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Diary of a MAD Job Revisited

Monday, September 1st, 2014

This week I am in lock down, do-or-die, 24-7, no foolin’ Deadline Demon mode trying to finish an eight (that’s right EIGHT page parody) for MAD by the weekend. No time for anything else. So… Welcome to flashback week! About eight years ago I posted this little walk through of a typical job for MAD entitled “Diary of a MAD Job”. I thought I would repost it this week. It’s a little dated (I have annotated these with updated comments) but most of the process is the same.

Diary of a MAD Job Part 1:

Whenever I meet someone who knows that I do work for MAD, I invariably get asked two questions. The first one is “Do they still publish that rag?”. The second is “How do you do the movie/TV parodies?”. Actually that question is usually phrased as a series of questions including “do you get to see the movie ahead of time?”, “does MAD provide you with pictures/copies of the film?”, “do you write the gags?”, and my personal favorite: “can you tell me where the bathroom is?” Over the next few days I will go through the process of doing a job for MAD from beginning to end, hopefully answering many of these questions in the process (except that last one).

First off, I have to get the job. MAD has no staff artists (or writers, for that matter). It’s all freelance, and unless you have a regular feature like “Spy vs. Spy” you aren’t given work in every single issue. Often I am waiting around for the phone to ring.

Waiting for my next MAD job…

MAD assigns jobs based on things like the style of art they want for a particular piece, the availability of the artist, etc. Of course, there are some things you can do to get the ball rolling…

Sending a reminder to the editors at MAD. The fact that I am sending ten dollar bills is an indictment of how much money freelance artists make.

Finally I’ll get that call. MAD art director Sam Viviano has a policy to only call an artist for a job when it’s a definite go and the final decision has been made for that artist to do that particular job. Sam would never call me and advise me to go see a film or to clear my board for a job that is still just a maybe… and that is something any freelancer appreciates. It’s always exciting when Sam calls me for a job…

Hello, SAM??

Even if that job has a ridiculously short deadline…


The first thing I get from the gang at MAD is a layout of the piece. For our example here I’ll use a TV parody I did a year or so ago of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition“. This is what I would get e-mailed to me from MAD (other pages as well, this is just the splash):

Blank layout for “Extreme Once-Over: Home Repetition”
Click for a closer look

The artist is always the last stop on the wagon trail before the piece goes into the magazine. Before I get this layout, the writer has written and submitted a script, the editors have gone over it, argued and came to blows or called each other hurtful names a few times about it, finally making their changes (often taking out gags and reducing the number of panels/pages) and the art department assembles and lays out the articles with text and word balloons, panel placement and header/department text in place. That’s a lot of work before I even see the job… or at least they like to say it is. At any rate, this is what I get to work with. Sometimes Sam will do a ‘doodle’ on the splash to help set up the scene (haven’t see that in years… Sam knows what to expect from me these days and, despite that, still doesn’t do any preliminary doodles for me) primarily because the placement of the word balloons dictates where the characters speaking them need to be, and the one doing the layouts needs that set up. Regardless if I have a Sam doodle as a springboard or not (in this case not), the restrictions of the balloon placement complicates matters and makes the splash page and to a lesser extent the rest of the job into a kind of visual puzzle.

My job now is this: I have to place the characters in such a way as the word balloons make sense sequentially without the balloon ‘tails’ crossing or doing anything too hard to read within the environment set up by the story while doing (hopefully) convincing caricatures of several actors/actresses with many different expressions and angles throughout the story while simultaneously paying attention to storytelling design and panel layout/camera angles to advance the eye along the page while at the same time ‘selling the gag’ by which I mean I visually reinforcing and driving home the jokes written by the writer meanwhile adding visual gags of my own in the panel/backgrounds to add a second layer of humor all while trying to draw funny in the first place. That IS a lot of work, almost as much work as writing that last run-on sentence was, despite what those lazy-ass writers say. Memo to self: ask for a raise.

In the case of a movie, my first step is always to see the film if it’s in release. If, like in this case, it’s a TV show, I set the old DVR to record some episodes and watch several. It’s important to get a good feel for the show and what it’s all about before trying to do a parody of it. It’s the little details that make for a good lampooning of a show, and you don’t capture the little things unless you are familiar with the show. I will often tap friends or relatives who watch a TV show regularly about what to look for (one of my neighbors pointed out to me that one of the designers in the show “Trading Spaces” was always barefoot when she did her work, so I gave her stinky, dirty feet the whole parody). I always have a lot more fun doing a parody of something I really like (or really hate), as opposed to a show or movie I don’t care at all about.

