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Sunday Mailbag- Trouble Caricaturing Familiarity?

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Q: Let’s say someone loves your rendition so much, they keep showing up for you to draw them. Does this affect your ability to produce a caricature, or do your drawings of them actually get better?

A: How intimate familiarity with a subject affects your ability to caricature that subject is an interesting question. Specifically you are referring to live caricature work (I assume), and that is a little different of an animal. Unless your subject comes back to get a drawing several times a week, you really cannot get so familiar with their face that it affects your ability to draw them objectively. After all, you only spend a few minutes actually observing them and there will likely be hundreds if not thousands of faces that sit in front of you before you see that same subject’s face again. You might recall some elements of your earlier drawings but with so little actual time spent observing them, you will still mostly have “fresh eyes” with each new caricature. I’ve draw caricatures of the same people every summer and I don’t feel it helps or hurts the results to do that.

Drawing people you really are familiar with is a different story, though. I’m talking about people you spend significant time with in your life. That interaction both improves and hampers your ability to caricature them.

Familiarity improves your caricature of someone because you have intimate knowledge of their mannerisms, personality and “quirks” of expression that you can bring into play in your caricature. These are things that you just don’t have when you draw someone “cold” having not seen them in motion or in life before. Drawing caricatures of celebrities works better if you have seen them in films or TV, when their images are not airbrushed/photoshopped to death like they are in magazine photos. You have a chance to see them as they really are—moving, speaking and breathing. Working from a single photo is a crapshoot, and eliminates any sense of the person you get from actually observing them in real-life (or at least on the screen). You can more effectively caricature your room-mates, friends, co-workers, etc. because you have made many observations over time and can use them to capture your subject better.

Familiarity can also interfere with your ability to caricature someone, because it can cause you to lose objectivity. It’s natural to downplay or overlook the blemishes and imperfections in your close friends and family members because your eyes don’t see them the way a stranger’s eyes would. Not that blemishes and imperfections are critical to a good caricature, but the WHOLE STORY is and those elements are part of it. You can’t do a complete and honest caricature of someone if you only tell part of the story.

It is also very possible to be TOO close to a subject. People who are long-time, integral parts of your life like family members might elude you in a caricature just because you cannot seem to capture what your inner eye is telling you they look like, and you are incapable of only using your outer eyes and being objective. This is literally a subconscious thing… you are tying to be objective but the drawings keep being “off”. I compare it to how your own voice never sounds like you when you hear a tape recording of it, because you have a certain idea of what you sound like in your head and you accept that version of your voice internally rather than what your ears actually hear. Likewise your brain seems to tell you your family members look one way when your eyes might be trying to tell you different. That’s what a mom can sit there and coo about how cute their baby is when it really looks like a cross between Gollum and a baked potato. I know I have a hard time drawing my parents, and I think that sub-conscious, psychological block is part of it.

Some people have no trouble stepping back and being objective even when it comes to caricaturing their closest friends and family. The end result for those types is usually some scathing family caricatures and no one sending them birthday cards or inviting them over for Christmas dinner.  Similarly, I did a caricature of my wife The Lovely Anna once…

…ONCE.

Thanks to Virginia Baker 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!

Sunday Mailbag- Maddest Artist Edition?

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Q: Would you like to see a MAD’s Maddest Artists edition of your work? I personally would love to see one as you are my favorite contributor who is not of the original gang of idiots. Also do you think you have had a big impact on the magazine like others who got their own books: Mort (Drucker), Don (Martin), Sergio (Aragonés) , and Dave (Berg)?

A: First part: I’m flattered, but I do not have anywhere near the body of work deserving of such a collection, and there are many, many MAD artists more deserving of a collection that I am. Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Bill Elder, Angelo Torres, Sam Viviano, Paul Coker, George Woodbridge, Jack Richard, Bob Clarke, Duck Edwing, Rick Tulka, Paul Peter Porges, John Caldwell, Drew Friedman, Hermann Mejia, Harry North and Tom Bunk come to immediate mind, and a few others no doubt. If they do all of those at a rate of one a year, I’ll have 30 years with MAD and then maybe I’ll have enough work to warrant such a book. That’s a big IF.

