Archive for the 'Mailbag' Category
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, 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, 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:
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:
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:
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, 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!
Sunday, February 2nd, 2014
Q: Have you seen the recent lawsuit against Andrew Zimmerman over copyright infringement with his painting of the Florida lawyer who prosecuted him in the Trayvon Martin case? Is that what you mean by a “right of publicity” issue?
A: The lawsuit in question is over these images:
The top is an Associated Press photo of of Florida State Attorney Angela Corey from April 2012, taken at the Trayvon Martin trial. The bottom is a painting by George Zimmerman entitled “Angie”. Just in case you have been living under a rock the last few years, Zimmerman was acquitted this past July of the murder of 17-year-old Martin. The story about the lawsuit in part:
NEW YORK – A painting by George Zimmerman of the Florida attorney who prosecuted him in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is a copy of an Associated Press photo, a spokesman for the news agency said Friday.
A photo of the painting of prosecutor Angela Corey was posted on Twitter by Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, saying he would entertain offers for its purchase.
But the AP on Friday sent a cease-and-desist order to an attorney who has represented Zimmerman, calling on him to stop trying to sell a work that was an artistic depiction of a copyrighted photo by the news agency.
“George Zimmerman clearly directly copied an AP photo to create his painting of Florida State Attorney Angela Corey,” Paul Colford, a spokesman for the AP, said in a statement.
Read the full story here on usnews.com.
The quick answer to your question is no, this is not about Angela Corey’s right of publicity. That is about the right of a celebrity to protect the use and earning power of their image and fame. Angela Corey is publicly known because of that trial, but her image arguably has no earning power (it’s not how nor any part of how she earns a living). This lawsuit is about copyright, specifically the copyright of the photo Zimmerman used as the basis of his “painting”.
This will basically be the same sort of situation as the Shepard Fairey Obama “HOPE” image brouhaha from back in 2009. That was a real mess, which started out with Fairey suing the Associated Press for accusing him of copyright infringement for the use of one of their photographs as the basis for Fairey’s famous “HOPE” image, and ended with a settlement where neither party admitted they were wrong and Fairey paying a $25,000 fine and serving two years probation for tampering with evidence in the case. All the smoke and chaos aside, that case was mainly about the “transformative” fair use exception to copyright law.
The “transformative exception” to copyright basically says that if the source work is sufficiently “transformed” i.e. changed in unexpected or completely new ways as to become its own freestanding work, the use of a work as its basis is fair use. This is an argument often used in music copyright cases, where the ‘sampling’ of original songs are used to create new songs, often of the rap variety, and the new songs are considered “transformed” rather than “derivative” work. The exception is supposed to allow for creative expression to be unstifled. Since the Fairey case was settled, it had no impact on a transformative defense in future cases.
The term “transformative” first was applied to a copyright case in the Supreme Court case Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (92-1292), 510 U.S. 569 (1994). The case centered around the rap group 2 Live Crew’s use of some of the lyrics of Roy Orbison’s song “O, Pretty Woman”, in a new song. The Supreme Court found the use of the lyrics was transformative because they were used in parody, essentially to point out the absurdities of the conventional use of the term “pretty”. In the decision Justice David H. Souter wrote:
… the enquiry focuses on whether the new work merely supersedes the objects of the original creation, or whether and to what extent it is “transformative,” altering the original with new expression, meaning, or message. The more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors, like commercialism, that may weigh against a finding of fair use.
Caricaturists are pretty much immune to copyright infringement cases stemming from the use of a photo as the basis of their work. It’s a given that a caricature is in and of itself “transformative” of the image it’s based on, since the entire purpose of a caricature is to exaggerate what is depicted. I’ve never heard of a case where the copyright owner of a photograph has even tried to sue a caricaturist for using their photo as reference for a caricature. That would be a tough one to win, I would think.
How much transformation is “transformative” is a tricky question, and one only a court can decide on an individual, case-by-case basis. Zimmerman’s painting reads like an editorial cartoon, and so may end up being more of a free speech issue than a transformative one. The fact that Zimmerman is considering selling prints and the original factors in. What’s really changed from the original photo? Color, obviously, but not much else. It looks almost like the photo was put through a bad PhotoShop filter. Maybe Zimmerman will set the legal world on its ear again with the first successful defense of a copyright infringement case on the basis that the artist is a lousy painter! Regardless, it’s not a right of publicity issue.
