As many of you may already know, I’ve always emphasized the significance of satire and the purpose behind editorial cartoons. Today, I’d like to address a common misconception that I often come across, especially from one-time visitors who leave snarky comments under editorial cartoons, claiming that “the left can’t meme.” Let’s take a moment to clarify some important points.
Firstly, it’s essential to recognize that the statement “the left can’t meme” is a sweeping generalization. Both the left and the right, as well as people from various political backgrounds, are capable of creating memes and sharing humour online.
Memes are typically characterized by their adaptability and may use existing content in new and creative ways. While this versatility can lead to some content being shared without proper attribution, it doesn’t mean that all memes lack originality or proper sourcing.
Editorial cartoons, on the other hand, are unique artworks created by talented illustrators who put their signature on their work. These cartoons are intended to provide commentary and insight into current events, often using humour to make a point.
My cartoon before it became meme-ified
While memes and editorial cartoons may share visual elements, it’s important to appreciate their distinct purposes and creation processes. Memes can spread rapidly across the internet due to their relatability and humour, whereas editorial cartoons are crafted to deliver thought-provoking messages and are shared with the understanding that they won’t be altered.
In the spirit of responsible content sharing, let’s remember the importance of proper attribution and citation for all forms of content, including memes and editorial cartoons.
Let’s remember that memes and editorial cartoons serve different purposes and shouldn’t be compared directly. Let’s foster a respectful and thoughtful online environment by acknowledging the creativity and value behind both forms of content. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out the Wikipedia page on memes.
Thank you for your continued support, and let’s spread awareness about the nuances of online content creation with a bold understanding:
A cartoon I drew for the very day the World Health Organization declared the infection spread of COVID-19 global pandemic on March 11, 2020, has gone through a series of modifications and additions. Two tsunamis perilously heading towards a city symbolizing Canada with waves representing COVID-19 and recession, were soon joined by bigger scares including Climate Change and Biodiversity Collapse. The evolution has been fuelled by the thoughtfulness of people from around the world who have either suggested modifications on social media or sketched in new waves with my attention included. It illustrates important discussions on serious issues confronting humanity and the chronological changes has made this illustration my most shared image ever.
But, like so many images cartoonists offered up to the Internet, dark forces are at the ready armed with design software to butcher artists work and memes-ify them to serve their appetites for likes and retweets. Just as egregious to discover signed cartoons reworded to suit partisan stances effectively turning satire into propaganda, is the removal of monikers and the extraction of intellectual property. We learn as children not to do this when we hand in assignments for school and that we should always source words borrowed from others. Why is it when theft of imagery that’s turned into memes is taken so passively?
Tiger Sugar was not given permission readapt the messaging
Along comes a post on Instagram where an account run under the banner of a big international bubble tea chain called Tiger Sugar used this image to promote franchise expansion. A glance through the account shows an endless scroll of not so witty memes mixed with photos of their swirly brown syrup concoctions aimed at a younger smart phone addicted set. A message was left under the post requesting removal of the altered image. As of the time of this writing the post remains and thereby grants Tiger Sugar bestowal of recognition into the pantheon of intellectual property thieves, better known as the Social Media Jackasses.
Click to enlarge this unsightly meme
In researching this company one came across this unfortunate meme portraying it as one which serves effluent to its customers. How rude! To suggest this is where Tiger Sugar extracts its syrup is outrageous! Shame on whomever used imagery from this company without authorization to sully its messaging with such obvious contempt to use and discredit a popular brand. Ridiculous!
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday March 11, 2020
Economic Prescription for Coronavirus: ‘You’ve Got to Go Fast’
The government can’t prevent the coronavirus from damaging the U.S. Economy.
February 28, 2020
The usual tools that economic policymakers rely on, like tax cuts and stimulus spending, won’t restore canceled conferences, unclog supply chains or persuade wary consumers to go out to bars and restaurants. Even if such policies would help, they conflict with the advice of health officials who are urging “social distancing” to slow the spread of the virus.
