remember the name...

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
JonC

The BOTH swiped it from the great Don Martin of Mad Magazine:

http://community.livejournal.com/scans_daily/4443350.html

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Barbara

Plagiarism? Coincidence? Are you kidding me ... this happens all the time: Once you start feeding them, pigeons just get carried away; they can't stop.
When's the last time you were in New York?

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Mark P.

While true, neither cartoon was that great anyway... Maybe "plagiarism" should only refer to things that are interesting...

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Jimmy

Very nice spin by TNY. Certainly more creative than the artist. Plagiarism is just wrong.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Amanda

It looked familiar -- but I knew something was missing: laughter.
The New Yorker one was too protracted, no instant gratification. Maybe I was just quicker back in 84, or less exposed to pigeon cartoons, which really outta be fed to the birds. (see everyone can be not-funny punny when it comes to bird-brained humor.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Amanda

Now here's what's funny, maybe not in a ha-ha way. All these posts about plagarism are eerily similiar ... we can't even btch and moan about this without sounding the same.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Risable

If you have ever drawn cartoons or written humor, you eventually develop the realization that, if you can think of it, so can many other bright, funny people who have the same cultural background to work with.

In fact, one of the ways you can spot a really good idea is that many really good people independently create it.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Casey451

This is my first - and last - visit to Gelf. Classic web trash. Example of the modestly able trying to hit the big time at the expense of the truly talented.Goldenberg and Gelf DO have a problem of some kind.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
David Goldenberg

Dear Casey451,
I'm sorry you feel that way--I thought we presented a pretty well-reported and balanced article. Is there a specific complaint about the way in which we handled this subject matter? Of course, given your promise to never return to Gelf, I'm sure you're not reading this...

- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Michael Denton

It's very possible and see no reason here why the artist shouldn't be given the benefit of the doubt, particularly if this is the first time it's ever been known to happen in his long career.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 29, 07
John Read

"Can two different (and smart and creative) illustrators come up with the same visual gag?" Absolutely - it happens quite often. When it's not obviuos plagiarism, it's kinda fun to compare the different versuions of the same joke.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 29, 07
Charles Walsh

Lorenz was drawing great cartoons while Larson still in coloring books. Mankoff is absolutely right. Stop trying so hard.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 29, 07
KW

This happened on other time recently. The panel has two elephants side-by-side (in the Far Side version it's mammoths), one lifting its foot to see a smashed human on the bottom and saying "I thought I smelled something." Who drew that one for the New Yorker? It was only a few weeks/month ago or so in the New Yorker (years and years, of course, for the Larson).

- Arts
- posted on Nov 29, 07
Greg MacDonald

I'm not an artist but if I were I would done a similar cartoon. The inspiration? Years ago watching people in St. Marks plaza in Venice feed thousands of pigeons then run for cover as they all took flight. Who hasn't seen a similar action.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 29, 07
Steve

Are you kidding me? This is a direct ripoff of the original. Tell the editor to take his head out of the sand and set his artist straight. I mean come on, there isn't even a shred of dount. Shame on you.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 29, 07
Malc McGookin

Not plagiarism, merely the same gag which has occurred to two separate people at different times. It happens.

It's the type of duplication which easily COULD happen, and anyone seeing a guy feeding a cloud of pigeons might take it a step further and imagine what would happen if the pigeons went feral on his @ss.

If Lorenz consciously and deliberately plagiarized, he would have changed the setup, maybe had an old woman standing by a boating pond, etc...

Actually, this gag has given ME an idea which I will now go and draw up. Same setup, a guy feeding a flock of a hundred pigeons.
In the last frame they're all lying around him dead, and he has a creepy smile.

I might even have him walking off with a "Joe's Pest Extermination" written on his overalls.

You heard it here first.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 29, 07
Malc McGookin

Forget that. I just clicked on the Don Martin link supplied. Don already did it.

If that doesn't prove the circular nature of these things I don't know what does.

- Arts
- posted on Nov 29, 07
qlewless

Gary Larson once did a panel of tiny musicians coming out of the dashboard car radio very much like one Charles Addams did years before. So what? Mr. Addams lost no revenue, the joke was perpetuated to a new generation. Composers have been "borrowing" themes from each other for centuries. Doesn't make Vivaldi any less of a composer.

- Arts
- posted on Dec 02, 07
Alfred Doten

Charles Addams did it first. It's in his collection Black Maria, published in 1960.

But when you see a comedian, do you complain because Jack Benny used the same joke in 1946?

- Arts
- posted on Dec 03, 07
Monty Rohde

Unless it is a carbon copy, or there is a long string of gags that are highly similar its likely just coincidence. I think suggesting it as plagiarism is premature. Creatively it is not a great jump from the source material.


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