By: Rob Tornoe
Amid the rise and success of hit TV shows such as “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” animator-turned Hollywood powerhouse Seth MacFarlane has been dogged with accusations of joke-stealing and lack of originality in his work.
Now, cartoonists are pointing out the similarities between his new motion picture “Ted” and popular comic strip “Imagine This.” The strip, created in 2008 by cartoonist Lucas Turnbloom and syndicated by Universal Uclick, centers around a slacker and his foul-mouthed teddy bear sidekick who drinks beer and has anger issues.
“Certainly, the idea of someone talking to a stuffed animal isn’t new,” said Tom Racine, host of Tall Tale Radio, a popular podcast about comics, animation, and movies. “But ‘Ted’ feels like it was just taken directly from ‘Imagine This’ with little or no attempt to change it.”
Racine created a shot-by-shot graphic pairing panels from “Imagine This” and screenshots from “Ted.” In one, both Ted and Turnbloom’s bear character Clovis are leaning back while drinking a beer. In another, both sets of characters sit lazily on the couch eating cereal.
Turnbloom, who has devoted the last five years developing “Imagine This,” said he was devastated when he found out about MacFarlane’s movie.
“Many cartoonists, myself included, hope that their strips might someday be developed into a movie or a TV show,” he said. “I guess ‘Ted’ proves I was right to believe that my strip had cinematic potential.”
There is no evidence that MacFarlane was influenced by “Imagine This,” and the cartoon world (and Hollywood, for that matter) is replete with stories about stolen jokes, reworked gags, and outright theft of ideas, all of which are extremely difficult to prove. Turnbloom himself isn’t pressing the issue or accusing MacFarlane of stealing his work.
But John Glynn, vice president of rights and acquisitions at Universal Uclick and gocomics.com, where “Imagine This” runs, said the similarities between the two are too striking to simply shrug off.
“I see lots of similar jokes, concepts, and premises that come through our submissions and editing processes, so I know people can arrive at the same place totally separate of each other,” Glynn said. “In those cases, I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I’d give that benefit to Mr. MacFarlane here, but the similarities are hard to deny.”
This isn’t the first time MacFarlane has been called out for similarities between his creations and comic characters.
When “Family Guy” first aired, comic book fans were angered over the striking similarities between Stewie and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, a character from Chris Ware’s popular comic “Acme Novelty Library.” Corrigan, created by Ware in 1991, is an infant with a football-shaped head who fears his mother and invents things to try to escape.
Ware told Entertainment Weekly that the similarities between the two characters were “a little too coincidental to be simply, well, coincidental,” but added, “If I let it get the better of me, I wouldn’t get any work done. I’d just sit around and stew about it.”
“I’m not sure how artists can protect themselves against huge media conglomerates,” Racine said. “I think it’s important for creators to point this sort of thing out, but usually, not much can be done about it.”
Neither Seth MacFarlane nor anyone at his production company, Fuzzy Door Productions, could be reached for comment.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor & Publisher and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.