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How many times can Bill Day pass the same cartoon off as new?

After I posted news that Bill Day had allegedly used an image from Deviant Art in one of his cartoons without attribution, a reader posted a link in the comments to a Tumblr blog called That Cartoon Critic and it isn’t very kind to Bill. It’s like The Bad Cartoonist is back.

Whomever this Cartoon Critic is, he or she has amassed a collection of cartoons by Bill that appear to be mere Photoshop copies of themselves. The great thing about cartooning with lots of labels is it’s very easy to change the label and pass it off as new. It’s the epitome of lazy cartooning.

I don’t know how many of these examples represent the totality of Bill’s career. I’m sure Bill has done excellent cartooning over the years and has won over many fans and friends, but when I see stuff like this, I know I’ll never look at a Bill Day cartoon again without wondering if it’s an original.

So the lingering question in my mind is the value of the Indiegogo campaign to raise money to keep Bill drawing (Photoshopping?) for another year. Isn’t it ironic that one of the cartoons posted on the Indiegogo site to showcase Bill’s “important, progressive voice” is a rework of an earlier cartoon he did when he was syndicated through United Features Syndicate? See cartoons below.

Cartoon syndicated through Cagle Cartoons featured on Indiegogo:

Cartoon that was syndicated through United Features Syndicate:

The plea in the campaign is to “save Bill and keep an important, progressive voice in the public debate.” There are 731 donors to the campaign so far. It makes me wonder how many would still feel like his voice is as important after today’s revelations.

Community Comments

#1 Howard Tayler
January/15/2013
@ 11:59 pm

It took skill to draw the original elephant butt, the original teacup, the original wingnut elephant.

It took balls of brass to reuse those pieces like they were clip-art. With the label swapping, Bill Day has managed to reduce political cartooning to meme-generation, churning out images with the same effort required to post a lolcat.

#2 Joe Corrao
January/16/2013
@ 12:12 am

He is on a tight schedule I would suppose I cut him some slack…both are his work.

#3 Charles Brubaker
January/16/2013
@ 12:35 am

The chances are that tumblr is done by someone from SomethingAwful. They like to rag on editorial cartoonists.

#4 Anna Martina
January/16/2013
@ 6:02 am

That’s not even a “rework.” He took Photoshop, added a brightness/contrast mask layer, and called it good. That’s almost worse than the art style of “Reply All” which is so blatantly low quality I find it offensive.

#5 Nathan Rackley
January/16/2013
@ 10:47 am

Reusing artwork and art assets is one of the “tricks” used by beginning webcomic artists in order to reduce the amount of time it takes to produce a strip. Granted, those artists often aren’t working or making money off their comics and their time is limited. It is a shame, however, to see such blatant self-plagiarism (that’s the only thing I can think to call it) when it comes to a well-known pro cartoonist.

I consider self-plagiarism to be whenever an artist takes their own previously published work and tries passing it off as new or fresh work later on. Especially when the same art with minor changes is sold to two different syndicates/distributors/sites. Who owns the art/publishing rights then?

It’s one thing to use an image as reference, or to illustrate a comic that is similar to a previous one. It is something entirely different to simply copy and paste the same artwork and change a few words around.

#6 david essman
January/16/2013
@ 11:06 am

Reusing artwork and assets only works when that’s how you define the style of your strip, like Max Cannon, Get Your War On, and Dinosaur Comics.

#7 David Cohen
January/16/2013
@ 1:43 pm

When I first saw the campaign for Bill to raise money so that he could keep working, my immediate thought was, okay, that’s cool, but how about all of the OTHER editorial cartoonists that have been laid off, downsized, and forced to leave for other, paler, green pastures? Don’t they deserve to have someone start a KIckstarter or Indiegogo campaign for them, too?
And now, with the brouhaha about “self-plagiarism”, I have to wonder—-just like everything else it seems that what was once up on the pedestal, is getting pulled down by the angry or victorious mob.
Hey, that would make a great editorial cartoon!
No, wait, I think I already saw that somewhere…….

