Sunday Mailbag

May 6th, 2007 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: The splash pages for your MAD parodies are full of Caricature illustrations/bodies, all set around a relevant scene and I wonder how you go about working out these scenes and where you start with the first pencil lines that will go to make up these scenes? Which by the way are awesome!

A: First off, thanks for the kind words! Splash pages are particularly complex. They are like puzzles that need to be figured out and solved. The layouts I receive from MAD include the headers and all the text boxes in place. I also get a script with some descriptions or explanations of some of the jokes, and who is speaking with respect to each balloon.

With this, I need to do the following:

  1. Design a scene that fits the script, incorporating all the speaking characters in positions that will work with the placed text boxes.
  2. Draw caricatures of each person with expressions and action to describe the script’s dialog and to “sell the gag”.
  3. Incorporate props and environment to support the script and jokes written.
  4. Create a balanced composition that will move the reader’s eye from panel to panel.
  5. Add my own visual gags and jokes.

As an example, here is the layout sent to me by MAD for the recent parody of “Entourage”:

entergarbage-layout_sm.jpg
Click for a closer look

After watching some episodes of the show, I decided upon a Hollywood pool party scene, something they do frequently on “Entourage”. This also gave me the opportunity to do a lot of actor cameos, as that is another staple of the show.

It would be very boring to always design a page with a flat perspective (i.e. all the characters lined up the same relative distance from the viewer), but in this case with so many people I thought it best to just do a big crowd scene and have depth created by people in the foreground and background.

I always start with ovals for the heads of the main speaking characters, placing them where they need to go in order to work with their respective text boxes. I label the ovals with character names. Then I rough in the environment with whatever walls, buildings, objects or such that need to be present, establishing the perspective. Then I rough in the main characters, moving or resizing the heads from the original ovals as necessary to match the perspective of my environment. Whenever possible I try and place these characters in different planes within the scene to add interest. The next step is to rough in the secondary characters, additional objects or other visuals like any gags I might add in. I end up with something like this:

entergarbage-rough_sm.jpg
Click for a closer look

As you can see it’s quite rough with only simple suggestions of caricatures and very incomplete bodies. At this point I might choose to go deeper into these layout roughs and sharpen up the caricatures and drawing to the point it can be submitted to MAD for review. I also might choose to transfer the roughs up to the final boards and go right to the final pencils to submit for review. In this case that is the route I took, ending up with these final pencils:

entergarbage-pencils_sm.jpg
Click for a closer look

There are a lot of things to consider with these splashes, but the main objectives are to “sell the gags” and establish the principal characters in an easy to read and understand way, while doing something that is visually interesting and engaging. The perspective is often cheated to achieve this. For example, the principal characters need to be the focus, and in order to do that in this crowd scene I drew the ones on the left page in an open space using the pool to clear the area, and on the right page I cheated and made the figures in front of Drama and Turtle figures smaller than they should have been. That made the larger main figures pop out.

Thanks to Steve Hearn for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

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