But that doesn’t mean policymakers are powerless. Economists say well-designed programs could limit the damage and help ensure a quick rebound.
President Trump said Monday that he would meet with congressional leaders to discuss a “very substantial” payroll tax cut and other measures. Many economists are skeptical of that approach, arguing that a payroll tax cut would be too small and too poorly targeted to be of much help.
June 28, 2018
Instead, they recommended a variety of other steps, some narrowly aimed at addressing the outbreak and some intended to bolster the broader economy. One lesson from the last recession is that the government has to move quickly.
“You’ve got to go big, and you’ve got to go fast,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve staff member who is now director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a left-leaning research organization. “If you don’t go fast, you’re not going to short-circuit it.”
Here are some forms that such intervention could take: 1) Fight the disease. 2) Cushion the blow. 3) Stimulate the broader economy. 4) What about payroll taxes? (Continued: NYTimes)
CHRONOLOGY OF A CARTOON GONE VIRAL
This particular editorial cartoon has gone through several modifications than the original one published above on March 11, 2020, the day the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. The original double wave cartoon received attention around the world and was modified, rather crudely, with adaptations made to my Canada flag, and translations squeezed in to replace my English “be sure to wash your hands and all will be well.” Some of the changes were done fairly well. Some of the people behind the alterations took the time to ask for permission to do so, and preserved my moniker, while others did not.
Nettuno 1958 – 5 aprile 2020
Here’s a version drawn with credit for audiences in Mexico. Found on Twitter on account @adn40 and shared March 25, 2020:
Another adaptation done for audiences in France. Website called, Acheter en Espagne: Le meilleur site sur l’immobilier en Espagne pour la clientиle francophone.
If only I got a penny for everywhere this cartoon landed I’d be rich!
Possibly my most shared, cropped, and altered cartoon ever.
A crude repurposed image showing a third wave, with my moniker cropped out, appeared in wide circulation on various social media platforms in May, 2020. It appears someone with some knowledge of image editing software duplicated the recession wave, added a third wave by colouring it rather fluorescent green and replacing the wording to climate change. In doing so unfortunately, my signature, or moniker as cartoonists call it, was deleted out. It was on its way to being meme-ified – unsourced and unsigned, the bane of editorial cartooning. I believe the flag in the above example is Argentina’s.
Meanwhile, a hemisphere over in the UK, someone revised the Argentinian version, and replaced the label recession with “Brexit”. Look closely and one will note the Union Jack flies atop the Palace of Westminster! Credit goes to Twitter account RRI Tools for pointing this out in June, 2020 with this tweet.
I thought these ideas behind modification were pretty good ones, but the crop jobs weren’t so great, and the flag of Argentina only caused confusion on an idea that could work for anyone around the world. So it was then that I decided to remove the flag and create an authorized version bearing my signature. Here it is:
Originally drawn for March 11, 2020. Revised May 23, 2020.
But it seems someone else in another corner of the planet, Ricardo Hurtubia, a teacher from Santiago, Chile, had added a third wave as early as April 4! Good on him for keeping my moniker in there. News to me by the time July rolled around:
con mis fantásticas habilidades para Power Point, he logrado esta obra de arte luego de un día entero de trabajo
(broma ?, pero el mensaje de fondo va en serio?) pic.twitter.com/qPrmSaneRy
In September, 2020, this beautiful hand drawn rendering was flagged by someone in Venezuela on Twitter. This is an example of the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Thank you Alejandro!
Not long after the above tweet was posted, an anonymous twitter account holder going by the name of Cilantrófago, posted a re-adapted image in Spanish that cleaned up Mr. Hurtubia’s, somewhat, adding a 4th wave. His major failing, however, is chopping out my moniker, and unfortunately, for Cilantrófago, he or she qualifies as a Social Media Jackass.
