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Simpson accused of plagiarizing MacNelly cartoon

A David Simpson editorial cartoon in the latest issue of The Urban Tulsa might look eerily familiar to fans of the late Jeff MacNelly. The original MacNelly cartoon depicts is a scene of a military junk yard with President Jimmy Carter trying to jump start an aged jet with a beat-up pickup truck. The Simpson cartoon… well same cartoon right down the the fence, jet, pickup and trash on the ground. The labels are updated to make the cartoon work for a current Oklahoma news story.

Here’s MacNelly’s original:

Here’s Simpsons’s cartoon:

And here’s the MacNelly’s cartoon overlaid with Simpsons. You can tell the cartoon was redrawn and not photocopied.

This is not the first time Simpson has been accused of plagiarism. He was let go from The Tulsa World in 2005 after it was pointed out that he had blatantly redrew a 1981 editorial cartoon by Bob Englehart of the The Hartford Courant.

The Urban Tulsa has not responded to a request for comment. I’ll post their response as well as a response from Simpson if provided.

UPDATE: This Land has taken upon itself to look for further cases. They’ve found several more.

Community Comments

#1 Ron Mabon
October/25/2011
@ 5:31 pm

Ouch! It’s bad enough when cartoonists retread the same paths to ideas and concepts, a la the recent “Steve Jobs at the Pearly Gates” cartoons. However, this is just plain theft, plain and simple. Sorry to see this sort of thing happen. And, it’s pretty nearly impossible to pull this off unnoticed, especially when you steal from one of the best cartoonists of all time!

#2 Keith Brown
October/25/2011
@ 5:43 pm

Similar ideas are an occupational hazard, but this ….
this is a little much.

#3 Howard Tayler
October/25/2011
@ 5:47 pm

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.

#4 david essman
October/25/2011
@ 6:03 pm

and he would’ve gotten away with it if he had put ‘after the great Jeff MacNelly’ like Bob Gorrell did when he scanned this David Levine cartoon:
http://29.media.tumblr.com/WXCapTL7FfdqwopioVRlj7I7o1_500.jpg

making minor changes to turn LBJ into uncle sam:

http://www.gorrellart.com/index.asp?link=archive&id=1547

#5 Mike Rhode
October/25/2011
@ 6:14 pm

Good catch, Alan, albeit on a sad story. And Howard Tayler’s quite right too.

#6 Tom Falco
October/25/2011
@ 9:09 pm

I always feel guilty when I have a similar idea and it’s truly coincidental, but this is off the hook.

#7 Dan Collins
October/25/2011
@ 10:26 pm

Look at the junk. He’s copied it verbatim.

#8 Dave Stephens
October/26/2011
@ 2:07 am

This is certainly not a coincidence – it is pure plagiarism, unadulterated, with malice aforethought… A very desperate artist would copy the artwork of a deceased legend like MacNelly without hesitation – I wonder what exactly drove Simpson to it?

#9 Keith Brown
October/26/2011
@ 5:32 am

How can anyone derive any artistic satisfaction from something like that?

#10 Brian Powers
October/26/2011
@ 6:03 am

So does the old saying “Good artists copy, great artists steal” apply? I think not. In the immortal words of the Fat Albert kids – “It’s like school on Sunday – NO Class!” You should at least put an “apologies to?” in there somewhere to make it seem that in your own mind you were trying to pretend it was a homage and not a blatant rip-off.

#11 Charles Brubaker
October/26/2011
@ 7:10 am

Yeah, from my understanding the guy has a history of plagiarism, dating back to 1980s.

#12 August Pollak
October/26/2011
@ 7:27 am

What amazes me is that it’s a simple single drawing that could easily have been “referenced” and not made to look close to MacNelly’s original… and instead great, painstaking detail at the lightbox was taken to copy over the exact placements of shading, blades of grass and bits of debris on the ground. The amount of time devoted to stealing someone else’s work is sort of impressive, albeit ironic.

Oh and, you know, completely unforgivable. Best of luck being a two-time thief trying to find another job, David.

