November 23rd, 2014
I haven’t had to post this image in a long time, but I am fresh out of questions for the Sunday mailbag!
Well, it’s not really completely empty, but the only ones I’ve got right now are either repeats of previous questions or of the “can you teach me how to cross-hatch?” or “how do you exaggerate people in caricature?” variety which aren’t really questions so much as they are requests for long and involved tutorials, and are needing a lot more time than I can give for this weekly feature. A good Sunday Mailbag question can certainly involve an image or two and a somewhat long answer, but anything like a tutorial is a different matter.
It’s entirely possible that people have run out of questions. I have been doing this every week for over eight years, and there are only so many questions people might have about freelancing, illustration, etc. So maybe this feature has run it’s course. I guess that’s up to you.
So, if you have questions concerning cartooning, illustration, freelancing, MAD Magazine or other similar subjects I’ll be happy to answer them as best I can. E-mail me your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!
November 21st, 2014
Theme park caricature sample circa 1998
All the accusations of rape being leveled at legendary humorist Bill Cosby are really shocking. I’d like to believe they are not true, but with so many of them coming from women with really no motive to speak out other than to let people know the truth, they just cannot be ignored. Couple that with Cosby’s bizarre refusal to say anything about the accusations—no denials, no explanations, no comments whatsoever—it looks very bad. These accusations are extremely serious, there are a LOT of them, and they are coming from women who are very believable.
Bill Cosby has always been one of my favorite humorists. I used to wear out his albums when I was a kid. I enjoyed his long-running TV show. I admired that he never had to resort to swearing or “blue” material for cheap laughs like many comedians do. He was a wholesome, family-orientated comic whose routines could be enjoyed with your kids and your grandparents at the same time, with everybody laughing in equal measure. He helped break the color barrier in television. He was an icon. That’s what makes this so shocking. It’s like finding out the church volunteer who spends every day serving soup and handing our blankets to the homeless is a serial killer. If Cosby did these things he’s the worst sort of human being. All that said, these rapes are not terrible because the person being accused is Bill Cosby, they are terrible because it’s rape and whether it was done by one of the most family friendly, wholesome comedians in history or some anonymous creep living in an abandoned shack out in the woods, it’s a horrible, unforgivable act.
Since he seems unwilling to even address these accusations with his side of the story (whatever that could possibly be), the only part of this I can see being even remotely in his favor is the question of how so many of these attacks could have happened for so long without his ever even being charged. That’s a thin to non-existent defense… lack of enough prosecutable evidence is not the same as being not guilty. Unless Bill Cosby can come up with a believable explanation for these accusations, and I do not see what could possibly explain it away, he has no defense. Maybe that’s why he’s staying mum—he has no explanation because there is none. The damage being done to his reputation, his legacy and his career is firmly in his lap, because he won’t speak up and defend himself. Some people might call that unfair, but this isn’t one or two people popping up making accusations and then doing the talk show circuit, announcing a book deal or a reality show. It’s many women, with accusations going back almost 10 years, with little or nothing to gain.
I’m a firm believer in “innocent until proved guilty”, but in some cases that only applies to someone being incarcerated or not. What needs to happen here is someone needs to bring charges against Bill Cosby and give him and his accusers their day in court. The longer that does not happen, the less compelling these accusations become. I hope that day in court comes soon and some closure happens here, one way or the other.
November 20th, 2014
I’ll be a special guest this weekend at the Grand Rapids Comic Con in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The show runs from Fri the 21st through Sunday the 23rd at the Deltaplex, 2500 Turner Ave. NW.
I’ll be doing a talk on caricature on Saturday the 22nd at 10:30 am:
Saturday Nov. 22nd- Main Stage
10:30 to 11:30 am
Tom Richmond, “The MAD World Of Caricatures”: Join MAD Magazine artist Tom Richmond for a fun and informative presentation about the art of caricature! Tom got his start in art doing caricatures in theme parks in 1985 while a college student, and parlayed that into a career doing caricature and humorous illustration for publications,television and film, advertising, newspapers, games and other media including being one of the “Usual Gang of Idiots” at MAD since 2000! Tom will talk about what makes a successful caricature, his process and how it all works for professional illustration clients… he’ll even take you through a MAD job from start to finish!
