Donna Barstow takes on Something Awful

New Yorker cartoonist Donna Barstow has picked a fight with Something Awful – a user forum notorious for ridicule of comics and those who make them.

From Boing Boing:

Slate cartoonist Donna Barstow railed on Monday at online forum Something Awful, whose denizens often repost her work and subject it to withering ridicule. Though one of many artists to find their work attacked online, Barstow is fighting back, demanding payment and accusing the site of copyright infringement.

“Something Awful is the most vile, hateful, racist, stealing, illegal site ever,” Barstow wrote on Twitter in a message directed at John Hendren, one of the site’s writers. “Shame on you.”

Some equate the use of Donna’s work as being fair use – a claim she rejects. She’s going full bore after the site using the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act according to Boing Boing. To get a sense as to whether you think her work (and other’s) falls under fair use, here’s a thread with much of her content and ridicule.

The whole episode has generated a lively twitter storm on the topic since Monday between Donna and fans of Something Awful. Much of it petty and mean spirited – on both sides as far as I can tell. Donna alleges in one of her tweets on Tuesday that she’s “received death threats, rape threats & calls to my work.”

Here’s a large sampling of the exchanges since Tuesday.

44 thoughts on “Donna Barstow takes on Something Awful

  1. The only thing more depressing than knowing that these people exist is the prospect of getting into a squabble with them.

    Roll up your windows and keep driving.

  2. I love those guys – they drive traffic to my site and help my numbers. 🙂

    A long time ago, I set up an email address specifically for haters to write to. I never check it. 🙂

  3. Interesting how horrified we are as a nation when a group of middle schoolers hurls insults at a grandmother schoolbus monitor but when confronted with cyber taunting, we shrug our shoulders and say “watcha gonna do? That’s the Internet for you.”

    A punk is a punk and a bully is a bully. When are we going to start standing up against this stuff?

    Ridiculing someone’s work is bad enough, threatening them and taunting them with personal attacks like “I hope you get bone cancer!” or “I hope you get raped!” is astonishing.

    The thugs on the bus are facing reprisals because they were caught on video. I don’t imagine we will ever go after these cyber bullies.


  4. I think we can respond to an incident on a school bus because it’s clearly defined, obvious and the parties are identifiable.

    I have worked in both private sector and public sector (currently) and it is clear to me that bullying is institutionalized well beyond school playgrounds and buses and now the internet. The internet is just a new vehicle.

    I hope I would clobber a bully I caught in the act of bullying. But the internet’s a major lift. It’s easier for me to focus on getting good stuff out there than to spend any amount of time authenticating the impact of haters. Hopefully, one by one, we can stop giving them an audience.

    I can see from my website reports that the aforementioned website of haters sends traffic my way. I never ever ever go to the website. I refuse to give them my click.

  5. I’m not sure my approval or disapproval matters to a bunch of psychos who spend their time sending death threats to cartoonists. I tend to doubt their ability to figure out what’s reasonable in this world.

    OKAY….having said that, back to drawing fun and funny and positive things…..let the haters hate while I churn out stuff.

  6. If the fans of SA were praising Donna Barstow’s work instead of ridiculing it, would she have pursued her claim of copyright infringement?

  7. After digging around, it seems that Ms. Barstow has complained about multiple sites that have criticized her work. Perhaps it’s the criticism that bothers her, and the infringement issue is just a way to silence her critics.

    A lot of the vitriol on Something Awful seemed to escalate after Ms. Barstow repeatedly traded insults with a small minority of losers. Trolls soon figure out which buttons to push, and they pushed all of her buttons.

    Fair use. Move on.

  8. Not only are the bullies on the bus right there in front of you, but they are subject to school discipline.

    Internet bullies are not so easy to identify and you don’t have much to hold over their heads anyway.

    As the saying goes, don’t bother to wrestle with a pig: You both get covered with mud, and the pig likes it.

  9. Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself. – Richard M. Nixon

    Arooooo! – Futurama Nixon

  10. @Donna Lewis. You don’t have any ads on your site to make money. Are you only grateful for the psycho traffic because it increases your visitor stats? That sounds like an ego thing. Why would stats that don’t include fans be of value to you?

  11. Do you enjoy watching car crashes, too, Alan? Wow, way to sensationalize, listing 100 tweets, instead of MY WEBSITE or anyplace with my CARTOONS instead of gossip.

    And along with NOT linking to me, then you go ahead and link to Something Awful! That’s just wonderful.