After getting familiar with the show, I start digging up reference. MAD will be sending me a bunch of scrap of the main characters as they have art staff Google pictures and print them out for me (this also hasn’t been the case for years, I am on my own with references these days), but I do a ton of research myself as well. If there is a book out I’ll go buy it (tax deductible, you know). I get all the mindless celebrity-chasing entertainment magazines and clip pictures out of them as well (it’s all internet image searches these days). If an actor or actress I’m drawing was recently in a film or TV show that is out on DVD, I’ll rent that and do some screen captures to use as reference (that’s right, Steve Jobs (he’s dead), that’s a legitimate and FAIR USE reason why users of your computers should be allowed to screen capture from DVD) but I primarily farm the Internet for pictures. I assemble them on 13×19 inch sheets and print them out so they are handy (now I use an iPad for all reference, thanks dead Steve Jobs). I also print the layouts at print size onto a decent piece of drawing paper. With my reference in hand and my layouts ready, I can get started with the roughs.

Tomorrow: “Getting to work” or “Procrastinating for Dummies”

MAD About Spy vs Spy Sundays!

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Betcha didn’t know that back in 2002 MAD produced a Sunday only comic strip version of Spy vs. Spy, which was syndicated by Tribune Media Services (Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, Broom-Hilda, etc). Written by Don “Duck” Edwing and drawn by Dave Manak, the strip had a run of 39 weeks… guess the humor just didn’t translate well to the Garfield crowd.

Anyway since April MAD has been posting these Sunday comics every Wednesday… I guess because they had something better to do on Sundays. This week was #22, and you can check them all out here. Check into MAD‘s website every Wednesday for another Spy Vs. Spy Sunday, which they probably prep and pre-post on Tuesdays since most of the staff call in sick on Mondays, Thursday is half-price tacos at the Applebees next door so everyone takes a 3 hour lunch, and no one gets anything done on Fridays.

Sneak Peek: “Snark Tank” from MAD #529

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

As promised, here’s a sneak peek at my art from the Dick DeBartolo scribed parody of “Shark Tank” in the latest issue of MAD (clicky any to embiggen…):

Snark Tank_big




If you are familiar with the show, it’s a reality series where hopeful entrepreneurs pitch product ideas to a panel of rich business people, who then either reject them or bid on investing in a portion of their concept. Most of the time the entrepreneurs are inventors of some process or idea, thus the scene with lots of inventors both dead and alive (mostly dead).

Dick also wanted to use a couple of people he works with as some of the pitch teams, including his co-host of “Giz Wiz” Chad Johnson, and The Tech Guy’s Leo Laporte (who is in that last panel with his fiancee Lisa).

There was one other couple who pitched an idea in the script, and they were not supposed to be anyone specific according to Dick De. So, just for fun I had it be The Lovely Anna and I (see the second panel above). The editors even changed the names in the script to “Anna” and “Tom”, so we are officially in the parody.

As it turns out I also appear with one of my dogs McCartney as one of the twitter avatars in the article “When Twitter’s Maximum Character Rule Saves People From Saying Too Much”, photo by The Lovely Anna. That was a surprise cooked up by associate art director Ryan Flanders, who saw the pic on facebook and asked Anna if they could use it. So there is an overabundance of Tom in this issue.

You can also see a sneak peek of this article featured on the website Zap2it, where I am credited as “colorist”. Usually they give me no credit at all, so I guess that’s better than nothing. :roll:

The Folding Man

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Paste Magazine has a terrific article on the incomparable Al Jaffee and the MAD feature he created and made famous… the “Fold-In”. Al talks about the thinking behind his favorite Fold-Ins from the last five decades. Go check it out.

Incidentally, Al still does the Fold-In every issue. He still hand delivers the art to the MAD offices. He’s 93.

Monday MADness- Al Feldstein

Monday, July 14th, 2014

I’m going to do something different today for Monday MADness and send you all via this magic link to the blog of Mark Evanier, to read a terrific piece about the late MAD editor Al Feldstein he wrote this past weekend. Feldstein was the editor of MAD for about 29 years, and Mark’s post really lends some insights into Al’s career and why it was very unique. He talks a lot about some of the things that made Al Feldstein a polarizing figure in MAD history. Some people will tell you Al had nothing to do with the things that made MAD great, that we was nothing but a manager and organizer and did almost nothing creative, that he made a disproportionate amount of money compared to the writers and artists that were the heart of the publication. Others might say he didn’t get enough credit for the magazine’s success.