Thanks to Chelsey White 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, January 26th, 2014
Q: I’ve seen you address the question of ape-ing the style of another artist previously, but I wanted to ask it from a different angle: at what point did you begin to shape your own style of art? It’s my opinion that there is no shame in being influenced by superior and more famous artists when you are finding your own lines. In fact, it’s probably silly to assume that it’s even possible to not mock someone (even if it’s your elementary school art teacher) when you’re first introduced to a given medium. But what measures did you take to draw features YOUR way, when you finally felt comfortable taking the floaties off?
A: Every artist is different, but I would venture to say that while most artists start out (and by starting out, I mean as kids) copying the work of artists they admire, most have moved on long before they are serious about making art part of their living. Only those really bent on aping the style of another artist consciously keep it up, and it’s an effort to do it. An artist cannot help but draw things they way they naturally would draw them, and it is very hard to ape another’s style unless you are really trying to do so.
For me specifically, there was no point where I said to myself “ok, time to stop copying Jack Davis and Mort Drucker, and time to start drawing like me”, because I never set out to copy their styles. I can remember once doing a series of studies of some Drucker drawings from his parody of “Superman” in a sketchbook… two pages of doodles, I think. That was the only time I ever copied a Mort drawing, and I never copied a Davis drawing. Oh, I LOOKED at plenty of them. Soaked them in if you will, along with Wally Wood, Will Elder, etc. etc. They influenced me greatly, but I never copied them norconsciously tried to mimic their look.
When I first started trying to work for MAD, I dug out my old copies of the magazine and spent a lot of time looking at Mort and Jack’s parodies as well as Angelo Torres, Sam Viviano, Harry North and older stuff by Wood and Elder. Too much time. I’ve got a knack for absorbing the feel of what I am looking at and incorporating it in my own work, even if I am not trying to mimic it directly. MAD felt my stuff was “too Druckerish” for them to use me in the magazine, and encouraged me to explore my work further. I put away all my MADs and just started drawing with nothing but the photo reference and my own head. It still took some time to let the Davis and Drucker flavors in my work fade into just some dash of spices, but not too long. If you are left with nothing but a pencil, a model and a blank sheet to paper and you start to draw, even the heaviest of influences quickly fades away to background noise. When there is a direct line from your subject to your drawing, and you are not looking even glancingly at the work of another artist in between, you cannot help but see your own voice emerge. You have to work at it to be a mimic.
My advice to anyone who feels their work is too much akin to another artist’s work, simply stop looking at that artists work. Subtle influence will stay but direct influence and the conscious or unconscious “feel” you are channeling will disappear.
Thanks to Zack Morris 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, January 19th, 2014
Q: My question is how does one get into freelance illustration without a formal art school education and when is it too late? Okay it’s a long winded two part question…
A little back story on myself. I always liked to draw as long as I can remember, and I was pretty good at it. I remember getting in trouble in middle school for not paying attention in class and doodling in my notebook. My guidance counselor looked through the pictures I drew told me he could offer me a scholarship to art school then and there if I would just do my real school work. Anyway long story short not only did I never go to art school, but the last actual art class I took was in 7th grade.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m married with a new daughter and I’m finding myself regretting not doing anything with my art. I walk around grocery stores and see displays that are just a cartoon of people bar-b-qing or watching the game and i think to myself “i could have done that”. Now I’m a little rusty, but when I can find the time I still draw and whenever i get the chance I’ll go down to my basement and bust out the old nib pen and india ink, but without an actual art school education and the fact I’m in my mid 30′s with a family and mortgage is there any real chance I could earn a living by illustrating?
A: That is impossible for me to answer specifically, but I would say anything is possible. It really depends on two factors:
Firstly, assess your work. You have to step back and honestly assess where your art is at, and how far you have to go to start doing professional level work. Forget about the fact that you didn’t go to art school. Going to art school and doing the kind of work art directors and clients would want to buy are mutually exclusive. Schooling can be a big benefit in helping develop your skills, but it isn’t necessary in the art world like it is if you want to be a doctor or lawyer or engineer. You can learn and develop your work without spending a dime on school. However that will take time… how much time depends on where you are at with your work. Honesty with yourself in that regard is pretty important, because you can have all the drive and determination in the world and still not go anywhere if your work isn’t going to appeal to art directors. It isn’t even really about being a world class painter, master portraitist or some other highly technically skilled artist, it’s about having a style that has appeal and has a real world application. I see many illustrators with cool, quirky, fun styles that get tons of work as long as they find a place where their style fits and works well. That’s the trick.
