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Whose Joke Is It?

Two days ago, I saw a couple of interesting tweets over Twitter (oh hi, I’m back–hope you didn’t miss me too much–story about that later). Actually, they were retweets from people I follow. One has already been deleted (unimportant because I’m going to essentially recreate the point of it here). The remaining tweet is here:

Twitter-@hijinxensue

Posted July 12

Naturally, this caught my eye and I ask questions. Retweeted by both Wil Wheaton and the other by John Kovalic (creator of Dork Tower, artwork for the Munchkin games), it seemed to gain a fair amount of traction early. At first glance, it appeared that an artist had his work ripped off by someone else and trying to profit off of it. It’s a cause I can get behind.

The now deleted text was simply asking to compare the two pieces of work. So, let me present them to you here.

That’s Joel Watson’s original. Pretty good and clever. It’s a good mashup. And here’s the one he got a bit bent out of shape about.

Okay, there it is. One right next to the other. Same concept really. I actually like the second one better (I’ll get to this later), but to make Mr. Watson’s point, his was out first.

Two things at work here. Mr. Watson through his tweets was upset about two things. First, he seems to believe he was the victim of a “joke swipe”, that he made the funny first and wasn’t given proper attribution. Well, that’s understandable if it’s true. But how true is it? Both of these images were produced in 2011, so let me lay this image out for you.

The Doctor Is In

This image was posted in not just in March, but March of 2008, three full years before either of the two above images. There seem to be more than casual similarities between this image and the one that Joel Watson drew. Both use the Tenth Doctor, both eschew the traditional look of Peanuts and try to create it to look more like David Tennant, both Doctors lean on their right elbow and hold the sonic screwdriver in their right hand.

And I’m not sure that Joel Watson can’t say that he was not aware of this. Take a look at this screenshot from his comment thread of his image.

Hijinks Ensue Comments

I’m not sure if the image is clear enough, but the first comment basically says that someone else did indeed come up with the same idea as his. It’s interesting and important to note that the commentor says that that it is not a detraction and that he prefers Mr. Watson’s version.

The second comment leads to my second point I alluded to earlier. Mr. Watson believed that the Teefury shirt would leech sales from his t-shirt sales, thus impacting his bottom line, using a very similar idea that he based his own t-shirt off of. This is possibly true, but maybe not as much as he thinks.

Here’s the thing with the two images. Although I like Mr. Watson’s take on it, I like the Teefury one considerably more. Why? One, instead of the Tenth Doctor, Teefury’s design has the Eleventh Doctor. Although I very much enjoyed Tennant’s portrayal of the Doctor, I really like the Doctor as portrayed by Matt Smith who is very possibly becoming my very favorite and may take my top Doctor crown from the beloved Tom Baker. Also, the Teefury image is more traditionally in the style of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts which ties it very closely to my childhood. I was a big Peanuts fan growing up. They manage to capture that slight melancholy that is missing from Mr. Watson’s portrayal.

Like I said, Mr. Watson does a good job, but I just like the other one better. But the part I struggle with is that for all his protestations about having a “joke swipe” or taking away t-shirt sales, I find it hard to believe that he didn’t check out that link, or give some recognition to the fact that his work now seems imitative. It’s the same argument he’s trying to make with Teefury.

I’d like you to also consider this. Peanuts ran for fifty years and has been in reruns for another eleven. Doctor Who has been around for forty eight years (1963 to present), either in production or in reruns. To me it seems inconceivable that this particular mashup doesn’t exist in someone’s notebook that never made it to the Internet.

Further compounding this issue is the fact that there seem to be a variety of Peanuts/Doctor Who mashups. Here’s just a few I found from a simple search.

This next one from 2008.

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This one from last year.

Also from last year.

Believe me when I say there’s more out there than just these few images. Some really good work as well.

The point of all this is that when you take two venerable, beloved series that have been around for decades, I don’t know if you can actually come along and say “I thought of that first” and claim it was your joke. A lot of this reminds me of the movie The Aristocrats. It’s an old joke, not a very funny one at that but the magic in the joke is in the telling, where the comic takes a very familiar joke and makes it their own, puts their own spin on it. It’s a classic take on “it’s not the song, but the singer”.

And this is where I think Mr. Watson is not just wrong, but painfully wrong. If this was a direct ripoff, I can see his point. But it does happen to be just different enough to have it’s own life. Two different doctors portrayed. Different wording on the booth. Different portrayals of the booth, Mr. Watson’s being closer to the TARDIS and Teefury’s being closer to Lucy’s booth. Different styles, Mr. Watson using his own and Teefury sticking closer to Schultz’s style.

Mr. Watson asking for the removal of the t-shirt is a disservice. Speaking for myself, I like his drawing, but not enough to buy the shirt. I just don’t have that much of a connection to it. Teefury’s though, I think I would buy it. The Eleventh Doctor looks a bit like Linus (my favorite), is wearing the lovely Fez and really evokes my childhood with both Peanuts and Doctor Who.

Sadly though, it looks like I won’t buy any t-shirt as Mr. Watson took to Twitter to make his complaint and it appears have cudgeled them into submission.

As a final thought, I can’t say that I know exactly what Mr. Watson is going through. He seems a decent enough fellow and like I’ve said before, I like his work. I just don’t like this episode or the handling of it. I’m not sure how I would react to it myself and I may never know, at least in terms of graphic arts. Still, something doesn’t pass the smell test with this and I fear it went the wrong way.

2 Comments

  1. Luckily, you can still get the cancelled Teefury design on Redbubble.
    “swissarmyshark” has a portfolio there.
    http://www.redbubble.com/people/swissarmyshark/t-shirts/7225335-the-doctor-is-in

  2. Interesting. I’m unclear how this went down between Mr. Watson and AJ Paglia, the designer of the shirt. I had thought that there was some sort of agreement not to sell the shirt at all, but perhaps I was mistaken.

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