Second part: No. Not even close. I am a lesser son of greater sires and can only see the parade because I stand on the shoulder of giants. That’s not false modesty or me fishing for compliments, that is simple truth. I’m carrying on a tradition that better artists than I innovated and made great. I innovated nothing and am only adding my voice to an already heralded chorus. I’m proud to be part of the MAD family but I’m not kidding myself that I belong in the same conversation as the names you mentioned.

Thanks to David Frautschi 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!

Sunday Mailbag- Inking Tool Tips!

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Q: I’ve read several “how-to” articles on inking comics – including your excellent 2-part inking tutorial -  and there is great information out there. However, what I am having trouble finding is how an artist should care for their brushes and pens. Not only when one is done working with them for the day, but, also what to do with the tools during the actual inking process? For example: are you constantly swirling your brush in a cup of water in-between strokes? Does water work for cleaning permanent ink – or is something else needed?

A: Great question. You do have to care for your tools properly, both during and after use, so they stay usable and work well for you. I’ll cover the two tools I use the most for inking: dip pens and brushes, as well as inks.

Dip Pens- The quality control on pen nibs is not perfect, and I’ll find duds every now and then—nibs where the ink just won’t flow right. I toss them and grab another. That just means when I do find a good nib I like to keep it working as long as possible.

There is a long standing myth that putting a flame to your new nib burns off the film of oil that is on the nib to prevent rust, and that film of oil is bad for inking. You will see ink run off the nib quicker on a new nib, especially a crow quill like a Hunt 102, that is because the surface has that light film of oil. However putting a flame to your nib is a bad idea as it retempers the metal, makes it brittle and causes it to lose some spring. If you are dead set against using a nib out of the box without dealing with the light oil coat, use acetone or fingernail polish remover on a piece of paper towel and just quickly wipe of the nib and let it dry. This takes seconds, and removes that oil very effectively without damaging the nib. I don’t bother. In fact, I kind of like the way it works with the oil… makes for a quick and sharp first few lines.

Most of the trouble you have with a nib, at least until it either gets too loose and your line thickens up or you mess up the end with too much pressure, is old ink building up and interfering with ink flow or the closing of the two nib “tines” (the dual sides of the nib separated by the slit). Some people say a nib with ink dried on it is better for even flow, but I disagree. I can use a nib for 1/2 and hour or so before it gets too gunked up for the ink to flow well. I take an Exacto blade and scrape the dried ink off, then wipe it down with a wet cloth. It’s often really responsive right after that. I might do that a dozen times using a nib for 6 or 8 hours before it gets too loose for me to keep using, then I junk it and grab another. I usually go through a pen nib per big MAD page, but I am heavy handed when I ink.

I keep my nibs in old cigar boxes. They are metal and hard to store badly. I just don’t let them get wet or keep them anywhere it might be too humid, like near an open window in summer. Nibs I have used and are still good I just clean up and keep in their holder. They are pretty indestructible as long as they stay dry.

Brushes- These need a lot more care, especially real hair brushes. I use Winsor Netwon Series 7 red sables, a #2 and a #4 mostly.

The big thing with brushes is to keep the ink out of the base of the brush where the hairs are glued under the metal collar. Find a reservoir where you don’t have too much ink and can really see the brush end as you dip it… a big inkwell is no good for that. You will end up over-dipping at some point and getting ink into that glued area. Then it starts messing with the adherence of your brush hairs and separates those hairs, and everything goes to hell. Nice, careful dips… keep that ink on the lower two thirds of your brush.

