Political cartoonist angry

Cartoonist Donna Barstow often broaches political themes.

Paging Charles Carreon! Someone on the internet wants money from mocking critics, but may need a hand with the legal not-so-niceties.

Slate cartoonist Donna Barstow railed on Monday at online forum Something Awful, whose denizens often repost her work and subject it to withering ridicule. Though one of many artists to find their work attacked online, Barstow is fighting back, demanding payment and accusing the site of copyright infringement.

"Something Awful is the most vile, hateful, racist, stealing, illegal site ever," Barstow wrote on Twitter in a message directed at John Hendren, one of the site's writers. "Shame on you."

When twitterers suggested that embedding and criticizing her panels constitutes fair use--a common defense against claims of copyright infringement--Barstow said that their treatment of her work was nothing of the sort.

"You steal my cartoons (read definition of Fair Use - NOT on SA) and ignore my takedown & DMCA notices. That's evil," she wrote.

To bolster her case, Barstow invoked the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and cited today's story in the LA Times describing how Twitter gets 80 percent of requests for user information from U.S.-based police forces.

"Are you talking about people posting them on the forums and making fun of them?" responded Something Awful's David Thorpe. "I think you might be confused about the internet"

"I think you're confused about money," came Barstow's retort. "Can I send an invoice your way?"

Something Awful hosts lengthy threads discussing strip cartoons, most of them embedded from image-hosting service Imgur. One thread discussing Barstow's work is here.

Monday's exchange only triggered a torrent of further criticism--much of it impolite--directed at her work. Singled out was a strip about "wishy washy" men of uncertain sexuality, jibes at Muslims' and Mexicans' expense, and an insensitive remark about Japan's 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Barstow's cartoons have appeared in The New Yorker, L.A. Times and Sunday Parade as well as Slate. She is also the author of What Do Women Really Want? Chocolate!, a collection of cartoons about confectionary. In the late 2000s, she branched out into political cartoons, drawing the attention of Something Awful's diverse army of artists, writers, fans, flatterers and trolls. She also maintains a blog, Why I did it.

It's not the first time Barstow has threatened critics who reproduce her single-panel cartoons. In 2009, she emailed the ISP of Alas, a Blog in an effort to have two posts accusing her of racism (1, 2) taken down. Renee Martin of Womanist Musing, who criticized the "Mexico" strip reproduced above and described Barstow as a "racist pearl clutcher", removed it at her request the same year. Pandagon, Volcanista, The Faithful Penguin, Kick and Radgeek all accused Barstow of racism over the same strip—and all were sent takedown demands.

The fight is a bizarre inversion of another ongoing cartoonist-vs-aggregator dust-up. In 2011, comic artist Matthew Inman (of The Oatmeal fame) expressed frustration at website FunnyJunk's prolific rehosting of his strips. In that case, however, FunnyJunk ultimately demanded money from him, for what it described as defamation. Inman, for his part, fought not with legal threats, but cleverly-aimed snark and a spectacularly successful charity campaign.

FunnyJunk's lawyer, Charles Carreon, subsequently launched his own lawsuit against Inman.


  1. From the samples shown and linked here, she’s as aggressively unfunny as she is aggressively litigious.

    1.  You’d think she was funny if you were into conservative issues like how dirty Mexico is and getting all the gays onto a leper island.

  2. My god those are some of the cruellest and least-funny “comics” I’ve ever seen. What a waste of time. She spends her life doing this? When she could actually be bettering the world? That’s pitiful.

    1. I think you might overestimate this woman’s capacity for bettering the world. If she wasn’t doing lousy comics she’d probably be holding up a GODD HATEZ FHAGS sign or throwing rocks at Mexicans. 

    1. No, we’re talking about Donna Barstow, not Christ.  He’s a pretty groovy dude.

      But Donna Barstow is indeed an asshole.

      ETA: After some discussion with m0g, I realized that this is unfair. Ms. Barstow may be a very nice person who is paid to be an asshole when drawing.

