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From the Freelance Files

August 1st, 2014

b-day

I’ve written here many times that, as a freelancer, you sometimes end up with some really off-the-wall jobs that take you outside the realms of your usual kind of client. The above image is one of those.

Earlier in the spring I got a call about a job designing someone’s 50th birthday invitation. That kind of call or email is not unusual, I get a lot of those kinds of requests asking if I’ll do a caricature of grandma and grandpa for their anniversary, or somebody’s boss for his birthday. Those calls seldom end up as real jobs, however, frankly because those asking don’t understand I have to charge publication or advertising illustration rates for that kind of work… and they are thinking theme park caricature prices.

This was different. The person calling me was the art director of a design firm, and the person throwing the party is a media executive and had a real budget for his invitations and related artwork (also for the bands, Seether is pretty well known, and the party is in a major theater). He’s also a fan of MAD and wanted a MAD-like feel to the art (I’ve pixeleated the names and details for privacy reasons).

The concept is a reality TV show theme, and they have lots of creative plans for the event. I was asked to create the art for a poster/invitation/web portal featuring the birthday boy and his friends and family in some “reality show” type settings. Ended up being a fun project and the people involved were a joy to work with. Sometimes these personal sort of jobs become nightmares, but this one was a good experience and the client was happy with the end result.

I can’t believe Mark Zuckerberg didn’t call me to do his 30th birthday party invitation last May. Oh wait… yes, I can believe that.

Illustration Throwback Thursday #5

July 31st, 2014

Back in the early 2000′s the Minnesota Twins pro baseball team had a monthly magazine that was both distributed at the ballpark and sold on news stands… and the Twins were actually a good team as opposed to sucking as they do today. I did a fair amount of work for the magazine in 2000 and 2001, including some single page comics illustrating great moments from the season and feature illustrations. Here are a few from 2001 (clicky any to embiggen…):

superstitousThis was for a story about baseball superstitions

nohitterThis is one of those single page comics, illustrating pitcher
Eric Milton’s no hitter. The Twins added the text to it later.

comebackThis was about a big comeback victory against Cleveland.

back2back2backBack to back to back homers in a game against Kansas City. It now takes
the Twins a week to hit three homers.

miltonBAAnother about Milton, this time highlighting his .444 batting average
in interleague games.

Sketch o’the Week- Stephen Colbert!

July 30th, 2014

colbertThis week’s SotW is the upcoming new host of “The Late Show”, Stephen Colbert.

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“Fan Art” and Copyrights

July 29th, 2014
YouTube Preview Image

I get asked quite a bit about the legality of selling the Limited Edition prints I have been offering the last few years. Having just got back from Comic-Con, the issue of selling images featuring characters you do not have the copyrights to is an obviously major one. Walking through the exhibit floor, you see booth after booth selling products based on or featuring characters they do not own the rights to. Professional comic book artists do private commissions of Superman, Spider-man or whatever character they are asked to draw. Sort of professional artists sell posters or prints of Batgirl or the Walking Dead players or other characters they do not own the rights to. The big question is, is this legal? The answer is very simple. No, it absolutely is not legal. It is copyright infringement. Unless you have been granted permission by the copyright owner, you cannot draw or sell images of their copyrighted characters. That is the letter of the law.

The reality of how these laws are applied it is little bit different.

The above video is a presentation by Josh Wattles, who is the adviser in chief to deviantART and a lawyer who has done a lot of work on copyright issues. It’s very long, but the information in it is invaluable for understanding why people at Comic-Con and other places get away with what they get away with, and the legal precipice they are balancing on by doing that they do. The short version is they get away with it at the whim of those who do own the copyrights, who could choose to put the legal hammer down if they so wished, but they do not with the understanding that good will among fans and the copyright owners is worth more to them than taking the legal action they are entitled to take.

How does this all apply to what I am doing? If there is a loophole in copyright law it is parody, and because what I do is making fun of the characters and commenting on them through visual humor, my prints are defensible under the parody exception. That’s why I do not include any trademarks in the art I do, like the Doctor Who or James Bond logos. I also don’t use any trademarks in the name of the print. It’s all visual humor and caricature. Finally, these are limited edition prints, not open ended poster products. That’s an important distinction when it comes to the claim of parody with any property… limited edition prints are considered “fine art”, and that is an acceptable form of expression opinion. Products like T-shirts, coffee mugs or mousepads are not.

So, are my parodies of copyrighted characters ok under the letter of the law? No one knows for sure unless the case goes before a court and they decide. Having a decent defense argument does not guarantee you win that court case. It’s certainly a lot more defensible than someone selling realistic drawings of Captain America as posters. The industry has a tolerance for this kind of thing, but it is definitely “swim at your own risk”.

If you are interested in hearing a real life view of these copyright issues, the hour of time this video takes is well spent.

Monday MADness! MAD about Comic-Con!

July 28th, 2014

I’m currently en route back some from sunny San Diego and the big, loud and sweaty frenzy known as San Diego Comic-Con. MAD had a panel last Thursday where editor John Ficarra had the room thoroughly bored waiting for the free swag in stitches with highlights from this past year’s issues of MAD, and the MAD website. They also announced some new book projects, starting with the newest release from their “MAD’s Greatest Artists” series… this one featuring Don Martin! The other big announcement was the start of a new series entitled “MAD’s Greatest Writers”, the first of which will feature Frank Jacobs!

Head on over to MAD’s website for their big Comic-Con Wrap-up, complete with some pictures credited to my daughter Victoria!

Sunday Mailbag- Comic-Cons?

