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Read the letter: David Simpson apologizes to Susie MacNelly

Jeff MacNelly’s widow, Susie MacNelly, received an apology letter from the now former Urban Tulsa editorial cartoonist David Simpson admitting he “stole” Jeff’s Jimmy Carter cartoon that was brought to light last week.

With her permission, I’m sharing that letter.

Here is the original letter:

Dear Susan:

I’m very sorry that I stole Jeff’s Carter cartoon from the seventies. I accidentally stole the cartoon 25 years ago when I worked at the now defunct Tulsa Tribune, not three weeks ago for the Urban Tulsa Weekly.

I have thousands of old drawings from 40 years of cartooning out in boxes in my garage. I came across the cartoon in question (American Airlines was the subject) and thought, hey, this would be great for the local Great Plain Airlines controversy, so I changed the captions and sent it out for that week’s Urban Tulsa.

I honestly didn’t know that I had swiped it 25 years earlier. But that’s no excuse, I’m completely to blame. The people at Urban Tulsa didn’t know anything about this.

Jeff’s syndicated cartoon ran in the Tulsa Tribune for 20 years and in the Tulsa World for eight, until his death. Jeff was the greatest cartoonist of his generation and none of his contemporaries (like me) could keep up with him.

The Urban Tulsa publisher is running his letter this week telling this story and firing me. Again, I sincerely apologize.

David Simpson

There is A LOT in this letter. A few thoughts:

How do you accidentally steal something?

He admits to stealing the MacNelly Carter cartoon, but says nothing of the next weeks cartoon that he stole. Surely he knew that was a theft as well.

The found the cartoon in the garage excuse is very similar to the excuse he gave when he was caught plagiarizing the Bob Englehart cartoon. Back in 2005, he stated that he found the Englehart cartoon “in his creative files and mistakenly believed it was his own.”

Depending on how it is read, one might infer that Simpson copied the same Jimmy Carter cartoon 25 years ago and is now plagiarizing it a second time. The first time he may have used it was on the topic of American Airlines – which was not the topic of Jeff MacNelly’s original cartoon. The second time is the recent Great Plains Airlines controversy. Plagiarizing a previously plagiarized cartoon.

This is the source I mentioned last night stating that the Poynter report that he resigned is false. Simpson admits he was fired.

I have emailed Simpson personally inviting him to respond to this whole mess. I’ll post anything he sends my way, should he choose to respond. The publisher of the Urban Tulsa is supposed to release a statement today as well. I’ll share that as soon as I get it.

Community Comments

#1 August Pollak
November/2/2011
@ 7:39 am

He “accidentally” ignored MacNelly’s signature on the original the entire time he was tracing over it? Both times he did it?

Why not just say “dear Ms. MacNelly: I hope you’re an idiot. I’m now going to talk to you like you are one.” How utterly insulting.

#2 Kelly McNutt
November/2/2011
@ 7:47 am

“I honestly didn?t know that I had swiped it 25 years earlier.” Because maybe that’s how he’s always operated and one forgets that “wait, I don’t draw that way!”. I call complete utter BS on the “I accidentally stole” bit. Epic-eyeroll-inducing, even.

#3 Nick Anderson
November/2/2011
@ 7:57 am

I have a 10-year-old kid that thinks more clearly than this guy and takes more personal responsibility. This is pre-school logic and excuse-manufacturing.

#4 Stephen Beals
November/2/2011
@ 8:27 am

As a plagiarist, he’s not creative enough to come up with a wacky, yet plausible, excuse. You would have to be a really good friend to entertain such an excuse, though.

#5 Jeremy Nell
November/2/2011
@ 8:40 am

I’ve been following this. There are two possibilities.

1.) He could be typically clumsy and messy, like many artists, and honestly bungled things by keeping heaps of papers and cartoons, full size and torn, faded and not faded, lying around everywhere. He might be suffering from some sort of memory loss, like Brant Parker did. His story might be genuine, for all we know.

2.) He could have conspired against Jeff by deliberately copying his cartoons down to the finest detail and hoping that no one in this modern internet age would catch him out. In fact, he conspired so aggressively that he did it twice in two weeks just to see if someone would notice and if he’d lose his Hall Of Fame award.

Of course, it’s easier to crucify him and hope that he dies of cancer. So, I too will go with that one.

#6 Peter Dunlap-Shohl
November/2/2011
@ 8:46 am

Cartoon kleptomaniac.

#7 Jason Chatfield
November/2/2011
@ 8:50 am

Waaaaitaminute!

I’ve seen that apology letter before!!

#8 Peter Dunlap-Shohl
November/2/2011
@ 8:57 am

Whoops, just saw that Mike Peters beat me to the kleptomania line. He pre-stole it from me!

#9 Jeff Pert
November/2/2011
@ 8:58 am

@Jason: LMAO

#10 Matt Bors
November/2/2011
@ 9:15 am

Jeremey, I don’t know what your work space is like, but I don’t keep around a lot of unsigned work from other pros–nor would I mistake it for my own if I did.

He’s been fired from two papers and dropped from a syndicate at this point. You’d think he’d straighten up the work space if it was causing so many problems.

#11 Jeremy Nell
November/2/2011
@ 9:55 am

Matt, I was just being facetious, but the point I was trying to make (in a really convoluted way) is this.

