Interview with Julian Pena-Pai

Julian PENA-PAI is a wellknown Romanian cartoonist, with 40 year cartooning experience and 90 international prizes awarded in worldwide cartoon contests. We should mention the ECC- Kruishoutem first prize, in 
1989. He also participated in over 20 international juries.
He is a genuine professional, passionate about cartooning evolution in general and the history of ideas in cartooning in particular. Pena-Pai is considered an artist with a trained eye, capable of finding similarities in 
cartoon art.
Saskia : Which are in your opinion the elements that make a good 
Julian: A good cartoon lives first and foremost through its concept/idea and only secondly 
through its graphic “coat”. The original IDEA is the author’s intelectual product and his pride. The 
whole intelligence of a cartoonist is quantified in his idea, the copyright is applied to the idea, not 
to the quality of the drawing.
The idea is like a ROOT – a good root – which, after you have “planted”, and you have drawn 
nicely, a good cartoon will come out of it. The idea is accepted as original only when it belongs to 
the first author. 
If out of ignorance, human error memory or coincidence you take over/borrow the “root” of 
another author, you will definitely not create an original cartoon (based on your own inspiration 
and creativity). Instead, you will produce SIMILARITY, similarity which can be the same as 
PLAGIARISM. This is the first lesson any cartoonist should learn. 

Saskia : How would you define these two words “similarities” and “plagiarism”?

Julian : I have just defined them, but I haven’t finished the 
topic yet. We all know that similarity cannot be confused 
with originality, but there are similarities of ideas that can 
give rise to good cartoons. The key to this issue can be 
found in the two concepts that I created:
- NEGATIVE similarity triggered by repetition, when you 
have taken the other’s “root” or idea, you have NOT 
ADDED any new element, any intellectual potential or 
message change. As a member of a jury, I would never 
award a prize to a cartoon in this category. 
In my opinion, this category is also a form of plagiarism.
- POSITIVE similarity manifests itself by diference, i.e., 
when you have borrowed the “root” of someone else, but 
you have ADDED clear, visible elements of novelty and 
The cartoons that belong to this category cannot be 
compared to those that have an original value; however, 
some cartoons, judged in terms of the novelty they ADDED, 
can be awarded prizes in contests.
Summing up, in cartooning there are only 3 cartoon 
-ORIGINAL cartoons (containing an original idea);
-NEGATIVE similarities by repetition,or PLAGIARISM;
-POSITIVE similarities by difference. 
Saskia:You are well known as the godfather of the similarities in cartooning. How come you are so 
passionate about this theme?
Julian : The Godfather of similarities is 
H.Cakmak, who had the idea of showing 
them, 15 years ago. I have only developed 
this idea making a history out of it. I 
consider that this art, cartooning, is in 
decline because of the over-reiteration of the 
old ideas or of plagiarism. 
The 1980-2000’s ideas – the best cartooning 
age – are redrawn in a negative way, with no 
creativity or discernment. 
Albert Einstein once said: “The secret to 
creativity is knowing how to hide your 
As a sincere researcher, honest and 
dispassionate, every day I discover the 
sources of inspiration of the new current 
cartoons in the old cartoon albums of the 
80s or 90s. That is where the passion for my 
comes from.

Saskia : What do you want to achieve with your actions?
Julian : I want to stop this decline, to 
contribute to cartooning development 
and to prevent the replication of ideas. 
Even if my action is not a vendetta 
against any author, - I am just studying 
ideas and drawings – there are already 
some opponents who seem to be 
irritated by my research.
They do not manage to see “the 
forest”(my history) for “the trees”(their 
similar drawings). But I will continue to 
show my collection of similarities, as it 
is useful to many. I have a too rich 
collection and nothing can prevent me 
from showing it.

Saskia : Do you think that cartoonists now are less creative, innovative than f.e. 20, 30 years ago? Why?
Julian : Because creativity is on the verge of extinction. Everything from the past is being duplicated. Cartooning is not like fashion, where trends come and go after a number of years’cycle. On the other hand, getting back to the ideas of the 80s or 90s has also a moral and ethical aspect. How can a cartoon of today be awarded a prize if it is based on an obsolete idea? 
Have you thought of the first author’s feelings when he sees his idea getting a prize, but this award is not for him but for someone else?? Since you are not a cartoonist you will never understand. Life shows us that you may be awarded undeservedly, as it is much easier to “borrow” than to strain your own mind. Pastisha, “coincidence” and theft have become a bad habit.