Second, since there are very few actual employment positions out there for illustrators (like a staff artist for a design firm… if that sort of thing even exists anymore) the only way to make a living is by freelancing. NOBODY just starts freelancing and earns a living at it right away. It is a long process to seek out work, get work, do work, seek out more work, build client relationships, etc, until you have a client base and get steady enough work that your income is at a level where you can pay your bills and buy the occasional pizza or two. You say you have a family and a mortgage… I assume then you have a day job that pays the bills. That actually puts you in an enviable position. You can certainly pursue freelance work on the side and do all that building of client bases while you keep the financial stability. You can afford to let your freelance career go where it may. You might never get it off the ground enough that you can quit the day job and draw for a living, but you can certainly have illustration be a part of your life. You may find a style that really takes off and you do drop the real job and freelance full time. Freelancing is not for the faint of heart, but if you can make it work it’s a great career.
So, how do you do it? Start by putting together a portfolio of your work. You’ll need a website for that, the days of schlepping a leather-bound portfolio of artwork about is long gone. Then print up some postcards with a sample(s) of your work and website URL on it. Then send that postcard out to potential clients. Start small with local businesses: print shops, restaurants, local papers, local publishers and ad agencies (if any), local government offices like city hall, malls, business centers. Keep your eye open for local businesses that have ads in print and send them your postcard. Better yet drop these postcards off and introduce yourself… local businesses like to use local resources and might not have even thought about using illustrations with their ads but might knowing there is a local illustrator about. It really depend on what kind of work you do as to who you approach looking for work. Try to think of what is a good fit for your style, and approach that. Another good resource is the local Rotary Club. Contact them and offer to speak at one of their meetings… it’s a great way to introduce yourself to a group of local business owners who might then think about using illustration for their ads or other projects. Advertise on Craigslist locally. You start there and work your way up the ladder.
It’s a long road, but the journey is longest as is never begun. Good luck.
Thanks to Joe Caratenuto 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, January 5th, 2014
Q: When you are putting together panels for a tv or movie spoof, do you cement the basics first and add the “chicken fat” in the background later, or do you do everything at once? Do the background gags come to you on the spot?
A: Certainly I am concerned with the basic layouts, storytelling, caricatures and the scripted gags first, and the “chicken fat” comes second. For those who don’t know what the term “chicken fat” refers to, it was coined by MAD great Will Elder and meant all the background gags he crammed into his panels.
From my post after Elder’s passing away:
(Elder) crammed his panels with multiple background gags and visual humor, some related to the story and some total non-sequiturs, that required readers to reread a story several times to make sure they didn’t miss any gags. That technique, coined the “Chicken Fat School of Art” (apparently so named because in the depression era chicken fat was added to many a dish to make it more filling) became a staple for MAD.
I have never sat down to “write” background gags prior to doing the art. Most of the “chicken fat” gags come to me as I am working on the roughs. I’ll be working on a panel and some gag will occur to me to either add to that panel or to try and work in somewhere. I’d say 95% of the chicken fat gags I will add to a parody will be in the sketches I send to MAD for approval, either all drawn out or indicated with notes. Once or twice I’ll think of something when working on the finishes. Depending on the subject matter I may run it by the MAD guys first, but usually if I add something that late it will be innocuous enough that I just throw it in.
I’ll tell you one thing I don’t usually do when doing chicken fat gags… word balloons. I prefer to come up with either purely visual gags or only use signs or buttons for any text needed to cement the gag. I add a lot of post-it notes with one or two word gags, but very seldom fall back on word balloons. The gag has to be complex for that to be necessary, and those kinds of gags are the writer’s territory.