So come by the main stage at 10:30 on Saturday if you are looking for a quiet place to take a nap.
Otherwise you’ll find me at a table #421 in the “Comic Room!” area with my plethora of copies of my book, original MAD pages, limited edition prints and plenty of drawing stuff to do commissions and caricatures for people. As always, bring me a cold Monster Ultra Zero (white can) energy drink and get a free sketch of Alfred E. Neuman as Batman!
The show hours are:
- Friday: 4 pm until 9 pm
- Saturday: 10 am until 7 pm
- Sunday: 10 am until 5 pm
Hope to see you there!
November 19th, 2014
The Walking Dead caricature sketches continue with Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee.
Tags: caricature, Glenn Rhee, sketch, Steven Yeun, The Walking Dead
November 18th, 2014
In March of 1995 I opened a caricature art concession operation at Six Flags St. Louis in Eureka, Mo. We started out with a single location, eventually expanded to two locations, added airbrush T-Shirts (which I eventually sold my stake in to my airbrush business partner Kent Lind), and spent the next 20 seasons drawing Six Flags customers.
After returning from Dallas from the North Texas Comic Con, I got right back on a plane and went to St. Louis. After arriving, I picked up a rental truck, rolled out to Six Flags, packed up all the equipment and stuff from my two caricature locations there and rolled out of town, never to return. This was the first time I have closed a major theme park operation. I watched the specialty retail (tourist mall kiosk) business roll up and die while I closed or sold locations at Underground Atlanta, Riverwalk in New Orleans, Mall of America, and Union Station in St. Louis. Those kinds of operations tend to have short lives, and the longevity my stands enjoyed in most of those locations was very unusual. However I used to think the theme park business was bulletproof… recessions, an up and down economy, unemployment levels… none of these things seemed to dramatically affect our business in theme parks. We did a very steady and reliable per-cap sales level ($ per person through the gate, a telling stat for success in theme parks) year in and year out. There was a balance in splitting the pie between the parks, the artists and me that kept everyone satisfied and created a solid business relationship.
That’s all changed now, and the reason it’s changed is 100% the result of how the theme park companies have handled their businesses over the last decade. Local theme parks, meaning ones that are located in areas that rely on drawing from a clientele with a “driving radius” of say 500-600 miles as opposed to destination locations like Orlando and California which draw in visitors from all over the world, used to have a mix of about 30% season pass holders and 70% out of town visitors who make their trip to the theme park a once a year (or every few years) vacation. They would bring discretionary money to spend on things like souvenirs to remember their day, of which caricatures was a very popular choice. Season pass holders, locals who would come several times a year, were not our demographic since they didn’t often buy souvenirs to commemorate any of their multiple visits to the park.
If the CEOs of theme park companies got together and decided to put together a game plan to destroy lessee businesses like mine in their parks, they could not have come up with a better blueprint than what they have been doing for the last ten years. Essentially they changed their target customers from out of town, single visit families and vacationers to locals that live within 10-20 miles of the park. They have been catering to those locals and season pass holders in almost every meaningful way they can. How? By making it less expensive to buy a season pass than to buy two individual tickets to the park, making it cheaper to get a season pass than to go to the theme park twice in a single year. They offer season pass perks and discounts all over the place. They have spent millions and millions of dollars and park real estate on elaborate waterparks within the theme park which is an invitation to lounge around in a bathing suit all day rather than walk around spending money, and lately they even have started offering meal plans so customers that come in don’t even need to bring money along for their food. In a short term effort to increase their gate attendance they have increased their season pass holder percentages to upwards of 60-65%. Most of these customers are kids and teenagers who get dropped off by their parents at the front gate to spend the day in the water park, ride a few rides and then get picked up again. Out of whatever figure the park cites as their entire attendance for the summer one of these kids probably counts for 8 or 10 of those people. If the park claims to do a million people in attendance for the season, in reality they probably got about 400,000 unique people through the gate, the other 600,000 are the same people who come multiple times. In reality the number of actual, unique customers that pass by our locations in such a scenario has dropped from 700,000 to about 400,000… coming close to half the number of potential customers. Worse, their efforts have not increased their overall attendance. In fact, attendance is down in most of the parks I have operations in, and significantly down compared to what it was in the 2000s. Less attendance and a dramatically worse demographic is a lethal combination.
