29 May 2008

A Swipe at The New Yorker

Bookshelves of Doom pointed me to an item in the New York Post proposing, in its tabloidy way, that New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss had plagiarized an image for the magazine's Cartoon Caption Contest from the comic book great Jack Kirby.

The cartoon in question is for contest #145 on the magazine's webpage above. Kirby's cover for Tales to Astonish, #34, appears here, courtesy of the Grand Comics Database. Monster Blog offers a summary of the story, additional images, and readers' memories.

Bliss apparently felt that everyone would recognize the source of his picture, just as people would recognize Gilbert Stuart's George Washington or figures from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling if they showed up in a New Yorker cartoon. He probably overestimated non-cartoonists' knowledge of this aspect of popular culture; some readers (and perhaps magazine editors) didn't recognize the image while others recognized it but felt the original was obscure enough to make this plagiarism rather than homage.

Part of the problem might be that a magazine cartoon and a comic-book cover are too close. Alluding visually to the Mona Lisa in a cartoon is a more obvious homage because that cartoon is not otherwise much like the Mona Lisa. But two magazine drawings?

Furthermore, Bliss's version isn't much different from Kirby's. He clearly observed the Tales to Astonish cover and thought, "Wouldn't it be funnier if the man in the apartment wasn't reacting to the MONSTER AT HIS WINDOW?" One can get halfway from the cover to the cartoon by simply emptying the man's word balloon. The rest of the way is just showing him speaking calmly on his telephone.

All that said, no other New Yorker caption contest in weeks produced an entry which made me laugh out loud. That caption:

"Okay, I'm at the window. To the right? My right or your right?"

Inspired by Julie at Children's Illustration, another possibility is:
"Yes, this is Harry. I should expect a representative from the Kirby estate to drop by?"

Over at Gawker, one commenter suggested:
"Oh, wait, my mistake--it's just an homage to a monster."


Anonymous said...

"Word balloon." Yay!

J. L. Bell said...

That one was just for you, Eric.