Q: This really has nothing to do with art but more of a personal question. I was just wondering if you’re a bit of a celebrity in your town (or part of town) and if you get recognized or receive silly comments from people when you’re at the post office or pharmacy. Have you ever been “caught” perusing a Mad magazine at a store?
A: Nope, no one around here has a clue what I do. Only our immediate neighbors know I’m a cartoonist, and only because they asked because they were afraid I was a drug dealer being that I was home all the time but still obviously earning a living. It’s not like I keep it a secret, but I don’t have a sign outside my house that says “potrzebie” either. What I do is hardly worthy of celebrity, but it is an interesting job compared to a lot of jobs I suppose. Only real fans of either MAD or of cartooning would care.
I have had a write up or two in some local media, and been on a couple of local TV shows, but I am not much of an attention hound so I don’t go looking for press coverage. Only twice have I ever sent out a “press release” and that was when I won some major awards, the last being the National Cartoonists’ Society’s Reuben award. The collective response was a large “meh”, and I suppose that is appropriate. I must say I was surprised there was so little interest in a story on a local guy winning the Reuben. The two local daily papers never fail to have stories about spelling bees or a local business that sells homemade cupcakes, but I guess they didn’t think that a Minnesota artist winning an award whose past winners included Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, Milton Caniff, Matt Groening and so many other legends warranted a story. The lack of attention for me didn’t bother me a bit, but I felt bad for the lack of attention for the industry of cartooning and the NCS. I thought they deserved better, especially from newspapers who have sold a lot of copies because of the talents of some of those past Reuben winners.
I certainly don’t care about any lack of notoriety or interest, but it does puzzle me a little in certain cases. For example, about two miles from my house is a comic book store (actually in Eagan, MN) I frequent a couple of times a month. I own a MAD denim jacket circa the late 1990′s, and unless it’s 20 below zero around here I usually wear it about. I have probably been in that store a hundred times, and bought various things, asked about stuff to see if they have it, etc. I even sold them a box of old comics I wanted to get rid of once. The same two guys are behind the counter every time I go in. Not once has any of them asked me about my jacket, asked if I was a MAD fan, or showed the slightest interest in a mid-40′s guy who comes in a lot buying unusual comics and books. They sell MAD and MAD related merchandise, and at any time have probably a dozen things on their shelves containing my artwork, but they have no clue that a MAD artist and the current president of the National Cartoonist Society lives a brisk walk from their store and shops there frequently. To be fair, I’ve never introduced myself, so I guess why would they know?
One night I took my kids out to a movie and we stopped for dinner at a local restaurant… right across the street from that comic book shop in fact… and I got my one and only local reaction concerning my MAD jacket. This was just a few days after the Biography channel aired the documentary “Jeff Dunham: The Life of a Dummy”, in which I was mentioned having done the design for Achmed Jr. I’m at the bar trying to get a beer and a couple of cokes when this guy taps me on the shoulder and asks about my jacket.
“Hey, that’s MAD Magazine, right?” He says.
“Yes,” I answered. “Are you a fan of MAD?”
“Used to read it as a kid,” he says. “You know I saw this documentary on Jeff Dunham the other day and a guy who draws for MAD made one of his dummies. They said the guy is from Burnsville so he lives around here!”
“Really? Wow, that’s crazy!” I replied.
“I know, right?” He said.
“You know, that guy might be in this place right now having a beer or dinner with his kids or something,” I suggested.
“Yeah! That’s right! Maybe!” He agreed.
“Well, have a great night!” I exclaimed walking away.
“Thanks, you too!” He waved at me.
I went back to our table and my kids and I had a good laugh over that one.
I guess the general population of Burnsville, MN may never win any awards for sharp perception.
Thanks to Ed Placencia of Lancaster, PA 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!