      1. Sorry, I know this is late but the argument that she may be a nice person paid to be an asshole is like arguing that a hitman may be a nice person paid to kill people. You are judged by what you do and if you are being an asshole, all the nice things that you do are not going to change that the perception of you is one of being an asshole.

        You cannot argue that it’s just a job, if you don’t believe in it you should not be doing it.

        1.  Just….. a failed attempt at humour, I suppose. This might brighten your day, though; in attempting to engage Barstow in actual dialogue on Twitter (oxymoronic or just moronic? I claim both), she told me that “Non-commercial has nothing to do with fair use!”

          I suppose 17 USC 107(1) has nothing to do with fair use in her world either, despite being the relevant statute saying exactly the opposite.

    1. As an avid hiker, I should point out that one of the things you’re supposed to do if you can’t avoid a bear is to throw small rocks at it. It gets annoyed and leaves, hopefully.

      1.  People tell you to DO that?

        Seriously? The bear gets annoyed at you… and LEAVES?

        Who tells you to do that? For-profit ambulance services?

        1.  According to someone with a Foresty Services degree I met at a BBQ on the weekend (we were discussing this Exact thing), most bears Aren’t rage-filled monsters. They kept air horns and small rocks in their truck to ward off bears. Clapping and yelling apparently also work well.

          1. They can tell the experts tried using rocks and air horns by examining the bears’ scat.

          2. You know the old children’s toy with a thingy on a stick? (Um. Vocabulary fails me yet again…) When you swing it around, the centrifugal force makes the thingy give off a loud rattle, which children of all ages finds hilarious.

            Where I come from that’s called a “bear scarer”. They used to give it to the kids who spent the summer up the mountain with the herds, to scare off bears. Did not work on wolves at all, though.

            Now I wonder how many scandinavian immigrants to america tried that on black bears and grizzlys and got eaten…

          3. I’ve watched enough Colbert Report to know that most bears are indeed rage-filled monsters!

        2. depends on the species of bear. black bear, yes. grizzly, not so much. altho i would go with the biggest rocks i could throw effectively instead of small rocks.

          1. I think you’re supposed to throw them near rather than at the bear.  Hurting the bear with rocks seems unwise.  But then, I live in black bear country, probably the rules are different with grizzly bears, as you say.

          2. Black Bears are actually pretty skiddish around people.  They are like big raccoons.  Throwing a rock at them would probably work unless you’ve stepped between a mother and her cub or something.  One piece of advice I’ve heard is that if you are out camping and a black bear pokes his head into your tent, you are supposed to bop it across the nose to scare it off, although I suspect simply screaming will probably work just as well. 

            Grizzlies are a different matter, I would refrain from antagonizing them as much as possible. 

        3. Black bears will leave – young easily frightened black bears, which is most of them. But old black bears – not so much. And Grizzlies? Yeah, don’t throw anything at them unless it’s about 3oz of lead travelling faster than sound.

        4. I was in the woods with the family once (Yosemite, I think it was) and there was a mama bear and two cubs (black) hanging around near a busy loop trail and gathering quite a crowd of onlookers.  A young ranger guy came along to monitor the crowd and make sure everything was cool and that everyone got a good eyeful of the bears without getting too close.  He eventually decided to end the scene by tossing a fist-sized rock toward the bears from about 40 feet.  He was way too good a shot, however, and the rock knocked the mama bear right in the forehead (with a resounding knock sound not unlike a baseball being hit out of the park.)  Needless to say, it scared the hell out of the bear and she (and the cubs) ran like hell into the forest.  

          1.  So the Rangers beat the Cubs 1-0 with a one-hitter?

            I’ll see myself out of the building, thank you.

        5. As I said, only if you can’t avoid. You can’t outrun a bear so your only option left is a show of aggression.

      2. that is horrible advice for any truly dangerous bear specises, or bears with cubs, only good advice for docile bears that wouldn’t bother you anyways.

        personally when it comes to grizzlies or polar bears, i carry salmon, berries, and jars of honey to throw at them hoping to appease them.  sometimes i’ll even throw avid hikers that carry small rocks and air horns at them as those seem to be their favorite treats. :-)

  3. Can anybody think of a form of artistic production more clearly liable to constitutionally protected parody/criticism/etc. ?

