In the cartoon world we are regularly confronted with the theme ‘similarities and plagiarism’. One of the major players in the discussions on this topic is Julian Pena-Pai.
Julian PENA-PAI is a Romanian cartoonist with a career of over 40 years. He won 90 international prizes, including the first price in the Euro-kartoenale 1989 and was member of dozens of international competition juries.
Julian describes himself as passionate about ‘the evolution of ideas’ in cartoons. He has a trained eye, capable of finding similarities in cartoon art.
A few months ago I read an interview with Pena-Pai where he spoke about the first prize he did win in Japan. Afterworths he discovered that the idea of his cartoon was already used before by an other cartoonist. He spoke about how frustrated this was for him. I was really touched by this story and it pushed me to an interview with Pena-Pai. I wanted to know more about the man and his passion.
Hello Julian. Thanks for the interview. Which are in your opinion the elements that make a good cartoon?
A good cartoon lives first and foremost through its concept/idea and only secondly through its graphic “coat”. The original IDEA is the author’s intellectual product and his pride. The whole intelligence of a cartoonist is quantified in his idea, the copyright is applied to the idea, not to the quality of the drawing.
The idea is like a ROOT – a good root – which, after you have “planted”, and you have drawn nicely, a good cartoon will come out of it. The idea is accepted as original only when it belongs to the first author.
If out of ignorance, human error memory or coincidence you take over/borrow the “root” of another author, you will definitely not create an original cartoon (based on your own inspiration and creativity). Instead, you will produce SIMILARITY, similarity which can be the same as PLAGIARISM. This is the first lesson any cartoonist should learn.
How would you define these two words “similarities” and “plagiarism”?
I have just defined them, but I haven’t finished the topic yet. We all know that similarity cannot be confused with originality, but there are similarities of ideas that can give rise to good cartoons. The key to this issue can be found in the two concepts that I created:
– NEGATIVE similarity triggered by repetition, when you have taken the other’s “root” or idea, you have NOT ADDED any new element, any intellectual potential or message change. As a member of a jury, I would never award a prize to a cartoon in this category.
In my opinion, this category is also a form of plagiarism.
– POSITIVE similarity manifests itself by diference, i.e., when you have borrowed the “root” of someone else, but you have ADDED clear, visible elements of novelty and creativity.
The cartoons that belong to this category cannot be compared to those that have an original value; however, some cartoons, judged in terms of the novelty they ADDED, can be awarded prizes in contests.
Summing up, in cartooning there are only 3 cartoon categories:
-ORIGINAL cartoons (containing an original idea);
-NEGATIVE similarities by repetition,or PLAGIARISM;
–POSITIVE similarities by difference.
You are well known as ‘the godfather’ of similarities in cartooning. How come you are so passionate about this theme?
The Godfather of similarities is H.Cakmak, who had the idea of showing them, 15 years ago. I have only developed this idea making a history out of it. I consider that this art, cartooning, is in decline because of the over-reiteration of the old ideas or of plagiarism.
The 1980-2000’s ideas – the best cartooning age – are redrawn in a negative way, with no creativity or discernment.
Albert Einstein once said: “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”.
As a sincere researcher, honest and dispassionate, every day I discover the sources of inspiration of the new current cartoons in the old cartoon albums of the 80s or 90s. That is where the passion for my ” HISTORY OF IDEA IN CARTOONING” comes from.
In an interview with Irancartoon you said that you allready made some ennemies by doing what you do? And, as you know, I personaly also had some problems in the past, not on what you are doing, that I find indeed interesting from a cartoon art history perspective, but about how you treated some cartoonists, cartoon organizers and jury members. It sometimes felt as a personal vendetta, that was foughten in public.
Even if my action is not a vendetta against any author – I am just studying ideas and drawings – there are already some opponents who seem to be irritated by my research.
They do not manage to see “the forest”(my history) for “the trees”(their similar drawings). But I will continue to show my collection of similarities, as it is useful to many. I have a too rich collection and nothing can prevent me from showing it.
What do you want to achieve with your actions?
I want to stop this decline, to contribute to cartooning development and to prevent the replication of ideas.
Do you think that cartoonists now are less creative, innovative than f.e. 20, 30 years ago? And why?
Because creativity is on the verge of extinction. Everything from the past is being duplicated. Cartooning is not like fashion, where trends come and go after a number of years’cycle. On the other hand, getting back to the ideas of the 80s or 90s has also a moral and ethical aspect. How can a cartoon of today be awarded a prize if it is based on an obsolete idea?