    What I’m doing is terribly hard, time-consuming, and upsetting. They also used my personal photos (illegal) and scribbled all over & changed my cartoons, with my own signature still on them. But I am fighting for Fair Use & Copyright for every. other. cartoonist, the same way I complain to people on Facebook who use others cartoons w/out permission, and tell every cartoonist I know if I see illegal use.

    It would have been nice to get a pat on the back, instead of this, Alan.

    Also, “petty and mean-spirited’? Really? Example?

    To answer Marc, who sounds exactly like the trolls at SA, I complain to Facebook when people link illegally to pretty, happy, funny cartoons, too. Does that help you? This is an entertainment site using several 100,000, probably millions of illegal images, which are ALL entertainment, no matter if they laugh or scorn. It’s also a pay site, which pays its writers very well.

    In any case, I finally had to take down all my sites tonight, as they were stealing everything. One of my sites has been up for 12 years. Boy, I cried about that. SA said they scraped every one of my sites & put it in the vault, & so are other places, 4chan, etc.

    I would say more, but I don’t trust Alan’s objectivity right now. Thanks for the kind remarks, Mike & Anne.

  12. I’m a troll because I don’t support your arguments. Mike and Anne aren’t trolls because they do. It’s easier to have only two camps of people, I guess.

  13. Donna B:

    As a reporter, I covered any number of car crashes for the simple reason that they were news and it was my job to report the news.

    You’re getting a lot of sympathy from people who wouldn’t have any idea that this was going on if Alan hadn’t done his job and reported it.

    If you enjoy picking fights with trolls and idiots, knock yourself out. But you might consider going easy on your friends and allies.

  14. Your talent and career success speaks for itself. Soak up all the publicity. You’ve got their time and attention regardless and are making an impact. Keep cashin’ the checks…and like dear mother always said, “It’s no biggy.”

  15. I would have to look at every example of her cartoons on that site to tell whether or not any laws have been broken.

    Basically it works like this: If a site posts a cartoon they don’t own and it’s there simply to fill content, then it’s stealing.
    If the site, for example that WTF cartoons and Editorial Explanations, runs a cartoon with criticism, comments, descriptions, debate, etc…that’s fair use.

    In the instances when sites ACTUALLY do steal work, all you can really do is request they stop. I know it’s not fair. But what are you going to do with a lawsuit? Hire a lawyer and sue them for $20? If you’re syndicated, just alert them about theft and let them handle it. That’s part of their job. Your job is to draw cartoons.

    If you want to pursue a lawsuit, then it seems you can do so without engaging them in an online trade of insults. For the most part, that just seems like a waste of time and you can’t fight pigs without getting dirty.

    Personally, I don’t mind when people insult my work and when I find a site criticizing my work, I repost it on facebook and twitter. It’s like someone said a long time ago, “just make sure they spell your name correctly.”

    Donna, you have every right to not like this. But this is a fight you can’t win. Not professionally or publicly. This is a fight that can only ruin your reputation. I would cease and desist.

  16. You probably should just ignore it because trying to pick an internet fight with people who don’t like your work (and make fun of it, and post your images with Fair Use) is an exercise in futility.

    Also your comics are awful. Hope this helps.

  17. Anyone who uses “Shame on you” in a battle of insults will lose. Every. frickin. time.

  18. It’s important to note that Ms. Barstow started this particular kerfuffle by tweeting an unrelated writer at SA saying “Something Awful is the most vile, hateful, racist, stealing, illegal site ever”, completely unprovoked and apropos of absolutely nothing. You don’t get to cry and be the sympathetic one after jamming a stick into a wasp nest. Especially not when you keep whacking that nest over and over when the wasps come out.

  19. It should be mentioned that Ms. Barstow’s cartoons were originally posted in a thread that consisted of people posting really bad editorial/political cartoons (it fit in quite well).

    Also, she’s pretty much full of it regarding threats, etc. On the forums itself, someone would be banned for that sort of thing. Calling someone racist for creating racist cartoons isn’t exactly a baseless insult. She probably doesn’t even realize why the cartoons in question are racist, though.

    One was of an Obama chia pet, where the only “joke” that it could possibly be trying to make is that Obama has funny hair. “Funny hair” in this case being “the hair that black people have.” Because clearly good/normal hair is the straight hair that white people have. It’s this type of racism that many Americans aren’t even aware is racist in the first place.