    If political cartoons aren’t natural fodder for that sort of thing, we might as well just pretend that copyright law provides unlimited control over what anybody does or says about our work and have done with it…

    1.  The ghosts of the founding fathers just called to demand your comment be taken down.   They refuse to be associated with anything fuzzy or throwing things at bears.

  4. Yeah, she’s missing something. Funnyjunk was just posting stuff from The Oatmeal because it is funny (and kind of omitting any mention of whose material it was). Conversely Something Awful (wow… it’s been a looooong time) denizens are posting her work, knowingly as hers, and laughing at it. 

    It is because all you can do in the face of such ironically unfunny tripe is laugh.

    1. Exactly.  SA was posting Donna Barstow’s work in order to comment on it, which is one of the specific reasons for Fair Use to begin with.

      Funnyjunk was straight-up posting The Oatmeal to generate revenue for Funnyjunk.

  5. Ah, the stench of resentful desperation. Better tattle on the teacher because those kids in the corner are giggling at you.

  6. By the way…
    “What do women really want? Chocolate! But you already knew that, right?”

    No, not really. I mean I’ve heard it before but I always considered it one of those trite sexist cliches that spares us having any kind of real conversation. But, I see you’re addicted to a food stuff so I’ll leave you to your… um… thing.

        1.  Wait, I thought they wanted committed relationships with animate chocolate people.

        2. Wait, but now you’re not lumping all women into the same tired generalized pigeonhole; you’re allowing for the fact that ALL women are not the exact same stereotype.  Where’s the good ol’ fashioned conservative humour in that?!?

    1.  A significant percentage of the women I know have an emergency chocolate stash, another (not necessarily distinct) group maintain a wine collection and head right for it on a Friday after work.

      1. Who are these women that only eat chocolate or wine during emergencies?
        Every day or else you don’t the cumulative benefit of all those lovely antioxidents or whatever, just gimme!And so you know, you can now buy chocolate in the “Feminine Hygiene” (or as I like to call it “blood rag”) aisle. It’s got medicine and everything! http://dietmotion.com/chocolate-and-pms.html

          1.  The ones who work in senior positions at public schools may get funny looks if they show up for work hungover

          2. Ocker3, how much are they drinking? Perhaps you should worry less about what women want and ask yourself why your friends are binge drinkers!

  7. Wait she calls SomethingAwful “the most vile, hateful, racist… site ever” then makes cartoons about how Mexicans and Muslims are terrible people.


    1. the logic these types of people follow is…it is only racist or vile or hateful if it is other people saying stuff that disagrees with what they were told to think.  they don’t know the actual meaning of any of those words.

  8. It’s too bad there’s not some kind of media style that an artist could use to satirically present commentary about a subject or story that is controversial or otherwise a hot topic.

  9. I think Fair Use is doomed as a concept. Big Media will simply buy a ruling to dismantle it in the age of Youtube partnering. Arthur Jensen would be proud.

  10. So she’s mad that people are pointing out that her cartoons are neither especially funny, insightful, or well drawn? That’s a shame.

  11. It isn’t as if there was a campaign to defame her, nor were people taking her comics for profit. Ultimately she’s throwing a fit about people criticizing her work, which happens to anyone that creates anything. She wouldn’t have profited from these people in the first place and, before she kicked the beehive, those that weren’t aware of the thread weren’t aware of her horrible comics. This stunt has only increased her infamy. She should have just let people with opinions keep their opinions to their discussion group.

    I plan to forget about her immediately.

    1. “If I am hurt in some way, even in my imagination, someone MUST have done something against the Law. I can threaten them with legal action I don’t understand.”  —  Ethos of the American Ignoramus

    1. That is weird, they are so similar I wonder if she’s the submitter to lolpix. The joke is conceptual, there’s no reason to copy the execution so exactly. But the cursive handwriting is different so I don’t know.

      1. I was wondering if it was the same piece just submitted twice, but after examining both pieces it’s clear they are different.  It’s possible she made the same cartoon twice, but unless you lost the original why bother?  It’s not like the second one is better in any way, it’s just the exact same cartoon with the same quality of art.