I never met Al Feldstein, and I certainly never worked with him. He left MAD in 1984 or 1985 (depending on who you talk to) and I was busy graduation high school about then. I have gotten to know many of the people who did work with Feldstein, and the feeling I get is that Al was a hard-nosed editor that demanded respect of deadlines, didn’t tolerate sloppy work, was not very friendly, and ran an ultra-tight ship. One can argue that the creative people that made the funny content of the magazine needed someone like that or the magazine would never have gotten published some months, and I cannot disagree. As a creative type, deadlines are the only thing that keep me on task.  Some of the animosity Mark mentions over the money I have seen some hints of from long-time MAD guys, and I would be hard pressed to blame anyone for that. Let’s face it, getting a magazine out like clockwork every issue doesn’t meant a thing if what’s inside that magazine is not something anyone wants to read, and MAD hasn’t been around for 60 years because it came out on time and with all the pages nicely keylined. Some of the other long-time editors, particularly Nick Meglin, had a lot more to do with the content that ultimately made MAD MAD than Feldstein, and Mark seems to agree in his article.

I do think Feldstein deserves a lot of credit for the success of MAD for several reasons. First, he did corral a whole cast of creative geniuses who probably desperately needed corralling, and got a magazine full of brilliant cartooning and writing out regularly… no mean feat. Anyone who thinks brilliant content is all that’s required for success need only look at what happened to Harvey Kurtzman after he left MAD. Second, as I understand it Al was instrumental in finding and contracting most of those creative geniuses who made that great content. Kurtzman took most of the contributors to his MAD with him to Hugh Hefner‘s camp and Trump, and when Bill Gaines hired Al to take over as editor he advertised and found the creative people who became the Usual Gang of Idiots like Mort Drucker, Frank Jacobs, Bob Clarke, Dave Berg, Don Martin and many others. Maybe finding one or two of those would be dumb luck, but the all-star cast he assembled speaks of shrewd judgement of talent and a vision of what he wanted for the magazine. That alone is reason for major credit for the success of MAD, even if Al didn’t provide any of the humor himself.

Anyway go read Mark’s post if you are interested. It’s well worth the time.

Sneak Peek: Two Defectives- MAD #528

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

As promised, here is a sneak peek of my art from MAD #528′s parody of “Two Detectives”, written by Arnie Kogen:

The splash page (Clicky to Embiggen…)

two defectives 1

two defectives 2

two defectives 4

two defectives 3

What do you mean you “want to read the entire parody?” What does this look like, a furshlugginer library?!? Go out and buy the issue, putz!

On the Stands: MAD #528

Monday, June 16th, 2014

In comic book shops, on the iPad and in subscribers mailboxes now, on news stands everywhere Tuesday:

MAD 475
MAD # 528 (August 2014)

  • Cover (Mark Fredrickson)
  • The Fundalini Pages (Matt Lassen, Ward Sutton, Tim Hamilton, Jeff Kruse, Rick Tulka, P.C. Vey, Dick DeBartolo, John Caldwell, Kenny Keil, Anton Emdin, David DeGrand, Tom Bunk, Rich Powell, Kevin Pope, Mark Fredrickson, Bob Eckstein, Stan Sinberg, John Kerschbaum)
  • Two Defectives (A MAD TV Satire) (Arnie Kogen, Tom Richmond)
  • How Kimye Stacks Up Against Other Famous Married Couples (Uncredited)
  • Planet TAD!!!!! (Tim Carvell)
  • Appy (Mike Morse, Sam Sisco)
  • MOtowNOPOLY (Stan Sinberg, Mike Loew)
  • Monster Marriage Poster (Mark Fredrickson)
  • A MAD Look at Captain America (Sergio Aragonés, Colorist: Jim Campbell)
  • MAD’s Celebrity Acronyms (Matt Lassen, Rick Tulka)
  • The MAD Vault- (From MAD #409, Sept. 2001: John Caldwell)
  • The Strip Club (Eugen Erhan & Tudor Muscalu, Dakota McFadzean, Phil McAndrew, Josh Mecouch, Jason Yungbluth, Nathan Cooper, Christopher Baldwin)
  • A Minor League Baseball Flyer That Tells it Like it Is (Jeff Kruse)
  • Reality Show Rejection Letters (Kenny Keil)
  • Spy vs. Spy (Peter Kuper)
  • The Puffington Host (Matt Lassen & Scott Maiko)
  • The Best of The Idiotical (various)
  • 7 Easy Ways to Defeat Godzilla (Mike Morse, Hermann Mejia)
  • Another Ridiculous MAD Fold-In (Al Jaffee)
  • Drawn Out Dramas (Sergio Aragonés, appear throughout the issue)

I did the art on the parody of the HBO TV series “True Detective” (incorrectly listed as “A Mad Movie Satire” in the issue’s table of contents), a six pager written by Arnie Kogen. Look for a sneak peek of my art from that in tomorrow’s post.

