Q: What is your approach when it comes to drawing famous but non-human characters (i.e. cartoon characters, Muppets, etc)? Do you find yourself doing more of a straight-up drawing as opposed to a caricature?
A: One of the most valuable pieces of advice I was ever given with regard to cartooning and my work was from former MAD editor Nick Meglin…although I got the same advice from others including current MAD art director Sam Viviano. He explained the concept to me using various examples, but it can all be summed up in one sentence:
“Don’t just caricature people, caricature the world.”
You can substitute “cartoon” or “draw” for the word caricature, and it means the same thing.
An artist’s job is to draw the world as he/she sees it, and show that vision to others through their art. In order to do that, you have to have an identity to your work. You can call it “style” or “technique” if you want, but what it really is is applying that same way of looking at things to everything you draw, not just the things you focus on the most.
Nick’s example was Jack Davis, who tends to be a good example for explaining anything right about great cartooning.¬¨‚Ä† Jack is known for a lot of things . . . caricature, sports art, action, feet, etc. However he applied the “Jack Davis” vision to everything he drew. You could look at a Jack Davis drawing of a chair and immediately tell it was a Jack Davis drawing. Jack drew the world through his eyes, and was a genius at showing the rest of the world how he saw things. I’ve always tried to live by that philosophy, and think for it whenever I have to draw a chair, or building, or cartoon character.
That said, your specific question about drawing a “famous but non-human” characters often requires capturing the style of the character itself. Part of a good parody is making sure the reader sees the object of the parody for what it is supposed to be… it’s not a very funny gag if the Charlie Brown running up and kicking Lucy in the head (rather than the football she’s about to whisk away) doesn’t really look like Charlie Brown. In those cases I apply only as much of my own style as I can get away with. It’s trickier if that Charlie Brown is being drawn in a setting featuring, say, a caricature of Chris Brown in a football coach’s outfit. That’s two different worlds I am trying to get to co-exist. The editors at MAD seem to think I can pull this off because they ask me to do it fairly often, like here. Mainly it’s the use of similar line work and the coloring that pulls it together enough for it to be somewhat believable, but it’s a difficult trick.
Thanks to Ed Placencia of Lancaster, PA 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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