Saturday, July 10, 2004

Locked out

Laura and I spent the afternoon in the city looking for shoes that would go with her wedding dress. I don't know if it's the influence of Sex and the City, but women's shoes sure are going through a tacky phase. Everything is so pointy, it's like women are forced to walk around wearing weapons on their feet. Worse still, pointy shoes make a woman's feet look nearly twice as big as they really are. Pointy. Big. Watching a group of them walk by is like watching a herd of ninja ducks.

After weeks of looking, we found the perfect pair at Nordstrom's. After celebrating over Fluorescent Orange Chicken at Panda Express, it was time to get on with the day. I had work to do, and Laura was headed down to San Mateo to visit some friends of ours (happy birthday, Grant!).

So I'm on BART, about to get off at my station after a 30 minute ride back from San Francisco. As I reach for my BART ticket, I notice my pocket is awfully light. ...I don't have my keys. I left them in Laura's car. Being a typical city-boy, I only know my neighbors by their distinctive nods. The woman upstairs nods hello only when she's sure I've seen her see me. Otherwise she scurries past like the wind. The guy across the hall from me, when I run into him, gives me a stoned nod - it takes just a few seconds too long to go up and down again, and sometimes he does it cross-eyed. The thug at the other end of the hall usually gives me the thug nod - his chin goes up, but it doesn't come down until I back away. Slowly.

Since I only know them by their nods, I can't very well hang out with them until Laura gets back with my keys. So I walked 3 miles to the nearest Apple Store, where I can check my e-mail as a line of people breathe down my neck, waiting their turn to use the beautiful 17 inch Powerbook I've bogarted. I haven't made any real friends in my apartment, but I just finished responding to an e-friend from Stuttgart, Germany, and another from Georgia. I don't know if that's Georgia, US or the ex-Soviet one -- I don't know him well enough to ask. If only I could see how he nods...

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Lazy reporters

A reader e-mailed me the URL to an article that appeared on the Chicago Tribune's website, where a reporter named Eric Zorn accuses Candorville of ripping off an old Peanuts cartoon.

Here's the original article:


I recently took note here of this "Candorville" comic strip in the Tribune showing two of the characters lying on their backs on the top of a building:
Lemont: Susan, see that cloud? What's it look like to you?

Susan: Sort of like President Polk in 1848. And there's his mighty army coming down from the north to steal half of Mexico. Over there's the INS loading a group of migrant famr workers onto a bus for deportation.

Lemont: I see a bunny.
I said I was pretty sure I'd seen "Peanuts" use almost the identical joke. Several readers sent me the following dialogue from a 1960 "Peanuts" strip that creator Charles Schulz once reportedly named as one of his most popular ever:
Lucy: If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud formations...what do you think you see, Linus?

Linus: Well, those clouds up there look to me like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean...that cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor...and that group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the stoning of Stephen...I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side....

Lucy: Uh huh....that's very good....what do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

Charlie Brown: Well, I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsie, but I changed my mind!
Coincidence? Homage? Rip-off?

I e-mailed "Candorville" creator Darrin Bell a week ago to ask for his explanation.

No answer yet.

The strip he mentioned was similar in structure to a recent Candorville strip, but c'mon. When you've got four panels to tell a story, there are only so many ways to do it. There are only so many ways to set up a gag and only so many punchlines that would be appropriate. I've seen Boondocks and Opus strips that are nearly identical to strips I drew years ago, but knowing the industry like I do, I realize this kind of thing is almost never a case of plagiarism. It's coincidence. Pick any cartoon in your local paper, and someone somewhere will have seen something very similar in one of the several million cartoons drawn in the past. In this case, they had to go back to 1960.

Still, I can accept skepticism. It's only natural. What I can't accept is lazy reporting.

My first journalism instructor, way back in high school, told us the definition of a lazy journalist is one who writes an accusatory article, and says the object of his attack "could not be reached for comment." Sometimes this is done by a procrastinating reporter who's working too close to deadline, and doesn't have time to properly track down the source. Other times, "couldn't be reached for comment" actually means "I didn't want to get a comment that would refute my assertions."

It's a rare thing indeed when you can't even contact the person's spokesman - which in this case would be my syndicate, the Washington Post Writers Group. The Tribune has the Writers Group telephone number, I'm sure, and logically, they would have been able to put Zorn in contact with the subject of his piece. A reporter working at one of the world's finest newspapers, you would think, would exhaust every weapon in his investigatory arsenal - even including the drastic measure of picking up a telephone - to get a quote from the subject of their article.

Zorn, however, ends his supposition by saying "I e-mailed 'Candorville' creator Darrin Bell a week ago to ask for his explanation.

No answer yet."

I never received any such e-mail from Mr. Zorn. Zorn could have called the Post Writers Group if he had really wanted to contact me. But that would mean he'd have to think of a different snarky ending for his article.

My high school journalism teacher would not be amused.


A Zorn reader responded (see below) that I was inflating the issue by implying it appeared in the print edition instead of where it did appear - in Zorn's Tribune-hosted blog. I was incorrect in saying it ran in the paper. I assumed that, since Zorn is a Tribune reporter, it ran in the paper. But I don't see the significance of that observation. Was it meant to imply that something appearing on a newspaper's website doesn't need to be accurate or fair?

The kind of laziness evident in the Zorn article doesn't quite fall to the same level of a Jayson Blair, but it's somewhere in the same neighborhood.