#13 Stephen Beals
October/26/2011
@ 8:19 am

This is flat-out bizarre. Why? Plagiarists must want to get caught. An artist has many, many ways to completely reinterpret an idea visually. This kind of copying is just weird.

#14 Jeff Darcy
October/26/2011
@ 9:10 am

Didn’t this cartoonist lose his job a few years back for doing the same thing? Pathetic

#15 Gerry Mooney
October/26/2011
@ 9:15 am

Yes, he’s been in trouble before over this exact thing. Kind of like shoplifting right in front of the security camera.

#16 Jim Lavery
October/26/2011
@ 9:24 am

It could be a cry for help.

“Please–stop me before I trace again!”

#17 Jason Nocera
October/26/2011
@ 9:24 am

According to this link he was inducted into the Oklahoma Cartoonist Hall of Fame the same year he was let go for his first plagiarism:
http://www.okiecartoonists.org/simpson.html

#18 Jeff Darcy
October/26/2011
@ 9:26 am

I missed the part of story confirming he was fired in 2005.
With the number of good Editorial cartoonist looking for work
how does a serial plagiarist get another job?

#19 Scott Bieser
October/26/2011
@ 9:34 am

Deadline pressures for editorial cartooning are uniquely challenging, compared with other forms of cartooning — it’s difficult if not impossible to ‘bank’ a bunch of ideas in advance to deal with dry spells, because you have to keep up with current events, and come up with something every dang day.

Nevertheless, this is appalling.

#20 Matt Bors
October/26/2011
@ 10:09 am

Why is it usually MacNelly that is so flagrantly stolen from? Even Pulitzer winners have reproduced his material. Maybe he’s technically won more than three.

#21 Mike Lester
October/26/2011
@ 10:43 am

Why no hue/cry over “GREAT PUMPKIN”, “THA-THAT’S ALL FOLKS”, ROADRUNNER, PINOCCHIO, (etc. etc.) cartoons? Same thing, it’s just accepted nomenclature. Bob Gorrell published David Levine’s 1966 famous LBJ VIETNAM SCAR cartoon last week w/ ouline of Iraq. -crickets-

Why torch this nobody when the big boys are reading the obits and doing Apple logo gags?

Alan, comment #4 gives credit to you for this “catch”. I’ve noticed you don’t hat tip or credit or correct this pat on the back when provided stories pertinent to cartoonists and thereby take credit. It’s your blog but it’s ironically, not dissimilar to the topic at hand. For the record, the “catch” goes to Matt Bors.

#22 Scott Metzger
October/26/2011
@ 10:46 am

Wow. I can’t believe he copied this sucker even down to the junk on the ground.

#23 Matt Bors
October/26/2011
@ 10:50 am

No, no. I didn’t catch it. Someone else made the connection. I merely wrote the editor and publisher. This was floating around on email so I think a few people had it.

#24 Howard Tayler
October/26/2011
@ 11:08 am

@Mike Lester

The way I see it, being lazy and unoriginal (Jobs at the Pearly Gates, tombstone treatments of the Apple logo, assorted flavors of Editorial Cartooning Yahtzee [Cagle FTW!]) is commonplace.

Actual plagiarism is something completely different.

I’ve seen plenty of criticism on this board regarding the sins common to editorial cartoonists. That’s no reason not to dogpile Simpson for being a liar, a thief, and a bad cartoonist.

#25 david essman
October/26/2011
@ 11:31 am

and he would?ve gotten away with it if he had put ?after the great Jeff MacNelly? like Bob Gorrell did when he scanned this David Levine’s LBJ Vietnam scar catoon

#26 Mike Lester
October/26/2011
@ 11:45 am

Essman, well said. btw: love Housecat.

#27 Alan Gardner
October/26/2011
@ 12:17 pm

Mike (#20), easy there fella. No where have I claimed to take credit for this. Like Matt said, several of us were copied on the broadcast of this news. I did ask Matt if he wanted to be cited as the source for this discovery and he declined stating several other cartoonists were aware of this.

If you want the credit you can have it. You seem to have the J. Edgar Hoover file on every other cartoonist out there.

