I used to be a terror as a collaborator. I was obsessed that who came up with what idea was clearly defined. If I saw a film or TV show similar to one of my ideas, I was convinced they plucked the idea from my brain.
I was recently impressed by Bill Willingham’s excellent self-interview about Fables vs. Once Upon a Time. If you don’t know about it, see here:
If he can be so charitable, why can’t I? I thought this to myself, and then realized I’ve improved.
It started when I noticed but didn’t freak out about the similarities between the ending of this:
And the ending of something I has made years earlier:
In my twenties, I would have gone nuts. Literally bonkers. I didn’t realize things like this could happen by chance.
Most recently, I was reading the hilarious “That Is All” and noticed a section on magicians similar in tone to my “Arcane Secrets” comics, written a few years ago:
Yet, I’m positive Mr. Hodgman hasn’t seen them. In fact, if anything his works influenced me to write them.
As a younger man, I was preoccupied with the idea of people stealing my ideas. I used to think that the idea was the most valuable thing one can possess creatively.
As I’ve gotten older, my perspective has flipped. I can have ideas all day long. It’s making them manifest as objects that’s the real issue. It’s not thinking of the joke, it’s telling it. It’s not thinking of the cartoon, it’s drawing it.
You can’t hold on to your ideas. They must be shared, or have the potential to be shared.
The other thing I’ve noticed, mostly from Twitter Hashtag games, is that original ideas aren’t very original.
Here’s an explanation, if you don’t know how a Hashtag game works:
1) A concept is put after a pound sign like #CowDisasterFilms
2) You post a Tweet on Twitter that consists of an example of that concept, followed by the Hashtag, like:
The Mooseiden Adventure #CowDisasterFilms
3) Someone accuses you of stealing their Tweet, because they posted The Mooseiden Adventure at the same time as you.
I usually avoid step three by doing a search before I post, because it’s funny how the good jokes are often the most obvious.
Here’s the interesting thing, though.
Before Twitter, I would have even considered the idea of Cow Disaster Films my intellectual property. “It was my idea to pair cows and disaster films! Back off!”
Now, we invite others to play, even relish it when we see our ideas being used by many people. As such, they have become objects, however fleeting. They’re shared mental constructs, and often funnier than individual thoughts in our heads.
That’s not to say plagiarism is dead, or that it doesn’t suck when it happens. However, I now recognize that two people can have a similar idea independent of each other. When see someone I admire doing something similar to me, I am more apt to feel good that we’re on the same wavelength than to suspect them of stealing my thoughts.
It makes the world a much more pleasant place.