In mid June, I was included in a tweet sent out by David Obura, a director of Cordio, East Africa, a marine ecosystem consultancy based in Mombasa, Kenya. He’s also a scientist with the Earth Commission. A 4th wave had been added as a further warning regarding the effects of climate change on the world’s ecology. He isn’t actually the person who added the “biodiversity collapse”, but liked what he saw and sent it out. The re-adapted version is quite a good one, with a thought provoking message, the lettering is close enough to my own, and the image retains my moniker. Thumbs up, but I would like to know who the person is behind the re-adaptation.
The readapted readapted version of the cartoon became the centre piece of a demonstration with a Samba Band on Paignton Promenade (in Torbay, Devon, England) Sunday afternoon, August 30, 2020 with the “Four Waves Banner” shown below and paraded by the Green Spirits group:
In April 2023, the banner lead a parade and was carried to Parliament Square in front of Westminster Palace in London during a weekend of massive protests called “the Big One” on the climate crisis.
Organizers of another protest march in the UK wished to use the same image in public. An artist acquaintance of the environmental organization leader kindly asked if it was okay for him to design his own commissioned rendering of the image on wood measuring 8 by 4 feet. Happy to help a fellow artist on the other side of the planet the nod was given (though, as always, the artist deserved more compensation.)
Tweet from Nov 10. 2021
Then it ended up along the banks of the River Clyde during the gathering of the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. This tweet informed me of it’s location on Nov. 10, 2021.
Enchanted by the passion of the Green Spirits, and after receiving more licensing permission to use the 4 waves, I decided to update the cartoon to include the biodiversity collapse wave. The caption bubble was also enlarged, and my moniker was placed in the top corner.
Dr. Madhu Pai, MD and McGill University Professor and Canada Research Chair of Epidemiology & Global Health convinced me to tweak the illustration a bit to advance his concerns of conditions such as TB, HIV, malaria, maternal health, etc. that have become worse due to COVID-19 and lockdowns.
As of Autumn 2020, according to google image search, there are more than 1680 posts of these variations across the Internet on various social media platforms and websites.
Finally and noteworthy is an overriding subject going beyond the pandemic, Healthcare distress, the economy, Brexit, Climate Change, war …the end of the world, it’s the chronology of this cartoon as a meme.
“There’s a difference between using a familiar symbol and copying someone else’s cartoon, and, while some asked for permission and credited him, others did not. It’s a common experience for cartoonists in this Ctl-C, Ctl-V world, and MacKay’s analysis is excellent.”
Who knows how much, from Finland, Svante Suominen’s effort using the illustration to promote #SavePondHockey helped his cause which he asked in a Twitter exchange, our group fights “climate change by organizing outdoor hockey tournaments and donating the profits to climate campaigns / action. We’d love to use a quickly hacked image that is based on your idea and design work as a featured image in our blog. Would that be OK for you?” He was given clearance to do so, merely for having the decency to ask.
Like so many images cartoonists offered up to the Internet, dark forces are at the ready armed with design software to butcher artists work and memes-ify them to serve their appetites for likes and retweets. Just as egregious to discover signed cartoons reworded to suit partisan stances effectively turning satire into propaganda, is the removal of monikers and the extraction of intellectual property. We learn as children not to do this when we hand in assignments for school and that we should always source words borrowed from others. Why is it when theft of imagery that’s turned into memes is taken so passively?