While inking I clean my brush pretty often. Not after every dip but probably every 1o-15 minutes of using it. I have a big can of water next to me and I dump it and get clean water probably at least once or twice a day if I am doing a lot of brush work. I will shake the brush vigorously in the water and then blot it gently with a paper towel. Avoid splitting the hairs apart and never rub it on the bottom of the water jar. That also loosens the gluing. If your brush is in good shape, once you have the bristles wet from a rinse you should be able to slap it smartly against your hand (so that the metal collar of the brush is what hit the pads of your hand and the bristles “snap” in the air) and the hairs should snap into shape right away. There should be no splits in the bristles when you do that. If there are splits the brush is or is almost shot. Be careful you don’t do that snap thing over your work, as the brush has to be reasonably wet and water will fly.

When I want to put my brush aside and use a pen for awhile, I will rinse it and do that “snap”, or else when it’s wet I will hold it at about a 20 degree angle and gently pull it backward it against my palm or a piece of clean board while I rotate the barrel, so the wet brush is formed into a nice, sharp point, Then I lay it down ON ITS SIDE on a piece of clean towel. You don’t want a wet brush that is not thoroughly cleaned stored upright, as the water will drain down into the gluing and take any particles with it, gradually loosening up the bristles. The glue they use is waterproof but the weight of the water and gravity forcing it down into the glued area along with tiny ink particles will start the loosening process. Some brush water containers have inverted holders that hold the brush in the water bristle end down, with the bristles floating free in the water. That’s okay while you work but isn’t really necessary. . . as long as the brush itself is rinsed well and shaped into a nice point when wet, it’s okay to dry out. Just make sure it is thoroughly rinsed out, and no ink is in there to dry on the bristles.

You will want to clean your brush well when you are done using it. There are lots of brush cleaning cakes and stuff out there, most of it is just soap. It’d best to use any kind of soap that doesn’t have deodorants or other additives to it. Some people say hair shampoo is best, but it depends on what kind of hair shampoo. You don’t want to use something with conditioners or other chemicals meant to make your hair soft or smell like coconuts. Just a nice, mild, fragrance-free soap bar will work. Gently swirl the hairs on the bar and then on the palm of your hand, working up a little lather. You don’t need much soap. Rinse and keep doing his until you get nothing but perfectly clear water in your rinse. Look for little flecks of dried ink, like grains of pepper, in your bristles. Try and wash/rinse those out if you see any.

The key to storing your brush is getting that nice point with the “snap” method or the rotate and draw back method I mentioned before. Dry the barrel and collar of the brush with a paper towel and let the hairs air-dry in that pointed shape.

One thing I used to do was use “gum arabic” to shape and store my brushes. Gum arabic is a liquid medium that is used in watercolor work, and can be purchased in most art stores that sell fine art painting supplies. It’s completely water soluble, but dries into a hard, almost plastic form. By dipping your clean, wet brush into gum arabic (just shy of the point where the hairs go into the metal collar) and then shaping it into that nice point, it will dry into a hard form and keep that point forever. That is until you rinse the brush again, at which time the gun arabic instantly dissolves leaving your brush ready to ink. That’s a nice way to go but I do not think it’s necessary… just point your brush when wet and allowing to dry keeps the point nicely. Ink is a harsh thing to use on a brush and you will inevitably destroy brushes with it. A little care will keep them going for a long time, though.

Ink- I have a nifty little inkwell that only takes a little bit of ink at a time, and I clean it out after every job. Therefore, I use fresh ink every time I do a project, and my ink never congeals much since I have to “top off” the ink several times a day as I deplete the reservoir. I know some inkers like the ink to thicken up some. I don’t. I think it works best right out of the bottle. I know one inker who leaves his rather large inkwell open 24/7 and sprays the household cleaner “Fantastik” into his ink before each job. He told me it was something Wally Wood did, and that the chemicals in “Fantastik” (and only that one, stuff like “Windex” wouldn’t work) would loosen up the thickening ink to give you a perfect consistency. I never had cause to try that. I’d be concerned with the effect of the archival nature of the inks and the board. Anyway I always use fresh ink so I don’t have to worry about its care. Also, I will never run out of ink so conservation is a moot point.

