Sunday Mailbag

September 20th, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

I get asked some questions a lot, so occasionally I will repost a mailbag question from some time ago that is of that nature. Since we spent this weekend in New York City and saw more Times Square caricaturist thievery, this often asked question seemed appropriate:

Q: I recently saw a display for some caricaturists at the Sydney Easter Show that showed the caricature of you done by Mort Drucker. They were using it as a sample of work. I know your work itself is also always being used to promote others (placed on their displays meant to make potential customers think they did it themselves). I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

A: Here’s a picture from the Sydney Easter Show he is referring to:

Sidney art theives
Photo courtesy of Aussie cartoonist Lee Sheppard

That’s a caricature of me by Mort Drucker on the left.

I also see (from left to right) George W. Bush by Court Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger by Jason Seiler, Baltimore caricaturist Mike Hasson by Jan Op de Beeck. I do not recognize the artist who did the Al Sharpton on the far right. I’m not sure why the artists in question here would use caricatures of regular shmoes like Mike and myself, no matter how good the caricatures might be, but there you are. My work is not actually plagiarized here, it’s Mort’s version of me, but my work a frequent victim of this sort of dishonesty.

Sadly this is a common practice by many “street” caricaturists. I’ve seen my work and work I recognize plagiarized all over the world:

From Times Square in New York City

More Times Square

Yet more Times Square

This I saw in Place de Tertre, Montmartre in Paris

I’ve seen my work on other people’s displays in Phoenix, San Diego, New Orleans and even right here in Minnesota. I’ve also had reports of my work being used thusly in Rome, Greece and London. I didn’t see anyone plagiarizing me in my trip to London last week, but it was raining a lot and the few street artists I did see (mainly at Leicester Square) seemed to mostly have their own work up. Sometimes they have redrawn it as an “original”, sometimes they have literally printed a grainy copy from the internet images.

Why do these street artist’s do this? If they can draw well enough to do it for money in a place like Times Square, Rome or Paris, why not do their own samples?

I can’t answer that for certain. For some, it’s a matter of simply not being a very good caricaturist. Some of those Times Square artists are awful, and can barely draw at all. They sell their wares the same way the people next to them sell watches that look like Rolexes but stop running within a week. They show one thing (like other people’s samples) and then sell another and rely on tourists getting confused or not wanting to create a scene to get their money. Those people have no choice but to show other people’s work as their display art, as they are incapable of doing their own. They, incidentally, give real caricaturists a bad name.

Others, though, have the art skills to do their own samples. So why the rip-offs? I think it’s just plain laziness. They don’t want to spend the time needed to work up good looking samples… they’d rather steal another artist’s work as opposed to doing it themselves. Maybe it’s because they know they aren’t as good as Sebastian Kr?¬?ger (who is???) so they show his work or the work of others rather than display their own honest skill.

So what are my thoughts about this? Obviously I don’t like it, don’t condone it and would rather these artists not represent my work or the work of any other artists as their own. Do I run up to an offending street artist and confront them? No, I do not. Legally they are doubtless in the wrong but realistically I have little legal power to do anything about it, nor the desire to fight an unwinnable battle. Confrontation does nothing anyway… most of these people do not care about anything except parting the tourist from his or her money. I have literally seen the same ripped off samples hanging on different artist’s displays within a few feet of each other. The contempt they must have for their potential customers, and for the artists they are plagiarizing, could not be more plain. Why would they care about my remonstrances.

Sadly this is the price you pay for sharing your work on the internet. It’s impossible to stop copyright thieves from taking your work and doing what they will with it. I have seen my art being sold on postage stamp collections from South American and Russian countries, as posters and prints on eBay, on mouse pads and coffee mugs… I even saw a picture of my Jesse Ventura caricature tattooed on some guy’s arm in my local newspaper once. The more commercial thievery I put a stop to if possible, but that is a different animal. On the plus side, I can take a little satisfaction in the fact that the very accessibility of my work on the internet that makes it a target for thievery also males it easy for others to spot the plagiarism. I get many reports from internet acquaintances who tell me they busted an artist using my work somewhere and let them know what they thought of it. At the very least, it might annoy the perpetrator.

While I might shake my head at this practice by unscrupulous street caricaturists, what I most definitely do not think is that I am being flattered by being plagiarized. Some caricaturists I know seem to feel this way if they happen to see their work being used in this manner. They feel their work is being praised by being worthy of copyright infringement. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These artists are showing a complete lack of respect for the work and artists they are ripping off. It is a crime of convenience and laziness, not of admiration. Witness how they are so stupid as to use caricatures of other caricaturists as opposed to celebrities, like these guys in Australia. It’s something to be sickened or saddened by, not appreciated.

I’m a big believer in Karma and the old adage “what goes around, comes around”. Basically I’m saying that doing this does not, in the long run, do anything but harm to these artists. If these folks want to still be doing caricatures on a soggy street corner 20 years from now for a few euros a pop, then they are going about it the right way. Nobody ever achieved anything of lasting worth by practices like these… even the simple effort of drawing one’s own samples and practicing good ethics eventually brings higher rewards that stealing from others will do. It’s very sad, actually. I feel sorry for them… but I still wish they wouldn’t steal my work nor that of my colleagues.

Thanks to Grant Brown for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. julio cesar Naranjo says:

    Hi Tom its very sad what people dont now what their doing ripping off original artwork for their personal reasons and not even think of the reputation of the one who did it in the first place, its like a never ending battle against this people.

  2. Mike Hasson says:

    Hey, now, Tom. Don’t go lumping me into that ‘regular shmo’ category with the likes of yourself! I’m famous, dammit! I’m important! So mom says, anyway. Cheers! Love your blog.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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