Sunday Mailbag

July 28th, 2013 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I saw you at Comic-Con last weekend, great to meet you. I really enjoyed seeing the original MAD artwork of yours you had there. I wanted to ask you about the size you work at. Those pages were enormous! They are much bigger than most comic book art pages are. Why do you work that large?

A: Those pages you saw, which were all from movie or TV parodies from MAD, were done at “twice up” or 200% of print size. That means a full printed page from MAD, which is 8 1/8 x 10 1/2 inches, would have an original art size of 16 1/4 x 21 inches. When you add a “bleed” (which is extra image around the edges so when the pages are trimmed the art always “bleeds” off the edge) the originals are as large as 16 3/4 x 21 1/2. A full two page splash is a whopping 32 1/2 x 21 1/2 inches!! That is indeed larger than most comic book pages, which are usually done at about 11 x 15-ish or approximately 130% of print size.

MAD art, at least the parodies, have always been done at twice up. Why they started doing that, I do not know. I’ll have to ask Nick Meglin or MAD art director Sam Viviano. All I know if they’ve always been that big. I think it’s a holdover from the old E.C. Comics days, when titles like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror where also done twice up, and many of the E.C. artists were also the original MAD artists. I suspect it’s simply because the artists liked to do very detail orientated work for those titles, and that size makes it easier to do that. Then again, maybe it was because they all had bad eyesight and were too cheap to get new glasses.

When I first started doing work for MAD in 2000, they still continued their then almost 50 year practice of having the art boards laid out in-house and sent to the artists with the panels and word boxes penciled in already. At that time, former MAD art director Lenny “The Beard” Brenner came in and did the layouts. I received a package with these bristol boards all ready for my pencils and inks. I was pretty surprised to see how big they were… the comic book work I had done in the past was at the usual comic book art size. However, I figured after 50 years they probably knew what they were doing so I just worked on those boards and at that size. This went on for many years. I do not remember exactly when that stopped happening and I started laying out my own boards, but by then I was used to that size and didn’t want to change.

I have often thought it might be smart to do the art at a smaller size… after all smaller=faster, right? I tried it once. It was for the parody of the movie “Green Lantern” in MAD #510. I did the splash at the usual large size, but tried doing the story pages at 150% of print size instead of 200%. I hated the results. I thought the lines looked too heavy and lacked detail.¬¨‚Ć I went back to twice up on the next job and have not considered going smaller since.

Not all MAD artists still work this large. MAD doesn’t care as long as the final results look good. I knew the wonderful Drew Friedman actually works at PRINT SIZE with his super-detailed illustrations. !!! He must have microscopic vision. Other artists I don’t know, but it is not a “rule” at MAD at all… just artist preference. I’m used to it so I stick with it.

Thanks to Steve B. 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!

Comments

  1. Liked your post. For whatever it’s worth, early in my career I was told to work large because once the art is reduced everything looks cleaner and tighter, and minor mistakes/flaws become less noticeable.

    • Tom says:

      Yes, that’s universal. However typically comic artists work at about 130% of print size and illustrators generally 150%. MAD works at 200%, which is very big. When you work too big, you can lose touch with how the final piece will really look. Too much detail shrunk too small gets muddy and confusing.

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