Thanks to Greg Lunzar 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!

Sunday Mailbag

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

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!

Sunday Mailbag- Empty!

Sunday, March 16th, 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 almost 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!

Sunday Mailbag: Freelance Contracts?

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Q: Do you have a standard freelance contract or agreement you use with all your clients?

A: Yes and no. I do have a standard illustration contract/agreement I use with many clients, but not all. Many clients have their own agreements they have their illustrators sign with specific terms they need. In that case I sign theirs and do not need mine, as they both serve the same purpose: spelling out the copyright agreement and other terms for use of the illustration they are contracting me to create.

Of course, I have to read those carefully to make sure I know what I am agreeing to. I will occasionally ask for something to be changed, like a “kill fee” added in or something like that, but most are just variations of the same basic agreement.

Where did I get my agreement? It’s based on a standard illustration estimate/contract form from the Graphic Artists Guild’s Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, with a couple of little changes on my part. I’d post a copy of it here for people to use, but as I got most of it from the GAG book I think it would be unethical to do that. See!… that book works! In fact there are several contracts in that book that working illustrators and graphic artists would find useful. Another source of excellent and practical legal advice and sample contracts and agreements is Tad Crawford’s Legal Guide for the Visual Artist. Both excellent resources.

Thanks to Grant Jonen 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!

Sunday Mailbag: Artist’s Reps?

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Before I answer this week’s Sunday Mailbag, I thought I’d point out the new title format. I’ve gotten a few requests that I start adding some information about the content of my Sunday Mailbag Q&A’s, as doing a search for topics on the blog often yields a lot of “Sunday Mailbag” hits and no alternative but to click each one to find out f the sought after info is in that post. From now on I’ll add something in the title to help with that.

Q: Have you ever had a “rep”, and if not why not? Do you advise an illustrator to have a rep, or to avoid them?

A: For those who may not know a “rep” (short for “representative”) in the art world is like an agent for an actor. They act as both the the finder and broker for work for an artist and get paid via a percentage of an artist’s given pay on a job. Most reps take between 15-20% as their fee. The services offered by a given rep can differ, but a “full service” rep will pursue and find jobs for their artists, negotiate for the pricing on a job, handle the invoicing and collecting of the payments and pay the artists their fees less their given percentage. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

I’ve never had a real rep (with the exception of a loose arrangement with Cagle Cartoons, now defunct). Why not? I guess just because I’ve never been approached by a good one that I thought would be an asset to my career. I once interviewed with a local rep here in Minneapolis way back in the early ninties, and she decided not to rep me. I’ve gotten calls from reps looking for a “one off” job done but none offered to add me to their permanent stable. I haven’t gone looking for a rep because I stay pretty busy already, and therefore don’t really need one. Would I agree to be repped if the right one came along and offered? Sure, why not? It would have to be a rep that could get me higher profile/better paying jobs than the ones I currently do, because I’d likely have to turn down some of the jobs I take now to make room and as they would take 15% or so it would have to make sense financially.

Certainly I would advise any illustrator who would like more work to consider a rep if a good one wants to work with them.

Finding a good rep is not easy. There are a lot of pitfalls you have to avoid, but the primary difficulty is simply finding a good one that is willing to represent you. Your style of work, it’s marketability, the number and makeup of their current group of artists and to a certain extent your established credentials will be major factors in whether or not a rep is willing to add you to their “stable”. The better and more effective the rep, the less likely they are willing to take on new clients and especially those who do not have a strongly established career already. It’s the old catch 22… and artist could use a rep to establish a career and a rep only wants artists who have already got an established career. Reps like Gerald & Cullen Rapp are famous and handle mostly big name artists, while smaller firms or individual reps might take on newer artists if the marketability of their work is strong.

