Tuesday, October 31, 2006


In keeping with my "What's Hidden in the Illustrations" posts, I have a few new things to share. Here's the first--

I hope you all know about Mercer Mayer's One Monster After Another. It's a GREAT book and one of my all-time favorites. I LOVED looking at all the detailed illustrations, and, of course, the story is fabulous.

Flash-forward to me leafing to books in The Strand. There I found this really cool book called The Man with the Can by Jan Sanders, published in 1978 (a year after I was born!). There's lots of dirty stuff in it... lots of sex... lots of crazy, busy cartoons. And then I saw this--

Look familiar? Yes? No?

How about now?

So, what came first here? The chicken or the egg?

Mayer's book was published in 1974 BUT the Jan Sanders book is a compilation. Sanders's most likely came first. So here's my question-- was Mayer consciously or unconsciously borrowing from this image? In college I'd known students who
would literally copy an illustration and then claim it was their own (little did they know I have a large art collection!). Here's another thought--was Mayer doing this as a private joke? Was he paying homage to this other artist? When my Strong Man book comes out, you will see I have given a wink to Norman Rockwell. You must know lots of Rockewell work to recognize it but I hope all of you will figure it out!

But back on topic here--If he was, what kind of joke was it? Jan Sanders's art is kind of dirty. A giant nude hag mermaid is being pulled out of the sea!

So is this plagiarism? Is it a joke? Do other artists do the same thing? Do they hide dirty little jokes in
their kids' books? I'll let you all ponder over this one. Stay tuned for part two. You won't want to miss it! You might be shocked... annoyed... enlightened... who knows!

Until then,


Anonymous said...

Dear Gloria Estefan, Art Detective:

Your post shocked, annoyed, and enlightened me. Please post more. Soon.

alvinaling said...

Although I, of course, have no idea if this was intentional, I have a question--was Sanders known to be an artist Mayer admired? I'd love it if you could delve deeper into when Sanders's piece first appeared and in what publication.

But regardless, I don't really see anything horribly wrong here, even if it was intentional. I mean, artists are inspired by other artists, but, in the words of the American Idol judges, you have to "make it your own." He perhaps copied the composition of the piece, but really, I could also see this as being a coincidence, too. Or his subconscious working. But overall, I think he's pretty much made it his own. I think in art, it's not as clear cut as in writing. What IS plagiarism in art? Do they teach you this in art school? I'm curious!

Grace Lin said...

Actually, I agree with Alvina. I don't really think this is plagerism. At school we were often told point blankly "good artists steal." We were taught to look at other artists' compositions, other artists' colors. The idea was to steal but to make it your own, to retell it in your own voice. I think Mayer did "retell" this image.

Plagerism in illustration is a hairy thing--unless a person out and out reproduces someon else's picture (meaning same style,same characters, same everything) there is a lot of leeway. There's no "mosiac" plagerism in illustration. If there was thousands of illustrators throughout the ages would have crashed and burned.

Meghan McCarthy said...

He did make it his own. It's not really plagiarism. I can’t remember what the rule is but you have to change the artwork by a certain percentage. But it's obvious that he used that source... there's now way that's a coincidence. I just found it interesting! One of my favorite children’s book illustrations came from a cartoon with a naked mermaid!


Meghan McCarthy said...

I should state again that I don't think it's plagiarism! I was throwing that word out there as a question to start conversation--devil's advocate kind of thing. I use photo references all the time. If someone finds the source for one of my pieces I'll bake them some cupcakes!

thanks goodness I mostly use my own photographs

Anonymous said...

Meghan, I love how observant you are. Just to find the connection must have felt pretty cool. I look forward to seeing more of your discoveries.