Is it any wonder we have been struggling to do the kind of sales we used to do? We’ve been limping along in several theme parks. I have done everything I possibly can to keep the formula we used for decades to be successful: pay my artists the most I can afford to pay them, work hard to find and train high end talent to keep the quality of the work high, treat the artists right to entice them to stick around for several seasons, and create a highly creative and fun environment for my crews to be a part of. For example, even after the theme parks raised their percentage of revenues to a level that borders on ridiculous, I refused to lower the percentage I paid the artists. I just accepted a lower profit level so I could keep good artists happy longer, reasoning that resulted in better sales and an easier time of running things. In an effort to squeeze whatever sales I could from those hundreds of thousands of season pass holders, I offered deep season pass discounts, and even tried to offer a cheap $5 profile caricature for a while. None of that made a significant impact.
Unfortunately things have finally reached critical mass, and the severe reduction of legitimate customers have reduced our sales so much I cannot keep artists interested in sticking around for multiple seasons (or in some cases even to the end of one season) no matter what percentage they get paid. That has finally resulted in the quality of our product going down, difficulty in finding and keeping a good crew, and is contributing to even more dismal sales.
Six Flags St. Louis reached the point this year where the amount of money I was actually seeing at the end of the season was not worth the time and effort of owning and running the operation, and I closed up shop. If there are any caricaturists drawing at Six Flags St. Louis next year, they won’t be my artists. Good luck to them. Theme park managers don’t seem to think our free falling sales are their fault, preferring rather to point to things like that fact that our artists aren’t doing jumping jacks outside the booth barking at passers by to try and squeeze blood out of a turnip, or that we don’t have enough artists in our booths to maximize the sales on high attendance days, choosing to ignore that the few artists we have are not even very busy.
I still have operations at Six Flags New England, where the denser population and higher income levels keep the crowds better in terms of spending, and at Valleyfair and Nick Universe in in Minnesota, where we have down scaled and are just staying afloat. It’s a shame that what was a healthy business that made money for all involved has become a yearly struggle, but there is little I can do to fix it on my end. The theme parks have become exactly what they have been aiming to become, and this is what we have to work with.
So long St. Louis. It’s been a fun two decades.
November 17th, 2014
David, Kit, Garth, Annie and Me
I spent this past weekend in Dallas, Texas at a small comic con called the North Texas Comic Book Show. This is a quarterly event organized by a nice gentleman named Chris Latshaw. Chris invites a few artists as guests for the show, and this time he had the hare-brained idea to do a “MAD” theme and invite a bunch of The Usual Gang of Idiots to appear. Included was the following:
David DeGrand- Writer/artist on “The Fundalini Pages” feature “Ain’t Life DeGrand” and “The Strip Club” feature “Patience Man” for MAD, David has a long list of credits including working on Spongebob Comics, Heeby Jeeby Comix, KaBOOM! Studios, Walt Disney Television Animation, Harper Collins, Yuck!, Puck Comic Party, The Fort Worth Star Telegram and The Grizzly Detail.
Annie Gaines Ashton- Widow of MAD publisher Bill Gaines, former MAD editor and the First Lady of MAD!
Garth Gerhart- Writer/artist on “Bitterman” for MAD, Garth also does his own comics including the new “Beelebum: The Roommate from Hell”.
Kit Lively- Writer on a number of features in MAD, many in collaboration with artist Scott Nickel, Kit is a cartoonist and writer with many credits including foreign editions of MAD, National Lampoon, Joe Bob Briggs and others. His book of cartoons, “Dammit! I Swallowed Another One!” was recently published by Bear Manor Media.
I’m guessing Chris is still wondering what he was thinking.
