Rob Tornoe has an article in Editor and Publisher today on the Bill Day controversy I wrote about last week. I wanted to address a specific defense I’ve heard from colleagues that is summed up by comics historian Michael Rhode in Tornoe’s piece.
“Day has been struggling to make ends meet since being laid off by the Memphis paper, which later had the gall to attempt to buy his work through his syndicate,” Rhode said. “After working a full-time job and being let go after being injured, cartooning is a part-time job which probably doesn’t really pay any bills at all for him. I understand his reusing his own material in these circumstances.”
While I sympathize with Day’s situation – trying to find your way in a broken economy and a dying art form – not being employed full-time isn’t actually an excuse for maintaining basic standards in the field. I and many other political cartoonists have never been employed and never will. For many people it’s a side job that is supplemented with other, better paying freelance work. Without a secure and decent-paying staff job, breaking down your hourly rate as a cartoonist is highly inadvisable. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do original art every week.
It also seems combing through the more than 50 examples (!) of Day’s re-issued cartoons on That Cartoon Critic reveals he’s been at this longer than the last three years. Judging by comments left on this site and elsewhere, professional cartoonists still haven’t all agreed that using other people’s work without attribution, re-purposing old work on a massive scale, and literally tracing other people’s cartoons is a problem worth discussing. As I mentioned before, all most editorial cartoonists have to contribute publicly to this debate is complete and utter silence. While it might be relatively rare, if five people are doing this in a field that numbers less than 100, the percentage is far too high to ignore or excuse.
Part of why we do this is our love for the craft of comics and the pride we take in our work – the illusion that it’s worth something or contributes to the conversation in some way. If I ever lose that feeling or that drive to create new work, I’m going to quit. I’m not sticking around because of the money.
Daryl Cagle told Poynter “With competing editorial cartoonists circling and smelling Bill’s blood in the water, I think it would be a good time for Bill to give up riffing on his old cartoons, and I’ve told him that.”
My motivations for criticizing Day has less to do with knocking down a competitor than raising the standards in this profession. Raising them to what I see as a very basic and low bar we should all be meeting. If Day is going to deliver original comics to the backers of his Indiegogo campaign, I think that’s all myself and others were ever asking for.