Where do you find reps to contact about being part of their group? The best place is probably sourcebooks like the Directory of Illustration, Workbook and The Black Book. They have ads by reps in them and online lists of the reps in their publications (see links). You need to research these reps and look for ones that are lacking in an artist who’s style is similar to your own. Your best bet is to identify these potential reps and contact them, sending in samples your work and a resume including a fairly complete client list. The worst that could happen is they say “no thanks”. You do not know until you try.

Having a rep isn’t a magic bullet. Far from it. Good reps are hard to find, and by “good reps” I mean those that really work hard to find you good jobs. Bad reps will take on an artist and then just add them to an online portfolio and sit back and wait for jobs to come in. Some will spend 99% of their time pursuing work for the one or two “stars” of their stable and not put any effort into finding work for the other artists they represent, again merely waiting for jobs to come to them… after all it doesn’t cost them anything if you do not get any work, so why not add you to their stable and collect whatever comes their way? You can accomplish that kind of marketing on your own and not part with a percentage of your fees. Some reps will expect you to take on any job no matter how poor the pay is or how bad a fit it is for you, wanting to keep you generating money no matter how little it might be for the work involved.

If/when you find a rep willing to represent you, the details of your contract with them needs to be scrutinized. There are a few things in the fine print to be aware of. For example, you still pay for the lion’s share of any active advertising. The arrangement with most reps is that the costs of any advertising done (i.e. in a sourcebook) is split by the same percentage as the rep fee. So if you pay your rep 15%, you will pay 85% of a page in the Directory of Illustration and the rep covers their 15%. Your page is then part of a section of the sourcebook for their agency. Likewise with online advertising.

The most problematic pittfall with regard to reps is how previous clients are handled. Some reps (although this is becoming increasingly rare) insist that ALL your work must go though their office. That includes clients you already have and do regular work for, not just the ones your rep finds for you. This arrangement is unacceptable in my opinion, as any work I get from a client that my rep had nothing to do with landing should not be subject to their rep percentage. Just doing the paperwork is not enough to justify their fee. Some reps feel that once you are being represented you should not pursue work independently and should refer all new work through them. I’ve always found that to be questionable also… if through my own marketing a client contacts me directly, I should not have to give my rep a percentage of that job. That does become a little dicey if you have been working with a rep for a while, because it’s hard to determine how that direct call and project came to be. If they found you by seeing a job in print that your rep got you, then that new job should go through your rep. You should definitely not accept work directly from a client your rep has found for you. This occasionally happens when a client thinks calling you directly would result in a reduced price on illustration since the “middle man” is cut out. Accepting work like that is unethical.

The best reps are ones that are active in pursuing work, and have a network of established relationships with buyers of illustration that they can work on your behalf, and have the smarts to negotiate the highest fees they can get for you. The worst are ones who sign you to a contract, advertise (at 85% your cost) in some sourcebook and set up a website and then sit back and wait for the jobs to roll in. It’s the former everybody wants and thus is the most difficult to find and get accepted by.

Full disclosure: Parts of this answer are from an earlier, similar mailbag question.

Thanks to Scott Parker 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!

Sunday Mailbag: Drawing Size?

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Q: There’s a big (pardon the pun) difference between drawing a 15″ caricature (amusement park style) and a 3″ or 4″ that goes into a Mad drawing. Did you have difficulty switching sizes?

a: There is no major difference when it comes to the drawing, really. The same basic elements should be in place in a caricature of any size.  The size it will be reproduced at is something to think about when it comes to execution, though. You can obviously include a lot more detail in a larger illustration, and you need to think more economically for something that will be viewed much smaller. That’s really more about technique and execution than it is the caricature itself.

For example, if I am doing a caricature in a MAD splash page, that is usually bigger than the ones I do in the panels. I can add more detail to the splash page caricature, or to a close up in a panel. In the longer shots, I am still imparting the same information, but I have to do it in fewer lines so it’s more simplified. It’s still the same basic information though.

