‘Boffo’ Creator: My Cartoon ‘Reworked’

By: Dave Astor

Joe Martin says a recent “Zits” comic showing a message being mowed into a lawn was an “obvious reworking” of a “Mister Boffo” cartoon first published in 1986. But “Zits” co-creator Jerry Scott says he wasn’t consciously aware of Martin’s drawing when thinking up the June 20 strip, that the strip had completely different wording than Martin’s cartoon, and that “I have more than enough of my own ideas.”

The “Zits” comic showed 15-year-old Jeremy Duncan expressing his disgust with mowing the lawn by etching “this suc” (as in “this sucks”) into the grass (E&P Online, June 24). Most of the 1,100-plus “Zits” clients ran the comic, although at least a couple of newspapers published an alternate version reading “this stin” (as in “this stinks”).

Martin’s cartoon showed a landscaper mowing the letter “F” into a lawn as another landscaper says, “I think Carlos is quitting.” The cartoon, because of it’s implied use of the “F” word, never ran on a newspaper comics page. It first appeared on a “Mister Boffo” book cover 17 years ago, and has since been reprinted in anthologies, in a 1996 National Cartoonists Society directory, and elsewhere.

“If this was just a joke that appeared one time in a newspaper, I wouldn’t think anything of it,” Martin told E&P Online. “[But] it’s practically like my trademark.”

Martin, whose “Mister Boffo” is syndicated to 150 papers by Tribune Media Services, sent an e-mail to Scott and “Zits” co-creator Jim Borgman wondering if a freelance gagwriter reworked his joke and sent it to the King Features Syndicate cartoonists.

Scott told E&P Online that no freelance gags are used in “Zits.” He added that when he thought up the June 20 comic, he had a vague recollection that Gary Larson had previously done a lawn-message cartoon. “I certainly didn’t think I was ripping off ‘Mister Boffo.’ I thought I was ripping off ‘The Far Side’!” Scott joked.

Turning serious, Scott said “I feel bad” that Martin is upset about last month’s “Zits” strip. But he noted that there are various genres of gags many cartoonists tap into without being guilty of plagiarism. Indeed, Scott said a number of comic creators have used content reminiscent of that in “Zits.” Besides, said Scott, the general idea of etching messages into the grass predates Martin’s 1986 cartoon. “I mowed my name into the lawn when I was a kid,” recalled Scott, who is 48.

Martin said he e-mailed Scott and Borgman with his concerns on June 25, and hadn’t received a reply as of July 3. Scott said July 3 that he hadn’t seen Martin’s e-mail. When told the two addresses Martin used, Scott said both are non-personal addresses that get a huge number of e-mails — and that he and Borgman are behind in reading them.

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