        1. The version on Barstow’s site is slightly better. It says “squeezing kids,” which is arguably funnier than “squeezing people,” and you can see more of the body which makes it more apparent that it’s a snake.

    1. At least when Rupert Murdoch describes something as creepy and evil, you know that you’re getting an expert opinion.

    1. Here goes one: “Having eliminated its neighbors to the north and the south, Mexico ticks off a list of things that are no longer problems for it. The sun is shining, there are large cocktails, and even the whales are happy. A Good Cartoon.”

  12. The Streisand Effect is at work here.  If not for her complaints, none of us would have ever looked at her cartoons.  And now, I presume, none of us would ever want to look at them again.

  13. Someone picking a fight with the Something Awful Goons?

    This is going to end well.

    (Opens beer, eats corn nuts and settles back to watch)

  14. Obviously, she’s super unfunny and kind of unhinged.  However, if it’s wrong for FunnyJunk to repost The Oatmeal, isn’t it wrong for SA to repost these?

    1. FunnyJunk didn’t really host any discussion of the images, just an indiscriminate collection of dozens, if not hundreds of Oatmeal strips. SA’s cartoon threads, while chaotic, tend to contain choice selections and are at least ostensibly there for discussion and criticism (and there’s a lot of it).

      SA doesn’t host the images in its threads — they’re hotlinked by users from Imgur (a la Reddit). This is perhaps a technical point, but it could be a legally important one as Barstow doesn’t seem aware of this — or, indeed, how easy it would be to get imgur to 404 those embeds.

      Also, it looks rather like she’s using claims of copyright infringement to stymie criticism of her work. Even if the infringement has occurred, Barstow’s loss is trivial, whereas social cost of enforcement is significant — hence, fair use/fair dealing!

    2. As others have mentioned, there are multiple reasons:

      1) No attribution
      2) Specifically deriving income from using the images
      3) Funnyjunk initially complied
      4) Funnyjunk was merely reproducing the images for page count
      5) Inman understood that it was difficult to police and gave up asking Funnyjunk to continually remove the images

      Then Funnyjunk had their lawyer threaten to sue him and bizarre grounds, making what was an irritation into a financial threat and potentially expensive legal battle.

      There’s also the question of ‘fair use’, which in this case is a question of scale. Copying images freely available on the web and then commenting on them as they appear on a forum discussion is theoretically different from copying hundreds of Inman’s images and archiving them on your site as part of a content system for redistritbution and display of them as part of your website’s content.

  15. I’m … ok with this.

    A creative, someone who creates, who braves the groupthink on self selecting samples of comment threads, who has a good idea that no matter what they come up with someone is going to overtly shit on them – not just their work, but ^them^ – decides to assertively confront a whole website of cynical shitters … and gets shat on some more by other websites. And I’m surprised BoingBoing is one of them. Sure you can shit on people and their work all you like, but don’t be surprised if some of your shit gets slung back.

    I’m also ok with her cartoons. And I thought BoingBoing was all about diversity.

    1. Unfortunately, that assertiveness took a particular form–copyright claims aimed at what appears to be critical fair use–which has nothing to do with “diversity”.

    2. I don’t see where this post suggests that it’s okay to denigrate the person behind the cartoons. I do see that cartoons, being a form of satire, are a legitimate target for criticism in turn. You might not like the way things are criticized (and the internet’s fashion of zeroing in on the person instead of the work is as typical as it is unacceptable), but that doesn’t mean that a cartoonist should get a free pass from criticism just because they doesn’t like the way their work is being criticized.

      Edited to add: I’m okay with her cartoons, too, though they strike me as pretty shrill. But they’re just cartoons.

        1. I don’t think he’s saying that you have to espouse the person’s viewpoint to recognize her as a person.  Like just about everyone who ever lived, I’m sure she has good points and bad points.  I can’t say for sure, as I’ve never met Donna Barstow, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt…except for the cartoons.  They’re horrendous.

