Crimson Cartoonist's Work Bears Similarity to Others'

Cartoonist pieces similar to several featured on prominent cartoon blog

'LOOKS SIMILAR'

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Walt Handelsman says that the above cartoon, published in The Crimson on Oct. 25, "looks similar" to his own, dated Oct. 12 and published in the Long Island, N.Y.-based Newsday.

An editorial cartoon drawn by Crimson editor Kathleen E. Breeden '09 and published on Oct. 25 bears a noticeable similarity to a cartoon published in Newsday on Oct. 12 by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Walt Handelsman.

Both cartoons depict President Bush standing beside a donkey, a symbol of the Democratic Party. In Handelsman's cartoon, the donkey sports a shirt that has an arrow with the word "NOT" pointing in Bush's direction.

In Breeden's cartoon, the donkey holds a sign that reads "Dem Platform" and a boldfaced "NOT" with an arrow pointing towards the president. Handelsman's heading reads "...The Democrats find a winning election strategy...." Breeden's heading is "For better or worse, it might finally be a winning strategy...."

An individual who asked not to be named informed The Crimson news staff of the similarities Saturday evening.

Further review of other cartoons drawn by Breeden has yielded three other examples of similarities among her work and editorial cartoons featured on Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonists Index, a Web site that lists and organizes editorial cartoons from around the world. Cagle did not return a request for comment at his home tonight.

Breeden's Oct. 18 cartoon on North Korea is similar to a cartoon by Stephen P. Breen of the San Diego Union-Tribune; Breeden's Oct. 11 cartoon of Kim Jong Il is similar to a Slate.com cartoon by Cagle himself; and Breeden's Sept. 22 cartoon of Pope Benedict XVI is similar to a cartoon by Monte K. Wolverton of The Wolvertoon. These cartoons, in addition to Handelsman's, can be found on Cagle's Web site.

"The editorial board is currently investigating similarities between several editorial cartoons drawn by Kathleen Breeden with previously published cartoons," Crimson President William C. Marra ’07 and Editorial Chairs Michael B. Broukhim ’07 and Matthew S. Meisel ’07 said in a joint statement yesterday.

An explanation of the editorial board’s ongoing investigation appears on page A10.

Breeden declined to comment for this story.

This comes on the heels of the retraction—and discontinuation—of a biweekly column by Victoria B. Ilyinsky '07 this Thursday. Ilyinsky failed to attribute the source of several quotations in her piece on the overuse of the word "literally."

In the cartoon by Breeden published Oct. 18, Kim Jong Il points to two peasants who appear to bow down before a nuclear weapon, only to have an onlooker remark, "Are you sure? It appears they’re eating dirt...." In Breen’s piece, four peasants appear to bow before Kim Jong Il, who grasps an atomic weapon in his right hand. "That’s it! Bow before your great leader!" he orders. An adviser says in an aside that "They’re eating the grass, sir." The two cartoons depict the idea that North Korea’s nuclear program comes at the expense of the country’s food supply.

According to a Google cache of a page on Cagle's site, Breen's cartoon was uploaded by July 14. It first appeared in Copley News on Jan. 9, 2003, according to the press service's site. Breen could not be reached for comment last night.

Breeden’s Oct. 11 cartoon and Cagle’s Slate.com cartoon, which is dated Feb. 10, 2005 on Cagle’s politicalcartoons.com, both have an atomic bomb emanating from Kim’s head. Other editorial cartoons, however—several of which are grouped together on Cagle’s Index site—use the same concept in their depictions of Kim Jong Il.

According to Wolverton, his cartoon of Pope Benedict XVI was published Sept. 16—nearly a full week before Breeden’s cartoon appeared in The Crimson—on his personal Web site and Cagle’s syndicate site. Wolverton said he thought that Cagle would have in turn posted it to the Index—where all four cartoons were found—that day or the next.

Wolverton’s and Breeden’s cartoons feature the Pope on the left and a group of Muslims on the right. Each contains the quote, "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God," and both cartoons insinuate similar ideas. Wolverton characterized Breeden’s cartoon as "similar in structure to mine."

"The similarities of ideas and content raise enough questions that you need a purposeful conversation between the editorial cartoonist and the supervisor," said Bob Steele, the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at The Poynter Institute, a school and resource center for journalists. Plagiarism can occur in visual as well as printed media, he added.

"In general, I would say the same standards for plagiarism should apply for both written matter and for visual material," Steele said. "We should credit someone else if we use any meaningful or significant part of their work."

Cagle’s site, where the cartoons were first found by The Crimson, does not list their publication dates or the dates that the cartoons were published on the site.

Wolverton said he would not take action against Breeden but that the similarities between her cartoons and others’ work would hurt her in the end. "It’s not going to be good for her in the future because she’s established a reputation for ripping off other people’s work," he said. "She’s ‘borrowing heavily’ which is at the very least unprofessional."

Handelsman, who spoke with The Crimson prior to the discovery of additional similarities in Breeden’s work to other cartoons, said that her Oct. 25 cartoon "looks similar" to a cartoon he did earlier.

"Student cartoonists as well as professionals should always be careful that they’re not doing a cartoon that already has been done," he said.

But Handelsman said that he "certainly won’t" take action against Breeden for the similarities.

"The only way you could say that it happened on purpose—and I’m not saying that—was if you saw the same thing happening over and over again," he said at the time.

After being shown the resemblances between Breeden’s cartoons and the work posted on Cagle’s Web site, Steele agreed that the similarities warranted investigation.

The president, managing editor, associate managing editor, and editorial board members did not see this article before publication.

—Robin M. Peguero contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Brittney L. Moraski can be reached at
bmoraski@fas.harvard.edu.