Have you thought of the first author’s feelings when he sees his idea getting a prize, but this award is not for him but for someone else?? Since you are not a cartoonist you will never understand. Life shows us that you may be awarded undeservedly, as it is much easier to “borrow” than to strain your own mind. Pastisha, “coincidence” and theft have become a bad habit.
Can it be linked to communication technology, we have more access to cartoons from all over the world, and that ‘similarities’ are more visible today than before?
Similarities were visibile before, too, but there was nobody to research and to display them. There is now. And I am not alone, I have a lot of collaborators and supporters.
I’m convinced that no serious cartoon organization does accept plagiarism, and that prizes were withdrawn immediately in the past when plagiarism did took place. The story about ‘Similarities’ is something more complicated. Isn’t it often a coincidence?
I’m afraid you are wrong, organizations implicitly accept plagiarism out of ignorance. There are more and more types of plagiarism which are awarded prizes. The “Similarities” issue is complex, but I have simplified it. NEGATIVE similaritiy by repetition (plagiarism) and POSITIVE similarity by difference are 2 concepts that will make a career in cartooning, since they reflect the present day reality.
The similarity by coincidence can be seldom demostrated, the argument being just an “escape” excuse. I would rather believe in human error memory, i.e., once you saw the idea somewhere, but you have forgotten it and by mistake you reiterate it. I can tell you from my experience that I don’t believe in mere coincidences.
Isn’t it possible that your work has a reversed effect? That it will not stimulate cartoonists to be more creative, but that it will stop all creativity because cartoonists become afraid of having the same idea and that they quit? I know that some cartoonists think of stopping cartooning because of that.
This demonstrates that I am right. It shows that some cartoonists’ inspiration and creativity were based on other cartoonists’ ideas. Or that they are not confident about their abilities to continue. So we cannot sweep the old ideas under the carpet and pretend they don’t exist.
Also jury members are having doubts to participate in juries, even those who know the cartoon world very well and observe all results. They seem to be afraid that the winner they choose will be ‘similar’ to another one, somewhere in a catalogue that they missed.
Oh, no… I don’t believe that. You, organizers, not jury members, you are the ones that have all these fears lest you should compromise the Salon by awarding undeserved prizes.
Isn’t there any risk that in that way, only a few ‘perfect’ jury members will remain in all cartoon contests and we’ll miss some diversity and ‘a fresh look’ of non traditional jury members? What is your idea of a good jury?
What do you mean by … ‘a fresh look’? Only a non professional can have a ‘fresh look’. Do you think that the Mayor or sponsor can decide on the prizes? Only the cartoonists in the jury have this right and they are responsible for their choices. A good jury should be composed of highly experienced professionals, people who have seen a lot of drawings in their lives. Not a jury made up of some caricaTOURISTS (the joke isn’t mine). In my opinion, Aydin Dogan cartoon contest jury will tell the „right time” in cartooning in the future, too. Just like Greenwich.
What do you like to give as advice to cartoonists all over the world and especially to young, starting cartoonists?
I have a piece of advice only for the young cartoonists. If someone wants to become a writer, he reads Tolstoy or Balzac before starting to write. The young ones who would like to become cartoonists should study first the works of the old cartoonists, because they can learn a lot from them.
During my 40 year cartooning experience I have collected an impressive archive for them, posted on http://bestcartoons.smugmug.com/
What is your personal dream about cartooning for yourself and cartoon art in general?
I have already fulfilled my dreams related to my artistic career, but as far as cartooning is concerned, I wish it a better future, based on innovation and creativity. The prehistorical man created the wheel, while the modern man – taking the concept over – created the COGwheel. By analogy, I would like the cartoonists to do the same. If they are not capable of creating original cartoons, at least they should get the old ideas to a higher level.
Do you like to add something I might have forgotten to ask?
I want to conclude by saying that there isn’t any single cartoonist that can assert that his work is similarity-free. I have 10 similarities in a 300 Salon cartoon portfolio. One of my colleagues has 60 similarities in 300 cartoons, too. And a good artist, awarded by you, has 15 similarities per 50 cartoons in his portfolio.
Please, ponder over this proportion, number of similarities per portfolio, and you will understand much more about inspiration, imagination and creativity. The key to characterizing/describing a cartoonist can be found in this relationship.
This interview was published in the Flemish cartoon magazine ‘Scherper’ on September 2012. The article is illustrated with some examples given by Julian Pena Pai.