Public Editor

January 30, 2014

A plagiarized cartoon?

Two entries by KC editorial cartoonists, published days apart, were strikingly similar. Is this a case of plagiarism? I understand the reader’s suspicions, but using the Taj Mahal in reference to fancy buildings is one of the hoariest of cliches.

I received email from a reader who gets his paper in the Johnson County, Kan., area. There, Wednesday’s edition contains the 913 news magazine. On Jan. 22, it ran in its opinion pages an “Area Codes” cartoon by Bob Unell. In reference to the planned new housing for KU student athletes and other students, it depicts a limousine in front of a drawing of the Taj Mahal.

Two days later in the Opinion section of the main Star, a cartoon by staff cartoonist Lee Judge made pretty much the same gag, this time without the limo.

It looked as if Judge “lifted the idea” from Unell to this reader. Is that so?

I spoke to Lee, who told me he hadn’t seen the Unell cartoon until I brought it to his attention. “If anything, I guess you could call me uncreative,” he said.

I did check it out, and different editors worked on the two pages. That’s an everyday occurrence at any newspaper — but it would be nice if those working on the main paper kept abreast of everything that ran in the 913, 816 and 816 North opinion pages as well. That obviously didn’t happen here.

I absolutely understand the reader’s suspicions. But I’d also point out that using the Taj Mahal in reference to fancy buildings is one of the hoariest of cliches. In fact, one letter to the editor about the KU dorm and one story about a proposed new Kansas City International airport have made the same comparison

in the past week alone. I don’t see evidence of plagiarism here, though I’m sure neither cartoonist would be proud to know his idea was so obvious to the other.

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