Mepps! Mepps! Unacceptable!

March 9th, 2012 | Posted in General

I got this tweet the other day from cartoonist and teacher Chris Pearce:

Chris had run across an old issue of Coneheads at a thrift store, and wrote a blog post about it in a feature called “Thrift Store Finds”, where he says a lot of nice things about my work in it, most of which are not deserved.

My tweeted response is correct…that was an interesting job . . . my first (and only) project with Marvel Comics. It was a four issue miniseries from 1994, obviously based on the Saturday Night Live skit and the (then) recently released movie of the same. The project was short but a lot of fun…in particular getting to work with an experienced, professional creative team and a big-time comic book company. I was especially excited to find out the inker was going to be the legendary Marie Severin.

I was contacted directly by Marvel editor Hildy Mesnick about possibly doing the pencils for an upcoming humorous mini-series. They had seen my work on NOW Comic’s Married . . . with Children title and felt they wanted a similar blend of caricature and comic book style storytelling for Coneheads. I had to “try out” for the job, if I remember correctly, by doing a few drawings of some of the characters including Dan Acroyd and Jane Curtain. I was later told at least one other artist was also being considered, but that Dan Acroyd’s opinions had tilted the gig toward me . . .¬¨‚Ć I have no idea if that was true but I’ve been going with it ever since. The story itself was basically a sequel to the film, picking up where the movie left off and involving all of the characters that appeared on screen,

Working for Marvel was a lot different that working for NOW. NOW was perpetually behind with all their books, sent me scripts in irregular batches, barely checked up on me and almost never did any art direction…and those were their positives. Marvel was much more demanding, but they were also very supportive and professional. They gave me all the things I needed to do the job to the best of my ability and in a timely manner, right down to the official Marvel bristol boards to do the covers and pages on! Writer Terry Collins‘ scripts were well organized and easy to follow, and Hildy was a great editor to work with . . .¬¨‚Ć especially considering we had some issues with the licensing people which I will get into in a minute.

I’m not incredibly proud of the work I did on Coneheads, although it was miles better than my Married . . . with Children garbage. My drawing skills were still rough, despite having done about 500 pages for NOW prior to getting this gig. I was encouraged by Marvel’s enthusiasm over the cover I did for issue #1 (image above), which they really liked and reportedly got put up in the office as one of the best covers of the month. That was inked by the great Jimmy Palmiotti, by the way, which was very cool. One thing I will say is that Marie made my work seem much better than it was. She was not afraid to correct or flat out redraw things over my pencils if they were not drawn very well. She left the faces alone, sticking with my pretty tightly drawn caricatures so none of the likenesses were lost, but figures, objects and environments were fair game and she really made it look good. In fact, that whole job was like an expert critique and art lesson. I xeroxed my penciled pages before sending them in, so when I got the printed issue I pored over the pages to see where she tweaked things and where she completely redrew them. In every instance I could see where my drawing was off, weak or downright terrible and how she handled it. Things like drawing trees in a park scene and a goofy dog running to avoid a car, her corrections really showed me where I had been lazy or just deficient, and how much better it could be done. It was like getting paid for an education! The best part was I got to talk with her after the issues went to press, because the penciller and inker split the returned original artwork (I think it was 75% penciller, 25% inker) and they gave me her number so we could discuss which pages she wanted. I got the opportunity to tell her I was a big fan of her work, how honored I was to work with her and thanks for making me look good. She was a very sweet lady, and told me I could have all the original artwork, including her allotted pages. That made sense to me, because she probably had boxes full of original art from The Hulk, Sub-Mariner and God knows what else so what would she want some pages from Coneheads for?? Anyway, she sent me all her returned originals and even signed some of them for me.

Not everything went smoothly on the project. Anyone who looked over those issues today might notice that, while some of the characters are obviously caricatures of the actors from the film, others do not seem to resemble the actors from the movie at all. That’s because not all the actors would give Marvel permission to use their likenesses, and as a result I had to purposefully avoid making certain characters resemble the actors. This was not a parody of the film like MAD would do, thus making it a fair use issue. This was an officially licensed property and subject to the approval of the licensee. So, while I did caricatures of Dan Acroyd, Jane Curtain, Chris Farely, Michael McKean and many others who did give their permission I had to completely avoid any likeness of a certain few, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty.