#28 Pete McDonnell
October/26/2011
@ 1:32 pm

Somebody told me Wally Wood was credited with saying “Don’t draw what you can copy, don’t copy what you can trace, and don’t trace what you can cut out and paste down”. I believe he meant it ironically, as a time saving suggestion in the low-paying world of comic books. Looks like this guy went and took his advice!

#29 Dave Stephens
October/26/2011
@ 2:04 pm

I would think that Wally Wood meant PHOTOS, not other people’s illustrations…

Mr. Essman makes a good point – Simpson should have blatantly acknowledged his blatant copying of someone else’s research, someone else’s composition and someone else’s drawing style…

#30 Steve Greenberg
October/26/2011
@ 3:29 pm

David Simpson was known to have plagiarized many times from MacNelly, Oliphant and others for at least a decade, going back to the late 1970s. I remember John Trever had kept a whole file of clips demonstarting this.

#31 Jeff Darcy
October/26/2011
@ 3:46 pm

Mike- I see a an obvious difference between doing a parody of
the great pumpkin and that’s all folks and blatant plagiarism like
what is seen in this cartoon

Even MacNelly did a parody of Homer’s famous “Gulf Stream”
I did a Great Pumpkin parody last month and googled a pic from
the special to draw from to get it right. It’s obvious to anyone who sees a cartoon like that the cartoonist isn’t the creator of Linus and Sally
or porky pig. In this case it wouldn’t be obvious to Tulsa readers
unless they were students of MacNelly or Editorial cartooning.

Matt is correct in his comment. MacNelly has a cartoon in which
I believe he shows a Russian leader standing in a circle of old
mirrors of different shapes and sizes. Years later I recall seeing
that exact same composition and the same style mirrors drawn
by an Editorial cartoonist who would later win one or more
Pulitzers.

#32 Philip Rosemond
October/26/2011
@ 4:00 pm

Hi. I”m the Curator Archivist of the Jeff MacNelly Estate Archives. So, y’all know, I’m quite sure this guy won’t get away with this for long. Stumbling across this article just got me very busy…. Stay tooned, folks!

Philip S. Rosemond.
Jeff MacNelly Estate Archive.
Flint Hill, VA

#33 Mike Lester
October/26/2011
@ 4:11 pm

I misunderstood Bors assuming he came across the story. My mistake and my apologies.

#34 Keith Brown
October/26/2011
@ 4:52 pm

@ #31,
Got get’em Philip!

#35 Jeff Darcy
October/26/2011
@ 6:00 pm

Best of luck Philip.
Based on what Steve Greenberg said of this going back to the late seventies, he’s been getting away with it for three decades.
What does it say about the state journalism in the Sooner state
that he not only keeps getting hired but gets inducted into a
Journalism Hall of Fame.

#36 Susie MacNelly
October/26/2011
@ 6:55 pm

The inmates are running the asylum!

#37 Keith Brown
October/26/2011
@ 8:27 pm

I am very new to cartooning and I am still developing my style.
I don’t look too much at the work of other artists because not only do I constantly compare my work to thiers and wonder “why bother” , but I am even more afraid that I may inadvertantly start to emmulate either thier style or maybe co-op an idea.
I am petrified of this so as a consequesnce I don’t look much at the work of others.
Someday soon I hope to be past that but for now that is my reality. I can’t imagine ever literally tracing someone elses work and passing it off as my own. Does anyone else here ever have those worrisome thoughts?

#38 Dave Stephens
October/26/2011
@ 9:14 pm

A student SHOULD study and even copy the work of great cartoonists as a learning tool – for instance, you can learn a lot by tracing stick figures over various artists’ cartoons and then drawing your own characters on them.

You can learn immeasurably by carefully studying the work of others, many others, not just one…

Over time, these influences coalesce into your OWN personal style. And if you are really, really lucky and work hard and achieve some success, perhaps you, too, will someday be included in someone else’s pool of influences…

#39 Keith Brown
October/26/2011
@ 9:40 pm

Thanks Dave,
I’ll definately keep that in mind.