In terms of drawing, “switching sizes” is an interesting dynamic… especially when you talk about live caricature. I’ve always found that beginner live artists tend to want to draw the face a certain size no matter what size paper they are working with. I have had to break many a rookie out of the habit of drawing enormous or tiny faces, and get them to work in a manageable size for the 12 x 16 inch paper we use. How do I do that? I make them draw practice faces in the opposite extreme size  they are naturally inclined to draw at. So, if I have a rookie drawing tiny heads, I have them draw gigantic heads for practice, and vice versa. I personally like to draw my faces a certain size, and given no requirements for a job (like when I work in a sketchbook) the sizes of the heads I draw tend to fall into a certain range. I find it useful to draw a couple of caricatures of a MAD subject at my “comfort size” first, then when I have to do a smaller caricature in a long shot, I have the basic elements figured out and can just simplify them.

EDIT- After thinking more about this, there actually is a bit of a difference when doing a smaller caricature as opposed to a larger one. The smaller you get, the more you have to not just simplify but to push the exaggeration choices more. Subtlety is out, and you have to make the exaggerations count with much less information. So, a bit of a bulbous forehead needs to be a very bulbous forehead if you want your smaller caricature to carry any exaggeration weight.

Thanks to J Jackle  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!

Sunday Mailbag: Ever Done any Writing?

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Q: Have you ever done any writing? Maybe pitch a comic book idea with an original character, or submitted a written piece to MAD? Ever wanted to create your own “Batman” or “Sherlock Holmes”? With your artistic skills, you all ready have a leg up. Just wondering…

A: I have done a lot of writing, but not much creative writing like you describe. Most of what I’ve written are articles for various publications or this website, my book, and a few little projects I’ve done here and there. I’ve never submitted a script or idea to MAD, nor written a comic book story of my own either to draw or pitch. My professional credits as a writer begin and end with two parodies (“Godzilla” and “The Sopranos”) in Cracked:


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Incidentally the original title of that paordy was “God-Awful”, which makes more sense with the intro title. However I actually only did the first 4 pages as a sample to show MAD, and they were not impressed. When I then showed it to Cracked they wanted to print it, so I had to finish it up. I came up with the Hillary Clinton joke and changed the title to “God-Hilla”. After that one, Cracked asked me to do a parody of whatever I wanted (obviously their standards were pretty low at the time). “The Sopranos” was really hot and all over the news so I decided on that one and called my pal Jim Batts for some assistance, whereupon he sent me a box of recordings of the show and embellished my script with a number of gags:


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Other than those two the only thing I can recall ever writing and drawing entirely myself was this short comic for the National Caricature Network’s newsletter:

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I have a few ideas of some stuff I’d like to write and draw, but finding the time is hard. I’m busy trying to make a living as a freelancer, and I can’t afford to pass up paying drawing gigs for possible income on a personal project. I’ve often thought about writing a TV or movie parody for MAD and pitching it to them, but that’s not really how that kind of thing works. The editors decide what films or shows they want to parody, and then assign a writer and artist to it. They’ve got better writers than me to do that stuff.

One of these days I’ll get around to doing a few of my own projects.

Thanks to Jose De La Mora  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! 

Sunday Mailbag: Copyrights on Commissions?

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Q: If you are doing a commission like your James Bond commission, which copyrights does your customer get? Does the customer, who gets the James Bond original also get all copyrights? In this case he could use your art for instance as a book cover or scan it and use it on his homepage etc.. And what about the original MAD art you are also selling: I think you wrote on your blog, that MAD has all copyrights but does not bother about the originals so you can sell them. But doesn’t the owner of the original art also get all copyrights?

A: The answers to your questions above are not debatable: None, no and no.

This is an all too commonly misunderstood issue with respect to buying original art and owning the copyright to that original art. Those are two completely different animals, and buying one does not get you the other.

