Q: Your work is a total rip off of Mort Ducker’s style. How do you sleep at night?- Anonymous
A: Other than when my wife pokes me when I snore too loudly, I sleep just fine, thanks. I usually don’t post anonymous questions or comments, but I thought his one would be worth answering.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that, but am confident in saying that my work isn’t a rip off of Mort Drucker‘s, and anybody who thinks so isn’t looking really looking. Mort will always be identified with caricatures in MAD, and anyone doing traditional ink line, cartoon caricature likenesses in MAD will inevitably be compared to him. Some will dismiss such work as a “Mort Rip Off” out of hand. I once had a respected colleague of mine tell me he thought Sam Viviano‘s work to be a total rip off of Mort’s style… how ridiculous is that? Sam’s work is vastly different from Mort’s. Some people can’t see past the cartoon likeness, and so they label it a rip off. That’s visual illiteracy or just plain lazy observation. It’s a like saying all Fords are rip offs of Chevrolets because they all have doors, wheels and windows.
There is a big difference between being influenced by an artist and stealing his style. Influences pop up all the time in an artist’s work, because the definition of being influenced is seeing things in the work of another artist that resonate with you and those things begin to seep into your own art. That is natural and you see it all the time. Mort himself shows the signs of influence in his work from Norman Rockwell (take a look at the kids he draws, especially the profiles) Ronald Searle (look at his background people) and even Andrew Loomis (compare their signatures). I have definite Drucker influenced in my work, but I also have been influenced by Jack Davis, Wally Wood and many other cartoonists. All cartoonists have their influences.
I said I am confident my work is not a rip off of Mort’s, and I have several reasons for thinking this. First, the fact that I work for MAD at all. They famously refuse to hire copycat artists. You don’t work for MAD if you are a rip off of one of their classic artists. If you don’t bring something new and unique to the table, you do not get in. I was told early on in my efforts to get into MAD that my work was a little too Druckerish, but that they saw me moving farther and farther from his influence as I developed my own voice and told me to keep at it. Eventually they saw my work as my own, and I started getting jobs from them. I know some cartoonists who have worked for MAD copycat magazines and who’s work is totally aping that of Davis, Drucker or Wood who will never see the inside of MAD no matter how good their mimicry is. Longtime MAD editor Nick Meglin took me aside one day when I went to MAD to show them my work and explained this to me, and then told me that I was not like those artists and would one day work for MAD because he saw my work as developing away from Mort and Jack and Wally and towards something uniquely my own.
But most of all, I know I’m not a Mort clone because I am not trying to be, nor ever have tried. I copied the occasional Mort drawing in a sketchbook study, as well as those of a hundred other artists, but I don’t whip out old MAD‘s and look at how Mort drew a hand or an panel or a face. I never even really poured over Mort’s work or studied it fiercely. I appreciated it, but in wasn’t ever close to the focus of my efforts to develop as an artist. I draw out of my own experiences and thoughts, and any similarities to Mort’s work, or Jack’s or Wally’s, are natural extensions of their influence on me. I draw the way I draw, in a style mostly developed from hundreds of thousands of live caricature drawings done at theme parks in the last 22 years and not from copying drawings out of MAD or anywhere else.
So, thanks for the comment, but I totally disagree… and so does MAD.
Thanks to anonymous 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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930 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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