Sunday Mailbag

November 13th, 2011 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: You must have accumulated a ton of digital artwork since you’ve been working as a professional illustrator. How do you go about saving, backing up and archiving your files so that you never lose them?

A: That’s one of the things that sucks about digital artwork…you are one electrical surge away from losing it all unless you are careful to back things up.

I tried several methods to make sure I properly backed up all my work. First, I would pick up my computer, open the drive bay door and attempt to shake out all the 0’s and 1’s that made up the binary code of my art files, scoop them up and keep them in empty coffee cans in my basement. This did not work well because all those 0’s and 1’s got all over the place and I was sure I’d lose some and when I poured them back in later to reconstitute my image, Harry Plodder’s nose would be missing or something. Worse, those 0’s and 1’s were apparently so small I couldn’t even see them, and I was afraid no matter how hard I shook the computer some would be stuck in there. So, I abandoned that idea.

Next, I thought I’d print the binary data out on paper, put them in folders and file them away. That way, although I’d have to retype it all should my original files get lost (no big deal, how long could that take?), they’d be safe for posterity. This idea I also abandoned when my first attempt to print the binary code of a MAD page went through an entire ream of paper before my printer started smoking and I pulled the plug.

Finally, I decided to everything up on DVDs. This is also not the best method, as DVDs apparently deteriorate or at least as technology becomes more advances and formats change, early DVDs become harder to read. My newer Macs don’t like my very oldest DVDs anymore. I had to use a friend’s computer to read these files and transfer them to a thumb drive to store elsewhere.

These days I have a double redundant backup plan. I have two external hard drives hooked to my studio computer. One is used as a Mac OS X “Time Machine” drive, which in general backs up all my files. The other drive uses a program called SuperDuper that backs up just my documents and art files daily. That was all three drives would need to fail at once to lose anything.

Eventually I might turn to cloud storage for another alternative. These files are big and it would take a long time to back this up on Dropbox or similar, but having an offsite storage plan would even guard against fire or some other localized natural disaster

Bottom line- BACK UP YOUR FILES. Disaster will strike, eventually.

Thanks to Matthew Cox 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. reagan rules col says:

    Hey Tom! Just recently I saw your sketch of tony bennett. I was wondering if you can do frank sinatra as one of your sketch o the week subjects. If you can, I’d love to see it if you decide to draw it

  2. Bearman says:

    After a computer crash where I forgot to back up my stuff for several weeks and I almost lost a bunch of data, I just started using Carbonite. For $50 a year I haven’t had any issues and it backs everything up automatically.

  3. sugumarje says:

    Yea sure! My Pc has not like My New DVD’s too 🙂 Mostly I backup like your way by external hard disk.

  4. Warren says:

    Backblaze does pretty good cloud backups for a reasonable price, but it can be slow if your upload speed isn’t top-notch, and particularly if you have large files.

    However, for desktop use, take a look at ioSafe. These hard drives are tanks. They weigh a ton, but that’s the enclosure, which is fireproof to 1500 degrees, and can survive immersion in salt water.

    I became interested in ioSafe drives a couple years ago when a backup drive bricked itself on me, and I wanted something robust. The TB drive I have at home is considerably larger than the Mac Mini it’s connected to, but I think it’s worth it. We got a 2 TB drive at work too, for the same reason. (My media files amount to some 500 GB so far, much too large for IT to want me backing it up on their network!)

    ioSafe and Time Machine make for improved peace of mind.


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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