July 27th, 2014

Q: It’s been fun to see your reports from the San Diego Comic-Con. I have noticed you are doing quite a few comic-cons all of a sudden, whereas you used to do very few if any. What changed?

A: I’ll probably never do a big circuit of conventions like some artists do, but yes I am doing quite a few more than I used to. Up until this past year, I really only did two—San Diego and the smaller MCBA cons in Minnesota. I did San Diego because the National Cartoonists Society has a booth there, and they wanted members to come and spend time at it. I did the local Minnesota cons because they were local and I wanted to support the local cartooning industry.

There are three reasons why I started doing comic-cons:

First and foremost, I actually make some money at these things. There is no way I could take time out of the studio if I did not. I don’t make a lot, but it’s enough to justify my time away from other work.

Second, I actually have something to sell and promote at these shows. Once I had the book done, that became something I could always have a pile of and sign for people. Then I started doing the prints, which was another thing that I could have for people to buy and get signed, or at least to look at. I do a lot of drawing at these shows as well… that has surprised me a bit. There are actually quite a few artists doing caricatures at these cons, but people still seem surprised they can get themselves drawn as opposed to some comic book character. I draw them as their favorite character, or in some theme/topic, but with a humorous bend. Of course I also draw Alfred, or “Alfred as…” upon request. I change a reasonable amount of money for these, and stay pretty busy drawing.

Third, the NCS and its charitable arm the NCS Foundation wants to step up its presence at conventions, and I am helping with that by making connections and finding the conventions it makes most sense for us to go to. Right now the NCS only does San Diego, but we’d like to have a booth in Chicago, New York, and other areas around the country where we can bring in members from that area to meet and greet fans and promote the art of cartooning.

Finally, it’s fun to meet people that enjoy your work. That never gets old.

Thanks to Ben Hovart 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!

More From SDCC!

July 25th, 2014

Day one at Comic-Con was extremely frenzied with The Tenacious D signing at the NCS booth as well as the general craziness. Here are some photos:

IMG_2055The National Cartoonists Society booth #1307

IMG_2054A look at the convention floor from the booth

IMG_2056Greg Evans (Luann) and Rick Detorie (One Big Happy)

IMG_4975Me doing a drawing for a fan

IMG_5073Luke McGarry, Jack Black and Kyle Gass sign at the NCS booth!

imageJack and Kyle signed a print of my splash page of the “School of Rock” parody from MAD

IMG_2064The MAD corner of the DC booth

IMG_2063

IMG_2060DC Comics had all the batsuits and cowls on display

IMG_2059

IMG_2058

IMG_4933

IMG_5130The MAD about MAD panel

IMG_5177L to R: John Ficarra, Ryan Flanders, Sergio Aragonés, Sam Viviano,
me, David Shayne, Peter Kuper, Arnie Kogen

IMG_5182I ran into some familiar faces…

IMG_2071

Live from San Diego Comic-Con 2014

July 24th, 2014

Big Three

Reporting live from the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con! Last night was preview night, which was the usual crazy frenzy since there are no panels or presentations going on to thin out the crowd on the floor. I will be at the NCS booth (#1307) today from 10 am-4 pm doing drawings, selling books and MAD originals and my Sherlock Holmes print. Tonight at 5:30 is the MAD about MAD panel in room #4.

The image you see above was a special commission I was tasked with by a collector prior to coming to San Diego. I seldom have time to do this sort of thing, but in this case I was actually able to do it all while I was here and unable to work on any of the projects I have on the board at the time. The only thing I did ahead of time was the sketch of Adam West as Batman that I posted as the SotW yesterday. Ink and watercolor. I thought it was a fun concept, doing the three most icon TV versions of these superheroes. Sorry for the poor image, but it was taken with my smartphone in my hotel room this morning.

I promise more pictures and better reporting from the Con itself tomorrow and Saturday.

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Sketch o’the Week- Adam West… AGAIN?!?

July 23rd, 2014

Batman

Holy Faber Castell… Not another caricature of the Caper Crusader by this Scandalous Scrawler of Sketches! What could this Peccant Pusher of Pencils be up to? Will our hero get DRAWN into a grisly, GRAPHIC fate? Is he in LINE to be further ridiculed by this Despicable Doodler? TOON in soon for the SKETCHY details, citizens! Same MAD time, same MAD channel!

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The NCS Announces the Launch of The National Cartoonist Magazine!

July 22nd, 2014

The NCS Foundation has really been firing on all cylinders lately, starting several initiatives that are going to be terrific resources fro pro an aspiring cartoonists alike. They and the NCS just announced one of those new initiatives today, the free digital magazine, The National Cartoonist!:

From the NCS Website and NCSF President Steve McGarry:

The NCS is delighted to announce the launch of our new digital magazine, The National Cartoonist! We’re really excited about this new publication and hope you will be, too!

sp_bw_nc

Published by the National Cartoonists Society Foundation, it is a free magazine celebrating the best in cartooning, past and present, with extensive interviews, in-depth features and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the world of cartooning and comics, as well as beautiful reproductions of rare and, in many cases, previously unseen original art from some of our greatest luminaries! We hope it is a publication that will be enjoyed by all cartooning fans, from the casual reader to the seasoned professional.

sp_bw_nc

To celebrate the launch we are giving away thousands of print copies of the debut issue of The National Cartoonist this coming weekend at San Diego Comic-Con. It’s a souvenir that collectors will want to treasure, so if you are attending SDCC, make sure to stop by The National Cartoonists Society booth, #1307, and grab a copy!

issue1Click to download the first issue!

Meanwhile, enjoy the digital version and be sure to subscribe. It’s FREE and it’s fantastic!

Cheers!

Steve McGarry (NCSF President)

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