  20. Too bad Donna B. didn’t take lessons from Matthew Inman. I hope she’s learned a few things — at the very least, WHAT NOT TO DO.

  21. I don’t know which Something Awful you guys have been looking at, but the one I’ve been seeing has not sent death threats, and while happy to deliver insults, also has a lot of very intelligent adults delivering intelligent critiques. The thing about SA, like a lot of large internet forums (including 4chan), is that there isn’t one unified forum culture, and it’s dishonest to make generalizations about the whole thing.

    Also, if you look at the cartoons reposted in the thread for critique, you’ll find that there are an awful lot of political cartoonists who are much more like the image of immature middle schoolers some of the commenters here are trying to paint. The Debate & Discussion SA crowd is also about a million times better than the people who post in the comment threads of any given mainstream news outlet or popular political blog.

    Barstow meanwhile has been nothing but abrasive and obnoxious in trying to defend her comics with lousy art and nonsensical writing. As awful as they are, the likes of Ramirez and Branco at least coherently convey their tasteless ideas, even as they make Obama look like more and more of a horrible mutant.

  22. I’m glad Ms. Barstow has at least enough self-awareness to recognize that this is a car crash. Too bad she doesn’t realize it is of her own creation.

    Her comics were never represented as anyone else’s for profit, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would want to be accused of “drawing” those “comics”. Accusing someone of imaginary crimes is a better case for defamation than calling someone who draws racist “comics” a racist.

  23. I have an interesting history with Something Awful. I noticed a few ‘My Cage’ fans on there so I set up a post to talk to anyone who wanted to. Complaints or not.

    I avoided the ‘Mega-thread’ because that was people having fun bashing comics, and I thought I would ‘Vanilla Ice’ the joint up.

    Eventually I posted on the comic strip ‘Mega-thread’ after being invited a few times. It was ok. They hated on ‘My Cage’ but I was ok with that. That’s when things got weird.

    One of the posters and I were discussing why he hated the strip. And then we had what I (and I think, he) thought was a pleasant enough conversation about how I thought some of what he said was factually incorrect. The all of a sudden these other posters started complaining I was ‘yelling’ at him (not the poster himself, we just agreed to disagree). 😀

    I ended up stopping posting there because people were complaining about my answering the questions one at a time instead of doing one big post to everybody who had written me from when I’d last signed in. I didn’t have time to coordinate that at the time, so I stopped posting instad of eating up thread space.

    Later, though when I came back I did a ‘Hey Haters, My Cage is on gocomics’ post, and it got me banned. 😀 😀 😀

    Sorry. It just surprises me how THEY were oversensitive twice with me. 🙂

    Anyway, that’s me.

    My overall opinion is that these sites are perfectly ok. I mean, if you’re a creator reading them can suck, but don’t read them then. This is not different then what people would’ve been saying about stuff before the interent, you just didn’t know it back then. These boards are the new lunch rooms of the world (or where ever people used to discuss their hobbies before social networking).

    Legally though, I do see where there can be some problem if it’s a for profit board that isn’t paying the strip.

    To me there has to be a differentiation between ‘lunchroom’ discussion boards and boards that are making profit off repeatedly posting the same copyrighted work.

    How? I dunno. I’m not bright enough to answer that. 🙂

    But I do agree things are handled differently by creators based on if a site is negative or positve about there strip. I think negative sites get ‘Cease and Desist’ legal documents, and postive sites get ‘Hey, could you…’ e-mails.

    People do have the right to comment on art put out for public display/profit and they can do it as rudely or as politely as they want. They always have been. You (the creators) are just able to look it up and read it now.

    Oh, and obviously if there are actual death threats, they should be handled as such, but if someone does something like ‘wishes you cancer’, sadly someone on every mb digs that one up these days. It’s like people calling other people Nazi’s when they disagree with you. It’s and ugly part of the internet, but sadly it’s here to stay as long as people are just trying to be ‘loud’ and shock you into submission instead of actually debating with well thought out arguements. You can argue if you want, but in the end you can’t change stupid. 🙁

  24. I typed Donna’s name into Google. The auto complete puts the word “racist” after her name before the option of “cartoonist”.

    Fighting a large group of people on the internet is not only a waste of time, it damages your rep.

    I don’t see how it’s “fair use” to get the actual font a cartoonist uses and change the content. There’s a ton of that. I don’t get caption contests either, though. If you’re that creative, just make your own stuff instead bastardizing something else.