Like I said,¬¨‚Ć fun and interesting job, where I learned a lot about my skills (or lack thereof) and working on licensed properties . . . although to be fair I had similar issues when working on the Married comics. There the licensing people had no problem with me making Ed O’Neill or David Faustino look as goofy as I wanted, but had me tone down my drawings of Katey Sagal and Christina Applegate until they were little more than cartoon character versions of them. This was true at first . . . later I either got better at capturing their likeness and still doing a real caricature of them, or they stopped caring so much about it, because I was then able to treat them the same way I did the guys in the show. So, in that respect working for Marvel was not that much different than working for NOW . . . except with Marvel I got paid twice as much . . . and I actually got PAID . . . and the issues actually came out in the months they were scheduled to come out . . . and . . .

Comments

  1. Mark Engblom says:

    Very cool story! I knew some of the details, but it was nice reading about your “lesson” from Ms. Severin. She truly was one of the best in the biz, though I’m not sure how many pages of Hulk and Sub-Mariner artwork she got. Back in the 60’s, there was a staff member who routinely took the originals, sliced ’em up, and threw ’em in the trash. Every month. For years and years. Someone finally wised up and started saving them, but even then the artists didn’t really get many of their pages. That’s changed now, obviously, but not for artists of Marie’s generation. Still, her works lives on in so many superhero and humor comics.

    • Tom says:

      Yikes! I didn’t know that. what a travesty. Of course, back then no one gave a thought to the value of originals either for resale or for posterity. Comics and any kind of commercial work were truly considered throw away art.

  2. Mark Engblom says:

    By the way, Tom, I have to add something regarding your appraisement of your “Married With Children” stuff. God knows I wince when I see my old stuff, too, but what your MWC art might have lacked in technical skill, it certainly made up for in the *enthusiasm* infusing the work. I still recall how excited you were when you got the assignment, and (in my opinion) you translated that excitement directly into your pages. Sure, our old stuff is still hard to look at, but I guess when we look at it as stepping stones toward bigger and better stuff, then maybe it’s not so bad. Anyway, I don’t want to sound like I’m lecturing or telling you anything you don’t already know, but reading your assessment of the Married With Children stuff as “garbage” seemed a little harsh, and I thought I’d stick up a little bit for “Early 90’s Tom”. Heh.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks, but IMO that stuff is more than just cringe-worthy, most of it was downright bad. I was starting to get the hang of it towards the end, which was why Marvel gave me this gig. Yes, I was very enthusiastic about it and I worked unbelievably hard on that stuff… I remember drawing at the theme park all day and then coming home and drawing well into the wee hours on those pages. It was the height of what I was capable of at the time, and that’s all anyone can be expected to be able to do. I just find it funny I was able to do “professional” comics at that skill level… it was a combination of the unusual specific nature of the title as it needed caricatures, the fact that the comic book industry was in such a boom at the time there was more work available than there were good artists to do it, and that I was willing to put up with NOW’s antics with payments. I don’t regret that work, although it does make me wince today.

      It’s all relative. When I started working for MAD that MWC work was looking pretty rough to me. Now the MWC stuff looks awful and my early MAD work is looking pretty rough. With any luck, the MAD job I’m working on right now will look as bad to me 20 years from now as the MWC does to me today. That’s always my goal.

  3. Bill says:

    We all “wince” about our old work. Heck, I wince over stuff I sent out yesterday (readers probably do, too)!

    Tom, if you still have them, I’d love to see some of the examples of your pencils posted next to Marie’s finishes.

    • Tom says:

      That stuff is all long gone. Some collector bought up virtually every comic book page and cover original I had about 10 years ago, and I converted the dough into eBay purchases of old Batman toys. I tossed all the pencil scans ages ago. I’m not very good about saving old work.

  4. Mark Engblom says:

    “…the fact that the comic book industry was in such a boom at the time there was more work available than there were good artists to do it…”

    You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how much lousy art still makes it into comic books…even the so-called “Big Two” publish an embarrassing amount of bad artwork…especially now that they’ve really started cracking down on deadlines. But, yeah, the smaller publishers are still pretty much training grounds for up-and-comers, so there’s definitely a surplus of sub-par artwork in those titles. Now we just have to pay alot more money for it! 😉

  5. […] Well, Mr. Richmond kept his word and posted a blog about his work on the book! […]

  6. Chris Pearce says:

    Thanks so much for writing about this Tom- I had wondered about the contributions of Marie Severin to the book, but didn’t know enough to presume. Despite your protests, I still think Coneheads was pretty darn good and I’m definitely going to track down some of the other issues.

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