You do not get a group of UGOI together without a lot of funny going on. Often there is broken crockery as well, but we avoided any major damage to the dishes or the hotel in general. Instead we just laughed ourselves silly all weekend. Mostly we spent our time getting Annie to laugh, because she has one of the greatest laughs in the history of the world, and it was a joy to hear.
Needless to say it was a great time, and it was especially fun because this group was from the “newer” Usual Gang of Idiots (Annie aside)… very funny and creative artists and writers that don’t get much attention standing in the shadows of legends like Jaffee, Sergio, Davis, Drucker, Wood, Elder, etc.
Here’s some more pics from the weekend, most courtesy of Kit’s wife Julie:
Me holding off the hordes of fans…
Julie kicked my ass in arm wrestling
How did we end up in a bar???
November 16th, 2014
This week’s question comes from Ginger Meggs cartoonist, illustrator and caricaturist extraordinaire Jason Chatfield:
Q: I notice your sketch-of-the-week pencils are a lot tighter than your MAD parody draft layouts. Have you ever considered doing a parody as pencils a la Mort, then colouring over them? I realise it’s not your usual style, but your Sketch-Of-The-Week sketches are incredible.
A: Thanks, Jason. Glad you enjoy the SotW.
Jason refers to some of Mort Drucker‘s later work in MAD, which seemed to get away from his traditional pen and ink style and includes more pencil work and less ink. Having never seen any of the originals of that later Mort art, I can’t really speak to how much of it was really pencil, and how much other mixed media like marker pens and such, but it definitely looked a lot softer and looser than the straight pen and ink work he did up through the late 90’s.
It would be an interesting experiment to do a parody entirely in tight pencil as opposed to actually inking it, but I don’t see me doing that unless exactly the right subject matter came along. It would certainly need to be in black and white… I don’t think color and pencil would mesh very well in print unless I basically fully painted the whole thing, and that would take forever. The hard black lines hold the looser color technique I use for my MAD work together… you’d be surprised how sloppy my painting looks when zoomed in. The strong lines make that work, softer pencil lines would need a lot more of a tight painting.
Most of my “sketch of the week” drawings are not really sketches. A “sketch”, at least to me, is a visual exploration or study of a subject as opposed to a finished piece of art. That implies taking risks, following paths in the sketch that might end up in a dead end, and generally being loose and carefree with the drawing. The ones I post here are (usually) way too tight to be a real sketch. They are more like graphite paintings than sketches, and rely on values much more than line. So, many of my more elaborate sketches would not translate well into a line drawing unless there was a fair amount of values added in the form of painting or crosshatching.
Because the panels in MAD are small and my caricatures by necessity are very small to fit into the format, it’s better in MAD parodies to stick with caricatures based on lines as opposed to values, and least for me. The approach to each is different.
Never say never, however. Who knows? The right subject may come along where something like a pencil and painting technique would be perfect. The only thing that worries me about doing it is that the editors at MAD might pay me a lower page rate because they’ll say I saved money using no ink!
Thanks to Jason Chatfield 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!
November 15th, 2014
Come see MAD Magazine’s David Degrand, Annie Gaines Ashton, Garth Gerhart, Kit Lively and myself today at the North Texas Comic Book Show at the Doubletree Hotel, 2015 Market Center Blvd, Dallas, TX 75207 (just off I-35 near Medieval Times and behind The Hilton Anatole). Admission is only $7.00 (CHEAP).
I’ll have my usual plethora of books, prints, original MAD art and will be doing disappointing but overpriced caricatures and sketches. As always, anyone who brings me a Monster Ultra Zero energy drink (the white can) gets a free “Alfred as Batman” drawing (big deal)! See you there!
November 14th, 2014
Today’s Walking Dead sketch is Emily Kinney as Beth Greene. I might do a few more of these next week… In the meantime I’m off to Dallas for a MAD get together!
Tags: caricature, Emily Kinney, sketch, The Walking Dead
November 13th, 2014
I actually did this one of Norman Reedus aka Daryl Dixon a year or two ago for a SotW, so I’m posting it again as a bonus Walking Sketch today. I’ll have another new one tomorrow.
Tags: caricature, Norman Reedus, sketch, The Walking Dead