Involuntary Plagiarism

So, I spent yesterday morning drawing a cartoon I can’t use.

Sometimes, you realize just how deep-seated your influences as an artist. Often, you have to fight them back and draw yourself back to the crossroads where your style and the influences meet …a place that took years to find! Stylistically, an artistic influence can be very apparent without any¬† worry of “copying” for instance, you can see George Herriman’s influence on many cartoonists. Look at the pen work on Richard Thompson’s excellent strip “Cul De Sac” and you can see a little Herriman in there. Thank God for that. It’s great to see some of the wonderful technical skills of great cartooning being passed down.

As a kid, I worshiped Gahan Wilson’s cartoons.

Image Copyright Gahan Wilson

Like Bob Dylan say’s “I was a Woody Guthrie Jukebox”. All of my cartoons were directly inspired by Gahan’s macabre sense of humor, line work and copious cross-hatching. As time marched on, I drew from other influences as well stylistically. R. Crumb, Kliban and others. Eventually I ended up with my own style. I’m not yet thrilled with what I come up with and still work on technique to achieve a better finished product but I’m having fun doing that at this point, still learning. I’m just happy that I finally feel at a point where I’m not embarrassed to show my work! There are so many great cartoonists out there.

All of this style stuff is well and good. But cartooning is also about comedy and you know how comedians feel about others ripping off their gags. I heard Bob Hope had a vault full of jokes. This is where I slipped up yesterday. I got in a panic trying to come up with a gag for Dixie Drive and started riffing on pigs (a popular subject in the South!) and barbecue. If you’re not from the South, you may not know that down here, Barbecue is a specific dish, not a method of cooking. It’s pulled pork basically. Good stuff too. Anyway, I initially had drawn a huge ghost-pig hovering over a barbecue joint but found it just a little too esoteric. Nobody was gonna “get” it, so I moved the ghost pig inside and had it hovering over the terrified chefs.

I toiled away at the library adding all this cross-haching, trying to get a good “ghostly” look to the pig. Showing it to my pal, Warren Dixon who has a great sense of humor and to Phil Shore, who knows a lot about cartoons. Everything was working out, a suggestion to add a halo was given (some of the girls there didn’t get the “ghost” thing still) and I finished it up.

But I got to thinking on the way home: it all seemed very familiar and the more I thought of it, the more I was sure that Gahan Wilson had done a very similar cartoon that was in a collection I had as a kid. I’ve looked and looked for the book but can’t seem to find it. I’m guessing Bailey has it away at school (yes!). Anyway, I’m sure enough that I unconsciously ripped Gahan off. Enough that I picked a different cartoon for this week! If I ever find the Wilson cartoon, I’ll add it to this post.

In the meantime, here’s a sample of what I used to read of Gahan’s in the National Lampoon. The series “Nuts” is one of my favorite cartoons of all time. They’re selling a collection of it at Amazon. Pick one up, you’ll be glad you did!

copyright Gahan Wilson

Rich Powell

I'm an artist/illustrator residing in a small, North Carolina town. I worked for a few years as a conceptual artist and art director in the computer game industry but set off on my own to freelance. I currently do humorous illustration and cartoons for publications such as MAD Magazine and Highlights for Children.

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7 Responses

  1. ED says:

    Love the porky poltergeist!

    • Rich Powell says:

      Thanks! Wish it was “mine”!

      • Terry says:

        Rich I don’t think you want a real piggie poltergeist in your house. I imagine the squeal would get very annoying. The halo helps the ghost effect but makes it also feel like a holy pig. Showing something simple like the corner of the room going transparently through the pig might have helped the ghost effect.

  2. Los says:

    I wrote what I thought was a great song with the chorus…
    “How does it feel,
    To have a hole in your sock,
    and not be able to talk
    Unlike a certain Barak,
    or a Mozart and Bach
    Like a Rolling Rock”
    and then someone told me it sounded too much like some born again Jewish song and dance man. I guess it’s all been done before, it’s all been written in the book.

  3. Reber Clark says:

    The Wilson cartoon caption is “It’s here again, Henri!” and was included in “I Paint What I see” on pp 46

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