Sunday Mailbag

August 13th, 2006 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Do you do any of the writing for your parodies in MAD?

A: No and yes. How’s that for an ambiguous answer?

There are many forms of writing, but in the traditional sense, meaning do I contribute to the actual script and/or dialogue of a parody I am doing the art for the answer is no. I get a script from MAD with all the dialogue and each panel already written and set. The writer of the parody submits the script to MAD, and he/she is the one who gets the credit (or blame) for the jokes, gags and satire of the piece. The editors do a lot of work on the articles in MAD also, sometimes trimming out panels and gags to make an article more concise, and doing some tweaking to make the gags that are kept as effective as possible. This process is all over by the time I get the script. My job as far as the script is concerned is to make sure my artwork reinforces the gags written into the script, either helping to drive home the jokes or making it easier to understand them. This is called “selling the gag” as I have mentioned before.

As I said, there are many forms of writing. One of my favorite parts of the MAD tradition, and something that I think makes MAD so much fun, is the addition of background gags and funny (hopefully) art unrelated to the jokes in the script. These are called “visual gags”. Will Elder, one of the principal artists of the early days of MAD, was the master of this aspect of MAD art. Elder, a certifiable genius of humorous illustration (some might say he was simply “certifiable”) used to cram every spare inch of his panels with visual gags and background jokes. He called this dense method of cartooning the “Chicken Fat technique”. It is a form of writing, just usually not with words.

I have tried to carry on the Chicken Fat technique by brainstorming and adding visual gags throughout a MAD parody I draw. I think it adds and extra layer to the humor. If you don’t find at least one or two gags in your second reading of a parody that you missed previously, I did not do my job. Some gags I’ll write in have to do with the show itself, like having one of the characters doing something in the panel unrelated to the dialogue but might be saying something about that character or actor. An example of this would be my parody of Terminator 3, when I drew Arnold spitting out his dentures as well as a bullet he caught in his teeth, wearing an AARP T-shirt. Another background gag might be adding a cameo of some celebrity or cartoon character related somehow to the subject of the parody. For example, when I added Count Chocula and Frankenberry to the “Van Helsing” parody splash page. My favorite background gags, however, are ones that are complete non-sequitors… meaning they have nothing to do with the subject matter but are just jokes dealing with the moment or environment. An example of this would be similar to a panel I drew for an article on “Televised Sports”. The written gag was about how stupid it was that the commentators on TV golf whisper when they talk, like they are right on the green when someone is putting and not in some booth hundreds of yards away. I drew the commentators shushing themselves, but in the background on the course the putter was getting hit by lightning. That had nothing to do with the gag, but was just a silly visual.

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