On April 27 2021, a supportive follower made me aware of a new adaptation with the logo of Extinction Rebellion attached to it. The new image shows a different rendering of the waves with a couple of labels changed. Extinction Rebellion is a global environmental movement that has its roots in the UK and has captured the attention in recent months for huge non-violent rallies and civil disobedience against governments not doing enough to fight climate change and prevent the inevitable ecological extinction. It has been very successful in raising awareness and is influencing similar movements around the world. It is, however, not without criticism, with charges of being extremist, classist, and short-sighted with regards to diversity. In 2019, eight ER protesters made fools of themselves when they took their demonstration to the London Underground and disrupted an evening commute for thousands of transit users by unfurling a banner on the roof of a subway car. Respect for the work of artists seems to be another one of Extinction Rebellion’s shortcomings. It is ironic indeed that an organization called Extinction Rebellion has made my connection to my own design extinct with this:
Over a number of years, responding to people responsible for repurposing creative content has revealed interesting personality characteristics. Most people will realize they’ve done wrong, remove the vandalized content, and apologize.
Junked up nonsense found on Twitter. Zero likes, zero retweets, zero idea.
Some won’t respond at all. Others will reply, and dig in their heels with claims that it’s some kind of human right to screen grab someone’s work online, alter it, and repost it as they deem fit. What compels people to modify visual work may be a genuine expression of support adding ones own thought to a message. Well meaning perhaps, as in the case of the DIY art restorer who, in 2012, decided to fix Ecce Homo, a fresco painted by Elías García Martínez in a church in Borja, Spain, but who was roundly condemned and mocked for the results. Or, it may just be a narcissist’s lack of thoughtfulness by co-opting imagery to communicate a message unrelated to the intent of the creator of the image. Several of the worst cases have been called out as the Social Media Jackasses for their bad behaviour.
Along comes a post on Instagram where an account run under the banner of a big international bubble tea chain called Tiger Sugar used the image below to promote franchise expansion. A glance through the account shows an endless scroll of not so witty memes mixed with photos of their swirly brown syrup concoctions aimed at a younger smart phone addicted set. A message was left under the post requesting removal of the altered image. As of the time of this writing the post remains and thereby grants Tiger Sugar bestowal of recognition into the pantheon of intellectual property thieves.
Tiger Sugar was not given permission readapt the messaging
Noted is this eerily similar looking version found on this page on a site called EcoMatcher. They aren’t based in any particular country but whether the renderer knew it or not, that’s pretty much exactly what I drew in the very first version (posted at the top of this page) to represent Canada, from the rockies in the west to the Toronto skyline in the east. Seems the readapters of the image had a pretty good idea of the original cartoon’s chronology. It bears a striking resemblance to Svante’s rendering above.
Finally, From GreenMoveID, an environmental organization in Indonesia that shared this modification in November, 2020. For non-English speaking countries it’s important to get the message out, and frankly this rendering is beautifully done, and good for them for the credit:
If we all let our guard down, it could be that the Covid-19 Pandemic is actually the opening before a bigger disaster comes. The government must think further ahead in making policies to tackle this pandemic. GreenMoveID (Indonesia) posted this on Nov. 9, 2020, @greenmoveid acknowledging mackaycartoons illustration for inspiration
Another unique perspective by a Warsaw based organization called Social Simulations.
Waves, boulders, impending doom, stock photo.
In December 2023, I shared a panel with Pat Bagley of the Salt Lake City Tribune, and Rod Emmerson of the New Zealand Tribune for an episode of Daryl Cagle’s podcast on the subject of editorial cartooning Climate Change. In my selection of cartoons I highlighted my odyssey with this cartoon here:
The authorized version of the 4 Waves cartoon is available on a wide range of ethically sourced apparel and products through the MacKaycartoons Online Boutique.
Authorized for sale by Graeme MacKay through this link.
From left to right is a facial depiction of Jagmeet Singh by Theo Moudakis, altered to show a bomb in his turban, my caricature face of Justin Trudeau, John Fewings caricature of Andrew Scheer, and then another drawn by me of Maxime Bernier. I’ve linked my drawings to their original cartoons.
Turns out to be one of those Photo-chopped amalgams of various unauthorized repurposings to create what has increasing become acceptable in online political discourse: the meme.
