MAD KIDS #7 Sneak Peek

April 13th, 2007 | Posted in MAD Magazine

MAD art director Sam Viviano warned me that a cover job would be a little different, and he was not kidding. Often when doing feature stuff the editors give the artists a lot of leeway to have fun and add something to the proceedings. They are still very specific about certain things and definitely demand changes when needed, but covers are very different. These are highly scrutinized and the process is reviewed at each step much more closely and with more specific control than the typical inside job. That is no surprise… the cover is the face of the magazine and it’s importance cannot be overstated.

It is nothing unusual for a cover to get major changes to it at a late stage, or even for the art department to work on it after it’s done to make it work with all the text and design. It’s very throughly thought out and looked over, with the best results in mind.

On this cover job, the intention was to show Spidey having shot his web onto the MAD KIDs logo, but it won’t bear his weight and it’s breaking off. He’s about to fall. We needed to convey that visually. MAD also wanted me to use the yellow palette of the previous film’s movie posters for the city.

My first though was to use the angle of the shot for a vertigo effect, even if it didn’t make sense that Spider-Man would be so high above the city. I wanted the sense of his impending fall. This was my first draft:


It was concluded that the logo was not looking like something separate enough to be swung from, and that the skyline needed to be below it for more of a horizontal shot. It was also pointed out that Spider-Man looked too “real” and they wanted more of the wacky, awkward Spidey I drew for the movie parodies. This was my revision:


After further review they liked the first Spidey better, but just wanted me to ‘cartoon it up’ a bit. I used a forced, fish-eye kind of perspective to give us both a skyline and a straight down shot. The cityscape/ logo was working so I did this new body to be used in place of the other:


With all that approved, I painted it. I made the mistake of thinking in terms of a real MAD cover and not of something fun for a kids magazine. I used a subdued palette for the Spidey costume (like the real movie colors) and more of a sepia tone yellow for the city. I also went with a yellow sky. Here’s what I came up with for the final:


Below is the final as printed. They ended up doing a lot of tweaking as you can see. They changed the logo, redid the sky to blue, boosted the brightness and saturation of both the city and Spidey.

Click the image for a closer look

I felt bad about that. Not because they changed my art but because I did not deliver a usable image. I was told they really liked the cover and these types of alterations are not unusual at all. As long as they are happy I guess I should be, but I hate it when someone on the client end has to spend time ‘fixing’ something they paid me to do right the first time. Oh well. Maybe I’ll get another chance someday.

I also did these cut out “Wall Webbers”, which were a lot of fun. They were full page images, and they are meant to be cut out and hung on a wall. Each image has small circles in place where a hole is supposed to be punched. Then a piece of yarn is supposed to be strung between these holes to connect the two images and make the gag. Here’s a sample:

Click image for a closer look

That’s a two page spread. MAD added the “holes” and dotted lines around the clothes. The yarn goes from Spidey’s wrist to the wall, and then you hand the clothes on it. There are others but you get the idea. A fun little job.

So, I was busy with this rather than doing anything in MAD #477. I’m back in #478 with that TV parody I knocked myself out on last week.


  1. Hi Tom,

    Stumbled upon your blog recently and I just wanted to say thank you. Thanks for taking the time and effort to fill it with tutorials and behind the scene examples. I think it’s fascinating to see how other illustrators work and how they deal with the day to day of being a freelancer.

    Keep it up!

    – Alana

  2. opsman says:

    You wouldn’t happen to be doing the ‘Law and Order: SVU’ parody, would you?

  3. cedricstudio says:

    Thanks for posting this Tom. It’s fascinating to see the process of how this evolved. I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself because of the color changes. Sometimes these things just boil down to miscommunication, not incompetence. It sounds like they asked for a color palette based on the movie posters so that’s what you gave them. Still, it’s great that you hold yourself to such high standards, and that you maintain a humble and graceful attitude towards your clients. You model a high level of professionalism that I admire.

  4. howdesign says:

    Wow. Great story. I really liked your first version. The angle of the camera really makes it seem like he’s falling more. I know what you mean about them making changes. So you supplied a layered PSD file that they could edit?

    Can you explain a bit what went into the work on the buildings? Some great detail in them! Was it all Photoshop, Illustrator or something else?


  5. SteveH says:

    Tom, I REALLY look forward to more cover illustrations for MAD, I’m sure they will ask you again and again…. we ALL love your work!

  6. Those buildings look like they were done in 3D Max or Maya! Awesome work on the shading.


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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