#40 Frank Mariani
October/27/2011
@ 10:42 am

Maybe Jeff MacNelly time traveled ahead and stole the idea from Simpson. Well? It could happen.

#41 Clay Jones
October/27/2011
@ 1:11 pm

I agree with Mike Lester (OH MY GOD), and those Halloween/Thanksgiving/Xmas themed cartoons are stale. I’ve drawn them too but I’ve reeled it in over the past few years.
How many more “hokie pokies”, “titanics”, “lemmings”, “mazes” “cars going off a cliff” cartoons do we need? We’re supposed to be professionals and some of us multi-award winners. Can’t we do better?
I’m nowhere near where I wanna be with my work and I’ll never be perfect. But after nearly two decades of trying to think like everyone else, I’m now fighting not to. It’s hard.

#42 Beth Cravens
October/27/2011
@ 1:31 pm

Gosh, but all that thinking and drawing is hard. What a lightbox jockey.

#43 Bob Andelman
October/27/2011
@ 7:26 pm

I interviewed DailyCartoonist.com editor Alan Garner today about this story for Poynter Online/Romenesko+. You can listen to the audio from the interview at the end of this post: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/romenesko/151187/could-cartoonist-be-a-two-time-plagiarist/

#44 Jeff Darcy
October/27/2011
@ 11:56 pm

I hear what you’re saying Clay. But what you and Mike are talking about are tired Cliche’s that’s not the same as plagiarism.

Excuse me while I get to work on my Romney trick or treat ‘toon

#45 Jeff Knurek
October/28/2011
@ 12:16 pm

Ooh! I love these kind of puzzles. Let me see, 1) there a sign in the top picture and none in the bottom. 2) The guy has stuff coming out of his head in the top and not the bottom. and the only other difference I could find is the signatures are different.
That is about as traced as it gets. I’m sure his Simpson’s print of MacNelly’s cartoon lays perfectly over his drawing. Sad.

#46 Kerry G. Johnson
October/31/2011
@ 11:54 am

Whoa…. that’s messed up and pitiful. Yet, I have truly enjoyed reading the backlash.

#47 KEITH POLETIEK
October/31/2011
@ 1:56 pm

I watched an amazing career go down the drain in the 1980s when a fabulous editorial cartoonist and mentor of mine was let go from the Orange County Register for repeatedly copying MacNelly cartoons…Why, has always been my question? All of his original stuff was first rate, he was filled with ideas and original thought, and his inking was amazing.

I studied many cartoonists of the day, and I thank many of you now for your amazing talent, but I never felt the need to go over the line, reach into your pockets and take anything! Lesson learned.

This whole thing is sad!

#48 Alan De Smet
October/31/2011
@ 2:55 pm

You might want to redo the overlaid version, but rotate Simpson’s version -5.13 degrees, then move it a bit to align the body of the jet. It makes the similarity all the more striking.

#49 Keith Brown
October/31/2011
@ 7:18 pm

Do you think he did’nt realize that was an aircraft carrier in the back or was that the ONLY thing he changed?

#50 Brian Black
November/1/2011
@ 1:34 am

Sorry to see this sort of thing happen. Similar ideas are an occupational hazard, but this… this is a little much. Look at the junk. He’s copied it verbatim. This is certainly not a coincidence – it is pure plagiarism, unadulterated, with malice aforethought… How can anyone derive any artistic satisfaction from something like that?

#51 Rich Yan
November/1/2011
@ 5:04 am

It would be bad enough to steal the concept and the layout but taking it down to the line work. I hope that douche gets fired.

#52 Rich Yan
November/1/2011
@ 5:08 am

He could have at least flipped it! This is such an insult to every one out there who wants to do editorial cartoons and has actual talent rather than a library of other people’s work and a light box.

#53 Keith Brwon
November/1/2011
@ 9:10 am

Hey all. After e-mailing UTW Editor Gavin Elliot, this is the response I got:
?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.?

He went on to say in a follow-up e-mail that Simpson was a contract cartoonist and not on staff.

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