While the source of the above is unknown, two candidates running for the PPC, Rob Lussier (Brandon-Souris), and Mark Friesen (Saskatoon-Grasswood) chose to retweet an inflammatory message linking Singh to terrorism, and continue to stand by them as an appropriate line to supporters. Obviously, the xenophobic tactic of spreading fear about Sikhs or Muslims or anybody that happens to wear a turban being aligned to terrorism is a racist one. The unauthorized use of the work of others is a secondary offence to a more serious one of spreading hate.
Alas, this is the peril of posting work on the Internet. When satire is turned around for partisan gain, or worse, used to spread hate. Be they chopped up editorial cartoons or photographs, memes are unsigned, repurposed imagery cluttering the online world. Yet, they’ve become a subject of study as they become permanently part of the election cycle (practically perpetual outside of the usual 6 week campaign period.) So when my local paper posts an article under the headline Why political memes matter to this federal election reporting scientific exploration, it gives credence to the concept of memes.
Amongst the chatter within the tiny group of people who still draw editorial cartoons for a living there is universal disdain for these perspectives. While memes are generally frowned upon there are, admittedly, some pretty hilarious memes, non-political memes that is, which are quite effective in getting a point across, quick and dirty, with a wide audience. Which is, ironically, the basic goal of an editorial cartoonist in drawing a cartoon.
The difference, however, when it comes to political memes, is that they’re used for ideological or partisan purposes, as opposed to satire. The top rendering is a case in point, and indeed all of the other repurposed photo-cropping of editorial cartoons I’ve awarded Jackass awards to are partisan regurgitations. Meme creators are anonymous, the images they use are ripoffs, and only a fraction of time is spent whipping up memes as opposed to editorial cartoons.
Editorial Cartoonists are mistakenly regarded by some as being partisan. We’re supposed to skewer the people with power, to punch up, no matter what political party happens to be in charge of the levers of government. At the same time, we shouldn’t necessarily work as agent provocateurs for the opposition. I think editorial cartoonists are expected to satirize and draw out folly along all sides of the legislature. To shoot editorial cartoon barbs from a constant point of the political spectrum and align oneself to a particular party, is in effect being partisan, creating propaganda, as opposed to satire. One need only look through a editorial cartoonist’s body of work to differentiate a satirist from a propagandist. Take this so & so as a prime example. Those of the latter group might as well call themselves political meme creators.
Political memes will never take over editorial cartoons, because propaganda will never replace satire. Can we just stop making the comparisons?
Editorial cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday May 14, 2015
Sexually explicit taunts must be confronted, justice minister says
Canada’s justice minister is applauding the actions of the Toronto TV reporter who confronted a group of hecklers over a sexually explicit taunt.
Peter MacKay says that while criminal charges could be used to discourage people from shouting profanities during live broadcasts, showcasing the problem also acts as a deterrent.
Hydro One is firing a Sunshine List employee involved in the vulgar incident with CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt at Sunday’s Toronto FC game.
“Regarding the incident at the Toronto FC game between a (CityNews) reporter and fans, Hydro One is taking steps to terminate the employee involved for violating our Code of Conduct,” said Daffyd Roderick, director, corporate affairs for Hydro One.
“Respect for all people is engrained in the Code of Conduct and in our Core Values and we are committed to a work environment where discrimination or harassment of any type is met with zero tolerance.”
Roderick identified the employee as Shawn Simoes, an assistant network management engineer who made $106,510.50 a year.
Earlier today, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment said the Toronto FC fans involved in the incident will be banned for “at least” a year.
CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt confronted several men on Sunday while she was outside of a Toronto FC game. While recording a standup for her report, a number of men shouted the phrase “F— her right in the p—-!”
The camera kept rolling as video shows she confronted some of the men who had shouted at her, as well as a group of men standing behind her waiting for their chance to do the same.
Simoes, the employee being fired by Hydro One, did not shout the previously mentioned phrase, but did speak to Hunt on camera after the incident occured. “It is f—ing hilarious,” he told the reporter. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)