I can think of one fairly recent example of needing a word balloon to explain a gag, and that was for my splash page for “The Dork Knight Reprises”. My buddy Ed Steckley, who lives in New York, pointed out to me one of the most absurd things about that film: if a city the size of Gotham had been cut off from the rest of the world like it was in the movie, after just a matter of days the streets would be filled with garbage as there would be no where for it to go and no public services to get rid of it. After several months it would be a mountain of trash. I made this a central gag in the splash, but needed some onlookers to explain the gag as it would not be apparent to most people:
Clicky to embiggen…
Thanks to Adam 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, December 29th, 2013
Q: Just curious how long you spend on the concept stage of an illustration. I am thinking about the piece you did “Abysmal House” for MAD. would think the conceiving of who will go where and what they will be doing has got to take a huge amount of time for something like that. Are there “super roughs” we don’t see that work out design, body position, etc. and then submitted for approval before proceeding or do you go right to what we are privileged to see as a sketch? Can you describe your process of conceptualizing an illustration? And somewhat related, any tips on how to tackle pricing when it comes to conceptualizing of an illustration? This stage can get out of hand when clients don’t really know what they want which can make for a lot of roughs you may not get paid for.
A: Every job is different. Sometimes the conceptual stage takes a long time, sometimes it goes quick. That “Abysmal House” job for MAD you cite started out with a specific concept and layout already (The original Animal House poster), and all I did was replace key elements with ones that fit the concept, and then added stuff in around the edges. That still took a lot of time, because there were so many elements to squeeze in. I did post the first rough on the blog:
Clicky to embiggen…
That is my first rough drawing… there are no pre-drawings or earlier, looser versions. This is a SKETCH, though, which means I sketch about and erase, change things up, etc. until I get a drawing I like. You can’t see every line I drew here. As you can see at this stage it has some loose caricatures but mostly just circles for heads and names written in—just for the MAD guys to get a sense of who went where and how it would work together. MAD actually sent me a collage of the original poster with pictures pasted in of who they wanted to be the “main” people (i.e. replacing the specific film stars like Belushi, Sutherland, etc.), and I took it from there.
Other jobs depend on factors like how detailed the direction is, and how many times I have worked with the client. In regards to the former, in some cases the art directors of a job have a very specific idea of what they want, and I will just do a single sketch for them to review. Other times I am asked to come up with ideas to convey whatever message they want the image to communicate, so I will then do a number of thumbnail concepts for them to review.
With regards to the latter factor, how many times I have worked for the client also matters. With new clients I need to be more detailed with my sketches, because they will not have a feel for what to expect in the finishing of a rougher sketch. With long-time clients, I can get away with looser sketches as they know what to expect from me with the finishes.
When it comes to charging for roughs, I factor that in to my base fee. However, if I have not worked for a client before, I usually require a limit to the sketch phase for that base fee. I might limit it to two or three rounds of revisions before I start charging extra for additional rounds. You’d be surprised how suddenly an art director will decide the latest sketch is exactly what they wanted when they know the next sketch will cost them something extra. I want to make the client happy and to give them what they are looking for, but looming deadlines and/or additional cost is sometimes the only thing that will get an art director to stop spinning their wheels and make a decision.
Thanks to Sean Platt 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, December 22nd, 2013
Q: What is your most and least favorite pieces you’ve done for MAD?
A: Whew, that’s a tough one.
My stock answer on the former question is “the last one I did”, which is actually not a bad answer. I always put 110% into anything I do, especially for MAD, so naturally I like my most recent work the most. However some projects, be they because of the subject matter or just a happy set of circumstances and dumb luck, end up being a favorite. I guess if I had to choose I think MAD’s 519′s “The Dork Knight Repises” is my favorite piece I’ve done so far.
It’s not my best art… I think ‘The Slobbit” from MAD #522 might be the best art I’ve done so far for MAD, but for my overall favorite piece that Batman movie parody might take the prize.
Least favorite? My goal is to always improve so my earlier art is always going to seem (at least I hope) sub par to me as I am further removed from it. That said some jobs just didn’t turn out like I wanted for different reasons. I think my art on “Stuporman Reruns” in MAD 468 is my least favorite for a few reasons.
First, more than a few of the caricatures are rough. Second, I didn’t much like the splash page with Spider-man as “narrator”, and taking up too much focus… Superman is barely in it. Finally, the color on this job printed really oddly, and the line work got lost or muted somehow. This one has been reprinted a few times lately with the new Superman movie out so maybe I’ve just seen it a lot recently and it’s sticking in my head, but it’s not my best work, that’s for sure.
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!