Why would a professional cartoonist deliberately set out to sabotage his entire career?

#12 Steve Skelton
November/2/2011
@ 10:01 am

The only thing I can come up with is: DEADLINE!

#13 Matt Bors
November/2/2011
@ 10:08 am

Jeremy, if tracing were his only desire, he could do it in private. The thrill of being caught drives many inappropriate obsessions and is ultimately needed to fulfill them.

I worry that Simpson might now be deriving pleasure from his public shaming, further fueling his compulsive lust for tracing.

#14 Scott Metzger
November/2/2011
@ 10:10 am

@Nick: I totally agree. His response is childish. He’s just making excuses and not fully owning up to what he did.

If you’re going to write an apology letter, say you’re sorry, admit you did something wrong and leave it at that. By including those lame excuses, it defeats the purpose of the letter.

@Jason: Great comment – that cracked me up.

#15 JP Trostle
November/2/2011
@ 10:30 am

Simpson has released another apology ? his 2nd in two weeks:

“Good evening.

This afternoon in this room, from this chair, I testified before the Office of Independent Counsel and the grand jury.

I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life, questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.

Still, I must take complete responsibility for all my actions, both public and private. And that is why I am speaking to you tonight.

As you know, in a deposition in January, I was asked questions about my relationship with Monica Lewinsky ? er, Jeff MacNelly. While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information.

Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss MacNelly that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.

But I told the grand jury today and I say to you now that at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other unlawful action.

I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even Jeff’s wife. I deeply regret that.”

#16 John de Rosier
November/2/2011
@ 11:31 am

JP,

I’d say you’re being too generous to call this statement an apology. It’s a flip response that deploys an attempt at humor, once more, to deflect attention away from the seriousness of his misdeeds.

Part of the priviliege that comes with criticizing others in public is the responsibility to own one’s mistakes when things that go around come around.

Hereonafter, any clearly plagiarized cartoon might deservedly be called a “Simpson.”

#17 Rick McKee
November/2/2011
@ 11:32 am

I just came up with this…:

Simpson has released another apology ? his 2nd in two weeks:

?Good evening.

This afternoon in this room, from this chair, I testified before the Office of Independent Counsel and the grand jury.

I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life, questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.

Still, I must take complete responsibility for all my actions, both public and private. And that is why I am speaking to you tonight.

As you know, in a deposition in January, I was asked questions about my relationship with Monica Lewinsky ? er, Jeff MacNelly. While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information.

Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss MacNelly that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.

But I told the grand jury today and I say to you now that at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other unlawful action.

I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even Jeff?s wife. I deeply regret that.?

#18 cole robertson
November/2/2011
@ 11:40 am

Nah, I don’t buy the whole “he’s sick in the head, he wanted to get caught” line.

This guy forged a career for DECADES in one of the most fiercely competitive and notoriously underpaid (or unpaid) fields out there. He wanted success, which in the cartoon world means simply a regular paycheck and maybe access to healthcare not administered by a charity or church. He couldn’t hack it with his own meager talent, so he cribbed off others to achieve his goals.

Venality, pure and simple.

#19 Jeremy Nell
November/2/2011
@ 11:52 am

Oh well. As I said earlier, and to join in with the general sentiment, I hope the filthy scumbag dies of cancer.

#20 Jeremy Nell
November/2/2011
@ 1:01 pm

Before anyone takes offence at my comment, do not take it seriously.

I was being dark for the sake of effect.

Plagiarism will haunt you in the end.

#21 clay jones
November/2/2011
@ 1:39 pm

Who the hell keeps “creative” files? Does that mean he stockpiles cartoons to steal? I don’t understand the creative file thing. This entire case is bizarre and amazing someone would do this.

#22 david essman
November/2/2011
@ 1:51 pm

So he’s trying to explain that he’s just a hack that changes the captions on his old work to pass them off as new work, rather than a plagiarist.

#23 Matt Bors
November/2/2011
@ 2:03 pm

I’m interested in his explanation for this:

http://thislandpress.com/roundups/this-land-finds-more-plagiarism-by-cartoonist-david-simpson/

#24 Mike Lester
November/2/2011
@ 2:40 pm

@Mr. Essman, you bring up an interesting point and in the event that someday somebody calls me on it here’s a pre-emptive mea culpa: while I don’t “change captions” on old work and pass off as new, I most definitely steal from myself. Not sure if anybody else does it but some days I trace / redraw and paint a bar scene, kitchen, diner -whatever, that I drew in 2003. I have six jobs but if that qualifies me as lazy, so be it.

#25 Kelly McNutt
November/2/2011
@ 3:12 pm

@David Essman: Using your own stuff over seems much more acceptable to me, too (I’m not an editorial cartoonist, though). Even Disney re-used certain footage over again from previous productions, sometimes repeating certain sections within the same production (“The Jungle Book” as one glaring example that comes immediately to mind). I to think I get the gist of what you’re saying, though.

#26 david essman
November/2/2011
@ 4:16 pm

There’s a big difference between reusing certain locations, characters, or props you’ve drawn in the past, and reusing an entire cartoon like the Macnelly Carter cartoon Simpson is apologizing for plagiarizing.

#27 Kelly McNutt
November/2/2011
@ 4:21 pm

@ David: Agreed.

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