          1. What you said. Racism is certainly not okay. But a cartoon is certainly analogous to a work of fiction wherein a character is racist. The cartoonist might be racist (or not), but they have a right to that viewpoint.

            What they do not have is freedom from criticism for that viewpoint. Ms. Barstow appears to feel she does.

        2. So, you’re okay with racism then?

          Hey, it’s just a diverse viewpoint, right?  Right?

      1. An interesting point, but part of what is being criticized is the very personal blog she writes and links to with her comics and vice versa. It’s even more offensive, racist, and petty than some of her “cartoons”, and it’s definitely fair game for critical attention. It’s pretty hard to cry foul when your personal, public blog is full of hateful invective.

    3. Taking copyright claims out won’t help – I agree. My dismayed surprise at the intolerance and ad hominem criticism is directed at some of the comments in this thread; not the article, which is equivocal.

      1. Well, that’s fair.  I can’t say whether I like Donna Barstow the person.  I’ve never met her.  I can say that I dislike her cartoons, and that in my opinion, they set back editorial cartooning and political discourse by decades through their poor quality, bigotry, ill humor, and dull wit.

        Take for instance the “Like A Bad Neighbor: Mexico is (Still) There” Powerpoint slide cartoon.  Great job of depicting a neighbor, what with her depicting Mexico as a massive island unconnected to the U.S and Canada to the north, or the Central American nations to the south.  You know, its neighbors.  She can’t even follow her own metaphor.

        Then there’s her “Just A Little Off The Side” piece.  Yes, because what will make this country better is removing the bits that disagree with her viewpoint.  You yourself argue for diversity.  I say based on your statements and hers that she should certainly be free to argue against it, but we should therefore be free to ridicule her for doing so.

        THAT’S diversity.

        But no, I don’t think being a terrible cartoonist makes someone a terrible person.  I make no statements about her moral character except as expressed in her work.

    4. I don’t think the ridicule leveled at Barstow has nearly as much to do with the quality of her work–which certainly is impeachable–as it does the fact that she fails to understand that having her work excerpted for commentary is perfectly legal under Fair Use.  SA credits her (in the process of ridiculing her), and only uses enough of her work to properly display her style.

      While I don’t have much time for her work, I feel the same way about what SA is doing to it as I do when someone excerpts, say, a few strips of Bloom County to compare and contrast with strips that came before and those that came after.

  16. Her cartoons are terrible. It’s like some seventh grade kid who wore a suit and tie every day in public school decided to draw an “edgy” art piece for social studies and then couldn’t figure out why no one wanted to hang out so he blamed the librulz in the administration for making him unpopular… except she’s an adult woman who is paid to do this.
    I’m going with “desperate need for attention” on this one.

    1. Oh wow.  Definitely way too bothered by teh gays.  And I always laugh when it’s couched in the “it’s not wrong but why do they always have to throw it in my face” attitude. 

      This just screams (flamboyantly?) of the psychological stress that comes from being reminded of the time (just once I swear) they had  “those” feelings that they are desperate to repress.

  17. vile, hateful, racist

    Hmmmm… after seeing her Mexico cartoon I’m not sure she understands such words.  That Mexico cartoon, which btw is just a rip off of all those dumb maps that are all over the internet that say “The World According to Americans (or whatever country” and then have a bunch of unfunny (unless you’re 13) generalizations/stereotypes about various nations:  India (call centers)….that sort of thing…

  18. What Do Women Really Want? Chocolate!

    So she’s basically like The Onion’s Jean Teasdale crossed with the comic strip character “Cathy”, but right wing………………….

  19. I find it humorous that she comments about this article on her Twitter feed:


    @Beschizza Oh, those were the only 2 cartoons of mine you could find? Really? Lazy & sensationalistic journalism.

    I thought that her political cartoons where just “sensationalistic journalism” distilled down to it’s base form?

    1. “@Beschizza Oh, those were the only 2 cartoons of mine you could find? Really? Lazy & sensationalistic journalism.”

      I thought she didn’t want people linking to her cartoons and commenting on them. 

    2. That remark of hers is a densely-packed “tell”, as it were.

      Those cartoons are the cartoons at the heart of the matter: they’re the ones that drew attention and criticism, and which were the subject of takedown requests.

