Sunday Mailbag

June 22nd, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: The pencil sketches you make before the final drawing are so detailed and clean, where are the lines of the very beginning rough roughs???ᬨ‚Ć I know there’s the non-reproducing blue pencil approach but I suspect it’s something to do with the automated drawing system you use.

A: I confess I have no idea what you mean by “automated drawing system”. I hope you do not think I somehow use a computer program to do any actual drawing or manipulation of drawings. That is very far from the case. I draw everything I do traditionally with pencil on paper/bristol, and later erase the lines after inking. Only then are they scanned into the computer, where I do some touch ups (in lieu of “white out”) and then proceed to coloring.

I have often been accused (not exactly the right word) of doing very tight pencils prior to finishes. Sam Viviano at MAD often makes fun of me when I refer to something as a “loose” or “rough” pencil, commenting it’s tighter and cleaner than 95% of the pencils he gets from other MAD artists. That is something of a habit I have been trying to break myself of for some time, as the tighter your pencils the less drawing you do with your inks and ultimately the less life the inks have in them. The reason for the fear of ambiguous pencils is from my comic book days, when an inker did all the inking over my pencils. If I was not very precise and meticulous about my drawing, things would get lost in the translation… this was especially true about the caricature likenesses of the “Married… with Children” cast I was drawing. I had a great inker in David Mowry for most of the time I was with NOW, and I had the legendary Marie Severin inking my pencils for “The Coneheads” from Marvel Comics, but even so it was important to me to make sure they understood what I was trying to depict in my panels. Plus, my favorite part of any job is drawing is with the pencil drawing stage. Inking is always tedious and frustrating for me… I fight with the nibs and ink and nothing happens exactly the way I’d like. I have total control of the pencil… it’s pure creativity for me at that stage. It’s hard to resist going all out with the drawing.

So, my process is really a two stage one with pencils. First, I do my “rough, rough” very lightly and with a minimalist number of lines, roughing in basic shapes and forms, thinking composition and design, then I “knock back” that underdrawing with a kneadable eraser until it is just barely visible, then I go back and make corrections and do the tighter pencil right on top of the old drawing. Sometimes I will do that “rough, rough” at a smaller scale and then blow it up to art size, throw it on my light table and transfer it to the board while making any corrections I think it needs and doing the tighter drawing. Either way I end up with that pretty tight sketch.

Here’s a “sketch o’the week” from a few months ago where I scanned in the drawing at various stages, but really I am showing my basic process for any kind of job:

This is more of what my initial drawings look like

This is the point where I “knock back” the rough with my eraser…

You can still see some of the partially erased underdrawing that
I have gone over with darker, bolder lines… This is what a typical
“pencil rough” ends up looking like prior to inking.

I didn’t ink this one but instead rendered it further in pencil with
some crosshatching, but it basically amounts to the same.

That’s the process in a nutshell. What I really SHOULD be doing is using that second drawing as my pencil, and inking on top of it for the final. However I am too cowardly and insecure to do that. I can admit it. I’ll keep working at it…

Thanks to Jack Coleman 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.


  1. HarleyRacer says:

    I’d be happy being able to produce drawing number 3!



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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