Saskia : Can it be linked to communication technology, that we have more access to cartoons from all over the world, and that 'similarities' are more visible today than before?
Julian : Similarities were visibile before, too, but there was nobody to 
research and to display them. There is now. And I am not alone, I have a lot of collaborators and supporters.
Saskia : I'm convinced that no serious cartoon organization does accept 
plagiarism, and that prizes were withdrawn immediately in the past when 
plagiarism did took place. The story about 'Similarities' is something more complicated. Isn't it often a coincidence?

Julian : I’m afraid you are wrong, 
organizations implicitly accept 
plagiarism out of ignorance. There are 
more and more types of plagiarism 
which are awarded prizes. The “Similarities”issue is complex, but I have simplified it. NEGATIVE similaritiy by repetition (plagiarism) and POSITIVE similarity by difference are 2 concepts that will make a career in cartooning, since they reflect the present day reality.

The similarity by coincidence can be seldom demostrated, the argument being just an “escape” 
excuse. I would rather believe in human error memory, i.e., once you saw the idea somewhere, 
but you have forgotten it and by mistake you reiterate it. I can tell you from my experience that I 
don’t believe in mere coincidences.

Saskia : Isn't it possible 
that your work has a 
reversed effect? That it 
will not stimulate 
cartoonists to be more 
creative, but that it will 
stop all creativity 
because cartoonists 
become afraid of having 
the same idea and that 
they quit? I know that 
some cartoonists think 
of stopping cartooning 
because of that.

Julian : This demonstrates that I am right. It shows that some cartoonists’ inspiration and creativity were based on other cartoonists’ ideas. Or that they are not confident about their abilities to continue. So we cannot sweep the old ideas under the carpet and pretend they don’t exist.

Saskia : Also jury members are having doubts to participate in juries, even those who know the cartoon 
world very well and observe all results. They seem to be afraid that the winner they choose will be 'similar' 
to another one, somewhere in a catalogue that they missed.
Julian : Oh, no... I don’t believe that. You, organizers, not jury members, you are the ones that have 
all these fears lest you should compromise the Salon by awarding undeserved prizes. 

Saskia: Isn’t there any risk that in that way, only a few 'perfect' jury members will remain in all cartoon contests and we'll miss some diversity and 'a fresh look' of non traditional jury members? What is your idea of a good jury?
Julian : What do you mean by ... ‘a fresh look’? Only a nonprofessional can have a ‘fresh look’. Do you think that the Mayor or sponsor can decide on the prizes? Only the cartoonists in the jury have this right and they are responsible for their choices. 

A good jury should be composed 
of highly experienced 
professionals, people who have 
seen a lot of drawings in their 
lives. Not a jury made up of some caricaTOURISTS, (the joke isn’t mine). 
In my opinion, Aydin Dogan 
cartoon contest jury will tell the 
„right time” in cartooning in the 
future, too. Just like Greenwich.

Saskia : What do you like to give as advice to cartoonists all over the world and especially to young, starting cartoonists?
Julian : I have a piece of advice 
only for the young cartoonists. If somone wants to become a writer, he reads Tolstoy or Balzac before starting to write. The young ones who would like to become cartoonists should study first the works of the old cartoonists, because they can learn a lot from them.
During my 40 year cartooning 
experience I have collected an 
impressive archive for them, 
posted on

Saskia : What is your personal dream about cartooning for yourself and cartoon art in general?
Julian : I have already fulfilled my dreams related to my artistic career, but as far as cartooning is 
concerned, I wish it a better future, based on innovation and creativity. The prehistorical man 
created the wheel, while the modern man – taking the concept over – created the COGwheel. By 
analogy, I would like the cartoonists to do the same. If they are not capable of creating original 
cartoons, at least they should get the old ideas to a higher level.

Saskia : Do you like to add something I might have forgotten to ask?
Julian : I want to conclude by saying that there isn’t any single cartoonist that can assert that his 
work is similarity-free. I have 10 similarities in a 300 Salon cartoon portfolio. One of my 
colleagues has 60 similarities in 300 cartoons, too. And a good artist, awarded by you, has 15 
similarities per 50 cartoons in his portfolio.
Please, ponder over this proportion, number of similarities per portfolio, and you will understand 
much more about inspiration, imagination and creativity. The key to characterizing/describing a 
cartoonist can be found in this relationship.

Saskia : Dear Julian, thank you very much.
Saskia Gheysens,ECC - Kruishoutem

11 july 2012 114:26 /jpp

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