An original piece of art is just that, one original piece of art. When you buy a piece of original art you are only buying the actual, physical piece of art. You now own the paper, board or canvas it’s created on and the paint, ink, pencil or whatever medium that was applied to that surface. You have the right to decide who gets to look at it, where you hang it up (if at all) and to sell it to another party at any time you want. That self-contained piece of art now belongs to you, but that’s all you own.

Copyright is the right to make copies of a piece of art (or any intellectual property), and is a separate thing from the original. Like original art, copyright is something that can be sold or granted to an individual or organization. Unlike selling an original, copyrights can be sold to many people on any manner of limited basis. You can sell the rights to reproduce a piece of art on T-Shirts or apparel to one company, the rights to make posters of it to another, and the rights to use it as a magazine cover to another. You can limit the length of time someone has the copyrights to something, or if they make a product from it how many pieces of that product is allowed. You can limit the areas of the world the copyrights apply to. You can also sell full rights to a work away forever, so you have no rights left to it at all. You can do all those things and still keep or sell to another party the original artwork the rights apply to.

Many people get confused by this. After all, if they bought an original, they should be able to make copies of it, or put it on a T-shirt, or use it as a book cover like in your example, right? They cannot, not legally. The copyrights to any creative work is automatically owned by the creator of that work, and cannot be claimed by another without that creator having legally signed away those rights. Copyright is protected automatically with the creation of a work. It does not require registration (but can benefit from official registration in terms of monetary damages if infringed upon) nor a legal document saying it exists. So, when someone buys an original piece of art they don’t get the copyrights to it without a legal agreement granting those copyrights, even though they own the original. In fact, despite having sold the original, the artist STILL OWNS the copyrights and can, in fact, still sell those copyrights to another party. You could, in theory, buy an original painting from an artist only to later find that same image plastered on billboards all over the country as an ad for Rolaids or something, and you could do nothing about it.

Live caricaturists run into this sort of thing all the time. They sometimes find themselves the cheap source of freelance illustration by cheapskates who are at best ignorant or at worst nefarious thieves. Realtors are the worst offenders, as this story will attest. I hated to draw realtors when their theme request was to be standing next to a house holding a “SOLD” sign. You knew that was going to be used on ads forever without proper compensation to the artist. When faced with that situation I would sabotage the drawing’s commercial value by either making the house they were standing by so dilapidated they looked like a crook having sold it, or put a button that said “Trust Me” under a very conniving-looking, grinning face. During the drawing I’d educate them on the difference between original art and copyright. That usually worked. Some printing places really protect themselves against this kind of thing. At least two or three times a year I will get a call from someone who bought a caricature at one of my theme park operations to tell me they went to make personal copies at a copy shop and were refused because they needed permission from the copyright owner. I have a standard form I fax over granting personal copy permission for them. Technically the individual artist that drew it owns the copyright, but I get a verbal ok from them first or have them sign the release. It’s a hassle, but it is protecting the rights of the creator and for that a little hassle is not a problem.

The flip side to that also sometimes occurs. I’ll do a job for some company’s ad or product, and then they are surprised when they find out the original art is not part of the copyright deal. Usually this only happens with smaller clients, but sometimes with bigger ones as well. The first year I did the team poster for the Minnesota Twins, which was a physical watercolor painting, they were surprised when I asked when I’d be getting the original back from the color separator. They assumed the original was theirs to keep. We eventually agreed on a price for the original and in subsequent years I include the original as part of the deal, but for a higher overall fee.

As regards MAD, all the work I do for them is work-for-hire, so they own the copyrights to everything and, technically, the original art as well. They let their artists keep and sell the originals, but MAD retains the copyrights to all that work. So, anyone buying one of my MAD pages owns the original, but not the copyrights. The difference with that being if the owners of one of my MAD originals decided to ignore copyright law and sell prints of the art, for example, they would not be infringing on my copyright, but the copyrights of TIME WARNER INC. I understand they have a few lawyers on retainer, so that would not be a very wise thing to do.

Thanks to Dominik Zeillinger  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!

 

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