Q&A: Great Minds…?
Q.: I have been making comics for about five years and I’ve run into a problem that I imagine most cartoonist’s struggle with: Realizing that your idea, may in fact, have already been done on The Simpsons. Or Penny Arcade. Or Achewood. Or Somewhere else.
Recently, I went through my entire archives and noticed that there were handful of comics with themes or punchlines similar to other creator’s work. I would never purposely plagiarize anyone’s content; however, subconsciously something must have slipped through the cracks. Ultimately, I became somewhat obsessed and end up redoing the “problem” comics in my archives because I felt really, REALLY uncomfortable with them. I’ve seen my work get ripped off before, ranging from general ideas all the way to stolen punchlines word for word (I have four or five thousand readers, so I assume this is normal?)
Just curious how a creator handles two problems
1. What do you do when you look back and realize you’ve accidentally appropriate someone’s idea?
2. What do you do when others rip you off?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’d like to suggest this topic for a WW podcast, since I think it’s a common problem for cartoonists.
This is something that recently was pointed out in my own comic.
…and with a Webcomics.com member no less!
For the record, Graham’s was first.
You asked two questions. First, how do you handle it when you realize that you’ve used a gag that someone else has already used. And second, how do you handle it when someone uses a gag that similar to something that you’ve done.
And, really, they’re both the same question. Because at the heart of it, you have to realize that so much of our humor is based on the language itself — idioms, cliches, figures of speech, homonyms, etc. — that it only stands to reason that a number of humorists are going to mine the same cliche (in this case, “school of hard knocks”) and come up with similar results.
So, the answer to the first question is simple: If you’ve found that you had written a similar gag as someone else, accept that this sort of thing happens. Assuming that the convergence is an innocent one, enjoy the knowledge that great minds sometimes do think alike.
Which, of course, leads you to the second question — handling a situation in which someone else treads a little close to your own path. Knowing that this sometimes happens, I think you have to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, if you see a pattern emerge — the same cartoonist seems to “think alike” with your great mind repeatedly — or if there’s an outright rip-off in presentation or design, then you’re faced with something a little more serious than an innocent overlapping of thought processes.
I think a polite note to the other cartoonist, pointing out that you’ve noticed that this seems to keep happening, is a good first step towards at least setting the other artist on notice that his swiping is not going unnoticed and that continued thought-theft is going to be outed.