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Cartoonists respond to the copying Crimson cartoonist (UPDATED)

The story that I covered yesterday regarding the Harvard Crimson editorial cartoonist Kathleen Breeden that was fired for alleged plagiarism is getting some national attention in some big newspapers. The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and the New York Sun are just a few of the papers to report on the incident.

Reaction from the cartoonists that were copied varied. Here are their response that I culminated from various news reports:

Walt Handelsman has noted that the cartoons do look familiar but has declined to comment any further on what appropriate action should be taken.

Steve Breen has maintained that:

because Breeden is a student, she should be held to a different standard, though not absolved of responsibility. “When people are young they make mistakes, they do stupid things,” Breen said. “So if she’s guilty of plagiarism, she should be given a second chance.”

Daryl Cagle accuses the Crimson editor of a lack of spine and that Breeden should be coached not canned:

The Harvard cartoonist should not be fired. The cartoonist and her editor should be taken into the publisher’s office and told to stop the group-think. The cartoonist should be instructed to emphasize topics of interest to Harvard students. The cartoonist should be instructed to draw in a square or vertical format, and encouraged to draw local cartoons, and to use more words or multiple panels, and to develop a unique style and voice. The editor should be instructed to make a unique contribution as well, by not looking to fit his contributors into the same aesthetic box that he sees in Newsweek, the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald; he should be instructed to be accepting of ideas and presentations that have strong opinions with a different and distinctive look and voice.

What to do you say? Did the Crimson overreact or was Breeden’s case handled appropriately?

UPDATE: Daryl has posted some responses that he’s received from other cartoonists on the matter. Matt Davies agrees with Daryl that the cartoonist needs more guidance. Jimmy Margulies wrote in with a strong objection to Daryl’s position:

I must take strong exception to Daryl Cagle’s explaining away the blatant plagiarism by the Harvard cartoonist as similar to when professional cartoonists come up with similar cartoons. Her work was done after each of the previously created cartoons, and the fact that there were several done within a short time frame by one individual tells me this is not a coincidence.

If professional cartoonists come up with similar ideas working independently, this is a legitimate coincidence. If the cartoons of one creator consistently mimic those of work done before, that is intentional copying.

Trying to please editors who want a certain cartoon is irrelevant. I have seen people plagiarize Paul Conrad, who is not a gag cartoonist. Stealing an idea is stealing, period.

Those of us in the profession who work hard to do creative, individual work should get credit for being unique and not yield to those who rationalize such abhorrent behavior by saying a lot of cartoons look similar.

We may be too polite to say it, but we all know who is doing original work, and who is not.

I have to agree with Jimmy on this one. As I explain in the comments section, this artist’s infraction was a repeated several times – not an oversight made under pressure of a deadline. Also on Cagle’s blog is a letter written in from another cartoonist, Nick Batter, at the Crimson who maintains that Breeden had been copying cartoons from the beginning of the school year.

UPDATE #2: E&P reports that Breeden has only been removed from her position as editorial cartoonist, but may continue to do illustrations and other artwork for the paper. She may also re-apply for the editorial cartoonist position next semester.

Community Comments

#1 Shane
October/31/2006
@ 11:14 am

I think Daryl hit the nail on the head. If guilty, I agree Breeden needs more insight and instruction on the subject at hand- NOT a pink slip.

#2 Alan
October/31/2006
@ 11:29 am

I’ve swung back and forth on this issue. On the one hand the college environment should be one that has more leniency to allow for growth and overcoming immature decisions – but then again she was fired for two cases of copying, but there were FOUR cartoons total that were suspect. This doesn’t seem like a one-time lapse of judgement, but something that was habitual. If so, she deserved what was handed down.

That said, even if she was able to continue – she’s got a heck of a handicap. Every cartoon that she produced for that school is now suspect and even if she comes up with an idea that is completely her own – if it is similar to another published cartoon who’s going to believe her?

#3 Shane
November/2/2006
@ 1:38 pm

Has Breeden made any statements about this copying charge?

#4 Alan
November/2/2006
@ 1:59 pm

All of the news reports I read earlier this week when the story broke said that she was declining interviews. If I find a story with a quote, I’ll post it.

#5 Greg R. Gibson
January/13/2008
@ 4:04 pm

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