Well . . . What are you waiting for, clod?!? Go out and buy a fershlugginer copy already!


Interweb MADness

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

If you don’t frequent MAD‘s website often, you are missing out on some original and funny stuff. They post daily content that is often all new and very timely stuff that is more than a few notches above your typical meme. They also sprinkle in classic features like Don Martin, Dave Berg, Spy vs. Spy and more.

Lately they have really been on a roll with political satire ala these two recent posts:


Back in the early 2000s when I started for MAD, I heard a lot of right-wingers accusing MAD of being a  “liberal rag” because all they did was bash Bush and his cronies. I would defend MAD in saying they go after the people in charge, left or right. That, of course, held no water for the Limbaugh crowd… if you aren’t with them you are against them.

Now, the lefties are all crying about MAD being an extension of Fox News and accusing them of having been bought out by Rupert Murdoch. See my same argument from 2001-2009. You go after the people in power, and regardless of your personal political views if someone does something stupid, you point it out with gusto. The only difference is that a good political satirist tries to separate the spin from the real stupidity.

The Schill List

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014


The annual “MAD 20 Dumbest People, Events and Things” lists have been a popular feature since it’s debut in 1998, so naturally MAD decided to try and cash in by collecting the 100 dumbest ones of the century (so far) into one special collector’s edition! I haven’t seen a copy yet but I assume a few of the ones I’ve done over the last 14 years are included… since all mine were the very definition of “dumb”.

On the Stands: MAD #527

Friday, April 18th, 2014

In comic book shops, on the iPad and in subscribers mailboxes now, on news stands everywhere Tuesday:

MAD 547

MAD # 527 (June 2014)

  • Cover (Mark Fredrickson)
  • The Fundalini Pages (Rick Tulka, Evan Waite, John Martz, Tom Bunk, P.C. Vey, Matt Lassen, Kenny Keil, Garth Gerhart, Mike Morse, Mike Loew, Rich Powell, Dick DeBartolo, Bob Staake, Glen Le Lievre, Desmond Devlin, Justin Peterson, Sarah Chalek, Mike Lynch,
  • The Slobbit: The Adaptation’s a Slog (A MAD Movie Satire) (Desmond Devlin, Tom Richmond)
  • Sport’s Atrocity- (Jeff Kruse, Scott Bicher)
  • When Delivery Drones Go Bad (John Caldwell)
  • The Darker Side of The Lighter Side (Dave Berg… sort of)
  • Planet TAD!!!!! (Tim Carvell)
  • MAD’s Common Sense Tips for First Aid (Teresa Burns Parkhurst)
  • Spy vs. Spy (Peter Kuper)
  • College Courses for the Lousy New Economy (Neil Berliner, Chris Houghton)
  • A MAD Look at Legalized Marijuana (Sergio Aragonés, Colorist: Jim Campbell)
  • New Rules for Bill Maher (Butch D’Ambrosio, Paul Coker)
  • The MAD Vault- (From MAD #182, April 1976: Jack Rickard, Lou Silverstone)
  • The Strip Club (Dakota McFadzean, Jason Yungbluth, Kenny Keil, Christopher Baldwin, Phil McAndrew, Kit Lively & David DeGrand, Keith Knight)
  • Forgotten Moments from 30 Years of Wrestlemainia (Desmond Devlin, Anton Emdin)
  • The Best of The Idiotical (various)
  • Another Ridiculous MAD Fold-In (Al Jaffee)
  • Drawn Out Dramas (Sergio Aragonés, appear throughout the issue)

Lot’s of fun art in this issue, including the first full interior feature for Chris Houghton and an awesome multipager by Anton Emdin. I did the art on the parody of the second “Hobbit” movie, a seven page extravaganza written by Desmond Devlin. Look for a sneak peek of my art from that next week in “Monday MADness!”

Well . . . What are you waiting for, clod?!? Go out and buy a fershlugginer copy already!



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