#8 Doug Bratton
January/16/2013
@ 2:17 pm

OK, I’m going to take the opposite stance on this one. (I have to acknowledge that I don’t know Bill Day, and that I haven’t read about him using DeviantArt without citation, so I’m not commenting on that – just on recycling his own gag.)
A cartoonist owns the copyright to his/her work unless s/he signs away that right. So if a cartoonist comes up with a gag and then later decides it could work with a different audience, I don’t think there is anything wrong in doing so. Magazine cartoonists, greeting card cartoonists, etc. do this all the time as part of their business model. I’m not sure that re-using (re-selling) a gag that you own the rights to is wrong or lazy, I think it’s just finding a new audience that will pay for work you’ve already done. Now, if you’re telling your client it’s new work (and it isn’t), that’s a problem. I do cringe when I hear the word “plagarism” thrown out there about someone re-using his/her own work. I don’t think that is a fair lable to apply, at least not in the instance shown here.

#9 Jim Lavery
January/16/2013
@ 2:25 pm

So? Why should that stop you?

#10 Doug Bratton
January/16/2013
@ 2:37 pm

@ Jim Lavery: The term was used earlier in the thread. Someone referred to this as “self-plagarism.” I’m saying I don’t agree with using it.

#11 Jim Lavery
January/16/2013
@ 2:51 pm

I was responding to David’s last comment.

I also disagree, it’s not the same as a magazine gag cartoonist reselling his toon to another venue in order to reach another audience as it’s the same exact work and selling it elsewhere is the equivalent of syndicating it. Here Daly is taking past works and adapting them slightly for the same markets and syndicates where they previously appeared. Being that they’re commentary on current news topics and that they’re re-engineered to reflect that, they are indeed being passed off as “new”.

#12 Mike Rhode
January/16/2013
@ 9:27 pm

I’ve met Bill once, and that’s because I was on the jury that gave him an RFK Journalism Award a few years back. That said, the reason there’s a kickstarting campaign is that he’s been out of cartooning work for years since being downsized, and was working for UPS until an injury, and most recently lost his job at a bike shop. Given that he’s trying to squeeze cartooning in as a part time job, and that Cagle rates are generally not considered high (sorry, Darryl), I think the ‘walk a mile in his shoes’ principle should be applied here.

The gun reuse in the previous story is unfortunate, and should be apologized for. Reusing your own material? I think most people do it regularly. Talks turn into magazine articles turn into books would be one example.

#13 Ann Telnaes
January/17/2013
@ 6:18 am

To follow Mike’s comment about Cagle’s rates “not considered high”, I’ll say it again:
It’s troubling that people are asked by the syndicate to donate money for a cartoonist to continue working for that syndicate, which in turn continues the cycle of editorial cartoonists being paid practically nothing for their work.

#14 David Cohen
January/17/2013
@ 8:03 am

Responding to Jim, it would stop me if I saw that someone ELSE had used that in a cartoon, not me.
I don’t have a problem with a cartoonist re-using his own artwork, reconfiguring it for a different idea or market.
And I think that Anne’s comment comes close to hitting the mark about some of my uneasiness with this whole scenario.
Irony should be what we draw, not how money is raised to keep us drawing.

#15 Mike Cope
January/17/2013
@ 8:48 am

I agree about keeping the stealing of the Deviant Art gun graphic a separate issue from recycling/reworking one’s own material.

For example, Sparky “recycled/reworked” a number of his Li’l Folks gags for Peanuts. Admittedly, he at least redrew them, though one could argue he HAD to because the cast of characters and image format were different. Still, even if Photoshop was available in the 1950’s, I believe Sparky would have redrew the art regardless.

But it’s often argued that good writing saves bad art, more than great art saves bad writing…

If we look at Bill Day’s work from an evolutionary point of view, each “new” variation of one of his own cartoons represents a further exploration of an idea — which, in itself, is a creative process. Of course, not every evolutionary step is successful. Otherwise, we’d all be Neanderthals :)

But seriously, regardless of how many times Bill Day may use the exact same elephant drawing, can each editorial cartoon be appreciated as a single piece of work that expresses a thoughtful point of view on an issue?

#16 Mike Rhode
January/17/2013
@ 9:42 am

To follow up on Ann Telnaes’ comment, I agree with her completely – but at the end of the day, there is a real human being (as she knows – I’m not indicting her) on the receiving end of the campaign and that’s why I chose to contribute.

