Q: What do you consider a good caricature? I’ve seen plenty of published caricatures that look nothing like their supposed persons, is there a point where you can go too far with a caricature or not exaggerate enough?
A: I consider a good caricature to have an unmistakable likeness and yet have both humor and exaggeration with the features. Some artists push the exaggeration too much and lose the likeness, which makes it an unsuccessful caricature. Some caricatures are little more than portraits with bigger heads and cartoonish bodies, and while the likenesses might be unmistakable with them they don’t have that humor that makes for a good caricature.
The best caricaturists combine likeness and their own style of exaggeration and humor to great effect. Sebastian Krüger really pushes the exaggerations but never so much he loses the likeness. Al Hirschfeld exaggerated in a stylistic way by turning features into design-like representational elements and using head shape/posture to create his distinct and instantly recognizable caricatures. Mort Drucker combined fun, cartoon linework and incredibly strong drawing skills with Norman Rockwell-like exaggerations of expression and human form to straddle the line between straight illustration and humorous comic book art to arrive at his masterful caricature style.
Each caricature artist has to find their unique balance with likeness and exaggeration as it applies to the way he or she sees the world and interprets it. Their own style of drawing will help dictate that balance. It can be pushed as far as their vision will let it, but there is a limit. Once a likeness is lost the caricature is a failure.
Thanks to Piotr Walczuk 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!