Sunday Mailbag

September 17th, 2006 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Where do you get your references for doing caricatures?

A: Several sources. I have an old fashioned “morgue file” at home. A morgue file is a file cabinet full of reference pictures filed and cross-referenced. I keep alphabetical files by last name with clipped photos of celebrities from entertainment magazines, cross-referenced (sort of) by movie or TV show. I’m not too good at clipping and filing, though, so that is not a very good source for me. Another reason my morgue file doesn’t get added too very often is that my oldest daughter, Elizabeth, is autistic. One of the obsessive/compulsive things she does is to scribble or tear out people’s faces from entertainment magazines. How ironic is that? Why can’t she tear out the pictures of people’s feet from magazines?? Why the faces?!? Oh, well.

My main source is the Internet, of course. There are several good image search engines out there: Google and Alta Vista have served me the best. There are also a few celebrity database sites that not only have pictures themselves but can lead to fan sites of the celebrities. Fan sites are the best sources of pictures, because these fans are often pretty obsessed and may have literally hundreds of images scanned from magazines and taken off the Internet in one tidy place, usually with a handy thumbnail index! For the purpose of finding fans sites I usually run a regular Google search for “celebrity name fan” or “celebrity name tribute”. Honestly these simple searches will yield more than enough pictures to work with for almost any celebrity.

Finally I will sometimes rent DVDs of films or TV shows the actors I am trying to draw have been in recently. This is especially useful if I am doing a parody for MAD and need to draw them many times at different angle. By pausing the DVD and doing a screen capture, I can assemble and print out a page of reference with full, profile and 3/4 views from left and right, plus some examples of a few expressions if I am lucky. That’s really all I need to do a good job on somebody.

I try not to be slavish to the reference. What i mean is I am not dependent on an exact picture for every caricature I draw. I try to get a feel for the face overall with many pictures, and use the observations I take from them as a whole to do the one or multiple caricatures I need to draw of a given subject. This is especially true with any MAD parody, of course. I’d go crazy trying to find a reference of person X in a right 3/4 view yelling angrily for this panel, and one of them in profile to the left laughing hysterically in the next panel, and so on. I’ve got to get a better grasp of the face than having to rely on single images, or I’m in big trouble trying to do convincing caricatures multiple times in a continuity piece (MAD speak for a parody).

I have no idea how Mort Drucker, Angelo Torres, Sam Viviano and the old gang used to do these parodies with no Internet, DVD’s or even VCRs back in “the day”. I know studios used to send them press packets in hopes that MAD would parody their film or show, but that is only a handful of stills. Of course, back then there were a lot less films and TV shows, and under the ‘studio system’ the same stars would end up as leads in so many movies. It’s still amazing to me. I remember a few years ago I was working on a parody of the movie “Godzilla” with Matthew Broderick as a sample to show MAD. I was looking for reference on the Internet of Broderick when I came across an eBay auction for the original press kit for “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. There were pictures of the kit with images of the still photos in contained. I recognized many of the pictures and dug out my copy of MAD with Mort’s parody of the film. I could see where he used each of the press kit pictures in the art… that was defiantly his primary source of reference. I wish I’d have bought that press kit… that would have been fun to own.

Here are some links to a few favorite image sources:


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New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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