#17 Mike Peterson
January/18/2013
@ 4:31 am

1. Recycling old material is different than returning to a previous idea. A new take on something you’ve said in the past is perfectly legitimate, but you have to make sure you are bringing a fresh perspective, not simply restating the old one, and that begins with a fresh sheet of paper and some conscious blocking out of how you did it in the past.

2. With all due respect to Bill Day, whose work I like, the idea of Kickstarter/Indie-go-go campaigns for basic funding is insupportable. I want to see “give me the money for my living expenses” followed by “… because this is how I plan to monetize it in future.” And it occurs to me that, if being syndicated on Cagle were the answer to Part Two of that, the campaign would have been unnecessary.

As to such fundraisers in general, if I support your campaign, you’re morally obligated to support mine, so we end up just passing the same $20 bill around in a circle. This is not a sustainable revenue model.

#18 Jeff Darcy
January/18/2013
@ 12:03 pm

I get Mike and Ann’s reservations about this and other
kickstarter/Indie-go-go campaigns. But in a way, aren’t
these recent campaigns for Day, Bors and Kal the modern
day version of the old patron system that used to fund the
careers,projects and lifestyle of the old master painters?

#19 Alex Hoffman
January/18/2013
@ 12:30 pm

Jeff,

I think there’s a big difference between what Kal and Bors are doing and what Day did. Kickstarter and Indiegogo have a lot of great uses. Anyone interested in making and selling a product can test the demand and raise money in the form of pre-orders. Bors and Kal both set out to publish books and both met their goals with the vast majority of pledges going toward at least buying the book. Basically kickstarter/indiegogo can act as a pre-order for products you want down the road, except that buying now ensures that the product actually exists. What Bill Day’s campaign was about was basically just begging. The emphasis was that Day needs money to save his house and that editorial cartooning (at least for Day) was not enough to live on. The funds would act as a salary for Day and he would draw 4 cartoons a week for a year, but he was already drawing 3 a week. You’re basically paying him to continue doing almost exactly what he was doing before. With the recent plagiarism and self-plagiarism scandal surrounding him, that promise might be worthless. Sure you get a book from Day too, but the purpose of the kickstarter isn’t to find funds to produce and sell a book. The money is Day’s going to be Day’s salary. It’s not a business opportunity like Bors’ or Kal’s kickstarters, it’s a charity case. Kickstarter and Indiegogo should be used for bringing ideas directly to the people and having them directly fund the project in exchange for the finished product. It shouldn’t be used for shameless ebegging and certainly shouldn’t be used for furthering plagiarism.

#20 Jeff Darcy
January/18/2013
@ 3:25 pm

Alex, I don’t disagree with you, Mike and Ann on any of that.
I put that question out for the sake of discussion.

Unless my memory is correct, Matt Bors wrote that he
had made enough that he could put out a second book and
for the first time, could give full time to his editorial cartoons
because of the money he raised. That sure sounds like
funding a book and salary for a year. I have no problem
with that. And I don’t think the people who contributed
to his campaign would either.

Is it begging or providing a product for contribution? Wether
it’s an online book,printed book, print or signed original?

In Day’s case you’ll have multiple elephant behind originals
to choose from when you order :)

#21 Matt Bors
January/18/2013
@ 5:30 pm

My campaign, and that of Kal’s, are to raise the up front costs of self-publishing a book. That has allowed me to work full time creating my comics, yes.

The Day campaign was a little different and probably wouldn’t have been approved by Kickstarter, who has stricter standards. As someone who has never had the privilege of being employed, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with relying on readers for support. It’s in how you approach it. Syndication rates decimated as they are, I may have to turn to readers again, and if I can make a living that way I see no shame in it. In fact, I take pride in having a supportive readership.

I also take pride in my work.

#22 Mike Peterson
January/18/2013
@ 10:47 pm

I supported Matt’s campaign because I wanted the book and, yeah, it cost me a little more that way, but I also wanted Matt to keep working, and publishing a collection seemed a good way for him to set up a secondary revenue stream.

At least I assume he’ll print more books than just the ones to reward his patrons and I note that he’s also working to monetize his web site. This is like fronting someone the money to put an addition on their restaurant or to add a new product line to their store.

I’ll be supporting Kal for the same reason — I like his work, I want the book, I don’t mind paying a little extra, particularly if he’s going to use it to establish a new income source.

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