  25. @Ed Power. Not only was your post a thread-killer, it was boring and I got nothing out of it. I had high hopes, though. I don’t read your comic, but I like your attitude.

  26. Ed – I appreciate your comments. Sorry you got banned – did you call people out or were you as calm and collected as you are here? You seem pretty reasonable and well-informed. On the off-chance that Ms Barstow comes back, do you think you could suggest some places she could get better informed about fair use, copyright, and Generally Being A Pretty Laid Back And Chill Individual?

  27. @ Sharkey,

    Oh, I would never go back to Something Awful for one reason: A fan sent me an e-mail around when ‘My Cage’ was cancelled and said the rumor or whatever was that I went crazy on everyone and, like, had a nervous breakdown or something.

    Whatever it remember being, like, “Wow. That is SSSOOO much more bad ass then what actually happened!” So if that is true about said rumor, I’d like to leave it that way. It’s much cooler. 😀 😀 😀 I mean, I doubt I ever come up actually, but just in case I’d like to seem bad ass for once in my life. 😉

  28. @Ed:
    Just to clarify, by the sound of it you got banned that second time because SA doesn’t appreciate posts that are simply self-promotion. Being such a high-profile site, they get a lot of people signing up solely to shill their work without engaging the community, so the moderators can come down pretty hard on what they perceive as that.

    Also I can’t help but think that if Ms. Barstow had just followed ordinary procedure and sent a cease-and-desist or something, things would’ve gone much better for her than just taking to Twitter to hurl invective. Sure, she’d still be mocked for it, but nowhere near as hard or as long as she has been. The worst part? Pretty much everyone on the forums had forgotten she even existed until this incident. It’s really hard to imagine how she could have gone about this in a worse fashion.

  29. Oh, and would Ms. Barstow like to take a look at this example (, which is entirely in line with her attempts at dealing with this so far, and explain exactly how it is that *SA* are the ones doing the bullying?

  30. Ed, it should be obvious by now that you are not a threadkiller. However, in reading your views, it IS clear that you are in fact a Nazi.

    Good day.sir.

  31. @ Jim, LOL! You forgot to wish cancer on me. 🙂 Actually maybe everyone should just start wishing Nazi-cancer on each other.

  32. I was thinking though, I never heard of Ms. Barstow until this story, at which point I googled her, and even went to her website. This could all be just a really well thought out peice of free publicity.

  33. I’m a long-time poster in the SA newspaper comics megathread, and while I never heard of the Donna Barstow kerfuffle (I don’t follow the political cartooning threads or whatever subforum that happened in) I do remember Ed Powers’ appearance in the comics megathread.

    I don’t have any opinion on Ed’s comics myself, but the disagreements and subsequent banning really had nothing to do with comics-related opinions, and everything to do with basic forum etiquette. On a forum the size of SA, the moderators can’t be expected to give anyone a free pass just because they’re a cartoonist. We have plenty of professional cartoonists who post there, and like any other poster, they’ll fit right in as long as they’re prepared to put in the usual amount of time scoping out HOW to post before they start joining in the conversations there.

    This happens on absolutely every properly moderated forum. It’s just online etiquette 101. Some places have a much higher tolerance for lolspeak, bad spelling, flooding a page with multiple single-sentence posts instead of combining it into one, or whatever situation.

    Sometimes a ban is a teachable moment for the poster and they come back, adjust their posting style, and do well.

  34. BTW: In my original post here, I said I originally stopped posting on SA because the posters were annoyed at how I was answering posts one by one, and then got banned when I returned months later due to a self-promoting post, and now 2 diffrent SA readers have ‘argued’ with me that…well, that tha is how I got banned. So you’ve actually both agreed with me.

    However, before any of that, the SA posters besides the one I was actually talking to, were actually saying I was yellling at him and attacking people for doing nothing but talking. I was even a good sport about all the hate.

    Then after I self promoted the moderator sent me an e-mail saying I wasn’t talented enough to self-promote there. 😀 😀 😀

    Then I heard form a ‘My Cage’ reader that the rumor after I left was I had a nervous breakdown about the hate and went nuts on everyone there.

    The posters there are the ones who seem to want everything to be about me being angry, not me. Although I do now because it’s much coller then stories like “I dicuseed why we used comic-sans for the first yeaar of the strip”. If it’s true, I’m actually happy I have a repuatation of being some kind of crazied, delusional, mad man. I actually hope it is true. 😀

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