      Yet, she’s tried to present reporting them as sensationalistic, as if it’s unreasonable to evaluate a simple, single-panel political cartoon in isolation–even though her professional oeuvre comprises of simple, single-panel political cartoons.

      But she doesn’t just say that. Instead, she puts down this focus on her most controversial work not just to sensationalism but laziness. In other words, she’s either convinced herself that those really were the only cartoons of hers “I could find,” or she’s convinced that others will believe her when she says that.

      However it shakes out, the ignorance is breathtaking–as is her indefatigable certainty that no-one can see through her legal and moral grandstanding.

    1. Yeah, I don’t really get her work. I often enjoy relatively unpolished art in cartoons (The Oatmeal or XKCD might fit that category), but mostly, her writing is off-putting.

      (Edited: “cetagory”?)

      1. Individual taste is an interesting thing: I’m addicted to XKCD and have zero time for Oatmeal. Viewed without the implied over-emotional (read: female) label that seems her most common criticism, her work got some chuckles out of me. Count me a new fan.

    2. I scanned her work on her website, and it looks template New Yorker tone to me. Didn’t see any hate (not saying there’s no evidence of that, just that it’s not a prevalent theme). 

      Not counting you a fan is orders of magnitude different to not having talent.

  20. “Something Awful is the most vile, hateful, racist, stealing, illegal site ever.”

    Now that’s comedy.

    1. This isn’t evidence of plagiarism, because we don’t really know which was created first. The earlier one from lolpix is clearly a photo of something printed — so it is *that* which we need to find before a charge of plagiarism is warranted.

      She says that her version was in print a long time before it was on her website. It does seem odd that she hasn’t yet explained where, but I’m sure it’s coming.

      1. The 2 versions are also clearly not the exact same comic. See the pattern on the snake’s head, “B. Python” instead of “D. Python”, “Kids” instead of “People”, and the broken line on the right side of the report card.  So either she redrew her own cartoon (which is possible) or redrew someone else’s.

        1. Yeah, I figure she redrew her own work. While she suggests that the lolpix one is plagiarized, I think that’s just her way of saying that its presence on that site is copyright infringement of the printed original.

      1. indeed, after that it was posted on many blogs throughout 2008.  something smells snaky…

        of course i’m *hoping* she outright plagiarized something she sold to the new yorker…because that would be priceless.  :-)

  21. Wow.  One of her punchlines is ‘Not!’

    …really.  That’s the best joke or commentary you could come up with about ebooks outselling printed books on Amazon?  I think I understand how she got fired.

    1. Michael Bluth: Which one are you wearing right now? Is this the ready-to-burst model? No, there’s zero trust here. Good-bye. It’s been fun… NOT.

      Narrator: Michael had hoped something more dramatic would have come out of his mouth. Or at least something more current.

  22.  “…ignore my takedown & DMCA notices. That’s evil!”
    OOoaawwww, thumbbody wants a chocowate!

  23. “Something Awful is the most vile, hateful, racist, stealing, illegal site ever”

    Hey, SA may be vile and hateful, but they are very proactive in keeping racist and illegal content off the site.

    1. I think that what she was really trying to express was, “I know you are but what am I?”

  24. I was interested in what SA comments she views as “defamatory,” as the only SA comments I saw appeared to be statements of opinion about art, or else satire and clear hyperbole.  None of that is defamatory.  So I tweeted her to ask if she could identify any defamatory statements.  She blocked me.

    1. Of course, it’s possible that I misread her and she actually said not defamation, but defenestration.  Pretty sure I saw a drawing of that at SA.

      1. I still have to get rid of that thing. I’m convinced that it has too much value to throw out but I really don’t want it and its too heavy to ebay.

  25. While I am not a fan of the Something Awful forum goons, the difference between Funnyjunk and Something Awful (aside from the direction of the litigation), is that SA is actually giving credit for the cartoons, while Funnyjunk is not.

  26. Even if she were to win, this is probably a fight she can’t really win. If I were her I’d ignore it and move on.

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