It’s election time in Canada and with it comes a golden period of time when satirists are busy skewering the very folks begging for our votes. Social media websites and apps have enabled anyone with a political sense the ability to satirize and join a realm once dominated mostly by newspaper columnists and editorial cartoonists. One doesn’t have to search far on the world wide web to find altered zinger photos of well known celebrities or politicians meant to mock them. Some are hilarious and great, some not so much. In almost every case these funnies often have no source and there is never any credit given to the author or photographer whose work was used in the humor.
Increasingly, the satirical value of editorial cartoons are being re-posted on social media by individuals or action groups determined to score points against political opponents. Because we cartoonists sign these cartoons with our monikers the source citations are automatic. Based on the number of shares, retweets and re-postings that editorial cartoons generally receive online it isn’t hard to argue that the Internet has boosted this form of satire immensely and kept their shelf life going way longer compared to when audiences only read them on newsprint. Which leads us naturally to the 21th century lament that if only each artist/musician were paid for each time their work was viewed/heard online, we’d live in a perfect world, but let’s leave that discussion for another time. By in large, sharing editorial cartoons is encouraged by cartoonists. It keeps the art form relevant and very much alive, and even though compensation is low or non-existent, artists hope that eventually a fair pricing system will be worked out sometime in the not so distant future.
I make it very easy to share my work since I post cartoons to this site, on Facebook, on Twitter. My newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, post them to spec.com, and my syndicate Artizans.com post them for sale on its site, and then numerous newspapers and aggregators will pick up my cartoons and re-post to theirs. So after one cartoon has been uploaded to the internet it gets duplicated many multiple times as it’s sent out in various directions without any of the artist’s control thereafter.
Eventually, some of those orphaned copies end up in the dark recesses of the cyber sewer when they appear on the screens of dubious characters nicely stereotyped as social misfit adults living in the basements of their mothers, and clad only in their underwear with their photo apps busy chopping away. That’s the picture I began to see of the person I had brief encounter with on Twitter with an account that goes by @HarpersGotaGo (@HGG).
Editorial cartoonists, like me, have been performing some voluntary service for our craft by policing the rising popularity of sharing editorial cartoons on the Internet. Those who rip off other cartoonists ideas are monitored, and those who alter cartoons to fit their own agenda are immediately called out. It’s quite easy to pin down authentic work from anonymous satirists based on their propensity to use the font Comic Sans, as this Washington Post story points out. Here’s a recent example of a Bob Englehart cartoon on the June 2015 Confederate flag controversy that was altered by a group celebrating the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold marriage equality – perhaps for noble intent to get a message out, but a definite no-no since permission was never granted by the artist.
When @HGG, whose true identity remains a mystery, tweeted me a cartoon that was so obviously reworded with the moniker of the artist erased out an alarm bell went off in my head. The cartoon had the familiar style of Malcolm Mayes, longtime editorial cartoonist at the Edmonton Journal. I called the account holder out on it and then he/she got lippy. Further inspection of @HGG’s photo archive found various examples of unauthorized hatchet jobs on cartoons by Tim Dolighan, Patrick LaMontagne, Greg Perry, Steve Nease, and recent National Newspaper Award winning cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon from the Halifax Chronicle Herald. One thing editorial cartoonists have in common is the keen ability to tell one cartoonist’s style from another even when the moniker is rubbed out. For the record, none of my work was posted, intact or altered.
Then I was blocked, as were the other cartoonists I cc’d and whose work was altered without permission.
It’s ironic that the account holder @HGG, who has every right to satirize the Prime Minister for unethical behavior, proves to have his/her own unethical behavior by plagiarizing the true foot soldiers of Canadian satire. Some may ask why bother paying attention to this character, he/she doesn’t have much of a following, but the account holder seems to have no problem allowing these altered copies to remain on their photo feed making them available to whomever wants to retweet them. Shame on @HGG, and if anything @HarpersGotaGosGotaGo.
Update – Despite being reported to Twitter administration by several affected cartoonists nothing has been done to discipline @HarpersGotaGo (@HGG). Reporting, and indeed this blog entry would not have even been necessary were it not for @HGG’s passive reaction to being called out for altering editorial cartoons and his/her stubborn refusal to remove the above examples. Usually, when I politely point out unauthorized altered cartoons people are generally apologetic, and take the offending images down, and everyone moves on. Not @@HGG! It’s like a virtual staring contest, and admittedly it has become personal. Yes, the above images were finally cleared from the archives after the public shaming began, and there has been an attempt by @HarpersGotoGo to create original content (despite poor spelling and grammar – see right). Yet, even a week later, after being called out, the icon bearing a drawing of Stephen Harper by Malcolm Mayes remains on this account (cropped from one of these cartoons), and I’ve been labelled a troll for persisting in the shaming by this obstinate character. Another twitter user was threatened by @@HGG to have his computer hacked into for daring to call the plagiarism out. Meanwhile, @HGG tweets continue to rail against the evil Prime Minister, while paying no mind to the unethical reuse of intellectual property. We could all do cartoonists a favour by schooling this individual and his/her blind followers on Twitter. Thanks to websites like the Daily Cartoonist, the message is getting out.
Update, Oct 2017: RIP @HarpersGotaGo. It was renamed Justin’sPromise after Harper’s Conservatives lost in the 2015 election and the Twitter handle appears to be abandoned. The last tweet being sent out Feb 8, 2016.
— CRNI (@CRNetInt) August 15, 2015
Graeme MacKay exposes Twitter account altering cartoons for political purposes http://t.co/RSQvsqsQG5
— Alan Gardner (@dailycartoonist) August 14, 2015