If you think you have already seen this cartoon, you’re probably right. Last Friday, cartoonist Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press did a cartoon of President Joe Biden with the mask tan line. It’s an excellent cartoon. Bennett has a Pulitzer Prize, has been a finalist for the award about 87 times, and has won or placed in every cartoon contest there is. He’s probably won state awards in states he’s never lived in. I think he even placed in a dog contest once for best groomed. Seriously, he may be the most awarded political cartoonist in the history of political cartooning. He’s good.
I drew my cartoon on Friday. The idea was submitted along with seven other ideas. My CNN cartoons run with the opinion newsletter on Sunday. In case you’re a Republican, that means I have a day to wait between drawing and publication of the cartoon. In that gap on Saturday, I saw Clay Bennett’s tan-line cartoon. I checked the time he posted his cartoon on Facebook Friday and compared it to when I sent my rough to my editor, just to cover my tracks. I sent my idea two hours earlier than Bennett had posted his. Trust me, I’m not psychic. Cartoonists can’t worry too much about this stuff because you can’t do much about it, but you still check just to cover your ass later.
Sometimes, you’re the cartoonist who gets there first and other times, you follow. Every cartoonist has been on both ends of it while always wanting to avoid the whole thing altogether. You want to draw a cartoon so original that no one else is capable of thinking of it. That’s what I try to do every day even though I don’t always succeed.
I first saw Bennett’s at GoComics early Saturday morning. I decided to send the link to my editor and let him decide if we should pull it or not. If mine had come out at the same time as Bennett’s, I wouldn’t have worried about it, but I had a whole day to wait behind his before my cartoon would be published. I also contacted Clay Bennett to let him know what was happening and to let him know I didn’t swipe from him, which I knew he would know, but I still wanted to give him the professional courtesy of a heads-up. He was very professional about it and said he actually expected someone else to come up with the same idea. It happens.
Still, I was irrationally angry at Clay Bennett for having the same idea as me even though he had no idea what I was drawing. I’m also mad at his mother for naming him Clay nearly a decade before I was born.
The opinion staff at CNN decided to keep my version since it did feature different characters and had a different message. You can argue that Bennett’s version triumphed a victory for President Biden while mine was documenting it as a national achievement, not just a personal one. We also decided to throw in the vaccination card which I now believe makes the cartoon stronger. Adding that detail a day later is the reason why the hand is so tiny, in case you were wondering about that Trumpian detail.
I wanted to say something about both cartoons because I know some readers will think I stole this from Clay Bennett. Hell, some readers will think he stole his from me even though he published first. So maybe writing this helps him out too. Trust me on this: I know I don’t steal ideas and I know Clay Bennett doesn’t either, at least not from other cartoonists. Good cartoonists only steal from themselves…and not very often.
Maybe next Friday I’ll call Clay Bennett and ask, “Hey, what are you doing?” just to make sure I’m not doing the same thing. And then I’ll call his mom.
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Notes on my book, Tales From The Trumpster Fire: I have Three copies of my book in stock, which I’m selling for $45.00 each, signed. Also, I have copies of my first book from 1997, Knee-Deep in Mississippi available for $20.00.
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