HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

Now that we have a basic understanding of Concept plagiarism, let’s review a comic strip from one of the most revered comic strip artists ever — Bill Watterson of the Calvin and Hobbes fame.

calvin throws snowball at suzie

Watterson’s style complements him as an exceptional comic strip artist, and the childhood world he created from 1985-1995 made him revered world wide and even post-retirement. But let’s compare Watterson’s strip to a comic from the Godfather of child comic strips Charles Schulz, of Peanuts fame. Is there a shared concept between these two strips?

 

lucy throwing snowball at charlie brown

The difficult wrinkle regarding the two comic strips above lies in time of publication. Watterson wrote his particular comic sometime between 1985 – 1990: Charles Schulz wrote his between 1952 – 1956. That’s about a 30-year gap.

To be clear, I am not postulating that Watterson copied from Schulz (you can arrive at your own conclusion) but I feel this is a credible similarity with which to illustrate the slippery notion of what is potentially Concept plagiarism and what is not when it comes to comics. Did you notice any similarities between the two that questioned your ethics regarding originality?

Is it possible both creators truly arrived at a similar joke concept but at different times?

Yes, that is always a possibility, as was the case for the comic strips Dennis the Menace (yes, there are two). In 1951 David Law created the UK comic Dennis (published by D.C. Thomson) but here in the U.S., in 1951, Hank Ketcham created Dennis the Menace (published by Post-Hall Syndicate). Both strips revolve around a mischievous boy and his adventures. As it was concluded, both creators did not plagiarize and have agreed for over 60 years to work on their comics independently.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then repetitive flattery tends to leave a suspicious bread crumb trail, and offer weight to those who would claim Concept plagiarism. Let’s take another look at a Calvin and Hobbes comic published around 1986:

calvin hobbes snow fort

Once more, let’s review a Charles Schulz comic published sometime in the 1960s (a similar 30-yr gap between the two strips).

charlie brown lucy snow fort

 

Again, to be sure, I have not selected Bill Watterson over any other comic strip artist; I’m merely borrowing from comic strip history to discuss the slippery nature of Concept plagiarism.

Are these above comics examples of plagiarism or coincidence? After all, any comic strip about children will most likely result in snow forts, snow balls, boy and girls fighting, etc.

Was your inner-Sherlock summoned once you compared the shapes of the snow forts? Or the defiant hand positions? The irony of the sneak attack? The declarations of invincibility? Or perhaps — maybe — did the entire concept feel, well, a bit slippery?

 

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