Sunday Mailbag- When Did You Start Drawing?

June 25th, 2017 | Posted in General

Q: What age did you start drawing caricatures?

A: I’ve been drawing caricatures all my life, since I was a little kid, I just didn’t know what I was drawing were caricatures. I thought they were just funny drawings of people. It wasn’t until later in life I associated what I was doing with the term “caricature”.

When I was in high school I drew a series of comics called “Baby Bill”, which were satirical “adventures” of me and my high school buddies but as babies. These are long lost but thinking back I did infant-version cartoon caricatures of all of us. We were babies but did all the crap we did in high school like goof off, make fun of people, drink beer and in general act like assholes. I thought it was funny at the time. I had no idea I was doing work similar to what I would eventually do professionally as an adult, juvenile humor and all.

This story I relate in my book, about when I first understood what a caricature was:

Mr. Chilson was my seventh-grade art teacher at Longfellow Middle School in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1979. The school was so small that we had our art classes in the same room they held the shop classes, sitting on barstools at tall worktables, while another grade’s art class was going on at the same time on the other side of the large workshop. One day Mr. Chilson started a lesson on caricature. I was sitting in the back, not paying attention (as usual) and drawing in my notebook. While Mr. Chilson was explaining what a caricature was, I was drawing one of the other teacher, who was only a few dozen feet away from me . . . except I didn’t know it was a caricature. To me, it was just my drawing of the other teacher.

“RICHMOND!” Mr. Chilson yelled in my ear. “You are in THIS class, not THAT one!” He was standing right next to me. One of the drawbacks of being absorbed in a drawing at the expense of paying attention in class was that I never heard the teacher coming. That resulted in many startling yells in my ear. He snatched away the notebook, glanced at it, glared at me, and then instructed me loudly in front of everybody to see him after class as he returned to the front of the room with my confiscated notebook in hand. Resigned to getting detention at the least, I meekly hung back and watched my schoolmates shuffle out following the bell.

Instead of giving me detention, Mr. Chilson sent me around the school over the next several days to draw about two dozen of the teachers, and then he displayed my work in the glass case at the top of the stairs right in front of the art/shop room. I guess he liked my drawing of the other art teacher—or maybe he hated the guy and sent me around to draw all the other teachers he disliked so they could be ridiculed publicly and I’d be to blame. I was never sure. Regardless, that was my first exposure to the art of caricature, as well as my first understanding of what caricature was.

Later while going to college in Minneapolis I applied for summer work as a caricature artist at a local theme park… I didn’t get the job. A few weeks later I was offered a spot at a Six Flags park near Chicago, not the local Twin Cities theme park but one 600 miles away. I accepted, moved to the Chicago area for the summer and began my lifelong interest in the art of caricature. I had just turned 19 when I moved to Waukegan, IL for that summer job.

Thanks to Tony Dimaggio 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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