Sunday Mailbag

January 12th, 2014 | Posted in General

Q: You write in your book and on your blog how important it is that everything in an illustration has the same style, look, and feel, for instance background people. How do you make something part of your universe, when you’ve never drawn it before? For instance a camel or a horse (like on the splash page of The Hunger Pains)? Do you need a lot of extra sketches or can you just draw everything right away with the help of some photo references?

A: That’s a good question, I hadn’t ever really thought about it before.

First off, the oft-given advice referred to above is this: When doing a single piece of illustration, and in particular for me when I do MAD parodies, it’s important to be sure everything I draw looks like they belong together. In other words it makes no sense to draw detailed caricatures of the stars of the show and then do goofy cartoon people for the extras… there should be a cohesive feel to both sets of characters. Ditto the backgrounds and other objects. I wouldn’t want to draw a very realistic car in a parody with my more cartoon-like caricatures, nor go the other way and draw a “Roger Rabbit” type cartoon car with other less cartoonish elements. What I am talking about is a cohesiveness of style in a given project. A Jack Davis drawing of a chair, or a foot, or a ham sandwich, looks like a Jack Davis drawing… that’s cohesive style.

It’s entirely possible to draw in different styles, of course. Artists do it all the time. I guess the answer as to how to make sure you draw in the same style in a given project is to use the eyeball test and see if something looks out of place. I get into a mindset when I’m working on something like a parody, and no matter what I have to draw it just comes out in the style I am working in. I think it takes an effort to get out of that style in that sort of situation. I sometimes do that for effect, like when I need to draw a cartoon character in a cameo or something, but actually my MAD parody style lends itself to being able to believably sneak in a Bugs Bunny or similar and not have it seem too out of place. It’s just cartoony enough for that to work, and of course the color helps with that.

I don’t have to do multiple sketches to get a horse or camel or whatever to look like it belongs with the other objects and characters in a parody, for example. I just draw it (If I don’t know what it looks like, I get a reference of some kind) and it usually works out. I’d have to make a conscious effort to push it toward the more outlandishly cartoonish or the more realistic to break away from that cohesive style. That’s probably a function of having done hundreds of pages for MAD, but I think most cartoonists have a natural style, or one they have cultivated, and it’s not too hard to “see” whatever they are drawing in that particular style.

Thanks to Dominik Zeillinger 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. Isaiah Shipp says:

    While drawing live caricature I’ve had many people ask me to draw their dogs. Drawing an animal with the same techniques and in the same style that I normally draw caricature in is difficult. Is there any advice you have for me other than to NOT draw dogs???

    • Tom says:

      Drawing dogs is like drawing anything else, you learn how to draw them. Dogs and other animals are like people in that they have anatomical structures that you need to understand in order to make it look convincing. If you find you are asked to do a lot of drawings of dogs, I’d spend some time studying them and practice drawing them to get good at it.


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

Workshops Ad

Dracula ad

Doctor Who Ad

Superman Ad

%d bloggers like this: