Coincidence or "homage"?

This is another post I've slept on for a couple of nights. Didn't want to fire off something in haste.

Late last Thursday night, I stumbled across this site (can't for the life of me recall how) and my jaw just dropped.

It's no great secret that I'm a long-time admirer of Hugh MacLeod's gapingvoid "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards". I've posted and linked to Hugh's cartoons in the past, featured his cartoons in conference presentations, and even ordered a set of "Street Cards" with one of my favourite Hugh cartoons on the back:

So when I came across the cartoons on this other site, the similarities in style and format stopped me in my tracks. For a tiny moment there I even thought perhaps these new cartoons were Hugh's work.

Compare and contrast:
gapingvoid: August 16, 2006

pickleshane: September 19, 2006

Quite apart from the similarities in the text and the main image, note the scribbly, intricate doodling on the left side of pickleshane's cartoon. That also happens to be pretty much trademark MacLeod style, as this pair of early Hughtoons shows:

OK, so objectively - it's just a doodle. But these doodles struck me as awfully similar.

Another characteristic of Hugh's work is framing a couple of barely sketched-in figures, with snarky dialogue floating over their heads, viz:

gapingvoid: August 26, 2006
pickleshane: September 2, 2006

Now, I know these points of comparison could probably work equally well with the styles of many other cartoonists, but again: the similarities just seem too strong to be entirely accidental, IMHO.

Here's another batch of semi-randomly selected cartoons from Hugh and from pickleshane. See what you think:

Can you tell which is whose?

Digging even further, it looks like pickleshane may have even found cartoon fodder in comments Hugh has made in interviews.

Back in August, 2005, B.L. Ochman talked to Hugh for her "What's Next Online" blog. In the interview, Hugh is quoted as saying: "Purity: rhymes with obscurity."

Check this out, from a March 7, 2007 pickleshane cartoon:

(N.B. In truth, I think the first person to coin this particular idea may have been Ogden Nash in what must be one of the shortest poems in the English language, titled "Reflection on a Wicked World" and consisting solely of the line: "Purity is obscurity." But still... the coincidence of these two recent usages by two artists whose work is so similar is striking).

Now I'm not saying that all this is quite the same as the recent stories, reported at BoingBoing and elsewhere, about artist Todd Goldman apparently plagiarizing others' designs. But the stylistic coincidence of pickleshane's work with that of Hugh's strikes me as just a little too close to be entirely accidental. It's clear, at least, that pickleshane can't claim ignorance of Hugh's work, as his own del.icio.us account includes a couple of items tagged "gapingvoid".

I'm not quite sure what to make of all this. I pinged Hugh about it on Friday. I get the impression he's as puzzled about this as I am. I also, for the record, emailed pickleshane (politely) to see if he'd be inclined to comment. No response as yet.

I'll update this post if/when I hear anything new. In the meantime, some thoughts of Dean Inge seem appropriate:

"Originality, I fear, is too often only undetected and frequently unconscious plagiarism"

Unconscious? Perhaps. But undetected no longer.