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Sunday Mailbag- For Family and Friends?

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: Do you use your drawing skills for private tasks, say for instance a birthday-card for your uncle? And are you asked by relatives, friends or neighbors to make just a little drawing for a party, a present, etc.of course without getting payed?

A: That sort of thing is inevitable, but I have to say my family, friends and neighbors are all very good about understanding I have a hard time finding enough hours in the day to get my professional work done, so they seldom if ever ask me to do anything for them. I’ve done art for a few things like that here and there, but it is usually my idea and I offer to… they don’t ask. I don’t tell them how busy I am, they see it when they come over or call to ask if I can go out to the bar for a drink and I have to say I’m going to be up all night as it is with some deadline. They get it. I’m busy.

I absolutely won’t take money from family or friends for that sort of thing, which makes the issue even a bit more clouded. I’ve had money offered to me to do a birthday card or some piece of art for family, but I refuse to take it. Then I might also have to politely refuse to do it at all because I just don’t have the time. That sucks, but my petition to the universe to add a few hours to every day has been steadfastly ignored. If I can do it, I do it. Often I just can’t, and I just have to feel bad about it for awhile.

I do a number of pieces each year sort of pro-bono, for lack of a better term, for organizations, charity or the like. One example is the brochure art I do for the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Awards every year. In fact, I am trying to finish the 2015 piece up today, so this is a timely question!

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 Mailbag: Future of Cartooning?

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: My question is regarding your thoughts on the future of comics and illustration in general. Newspaper printing seems to be headed towards a very different form in the coming years (or possibly by the wayside completely) and I was curious to hear (read) your thoughts or predictions about where the future of the cartooning industry lies.

A: That’s a big question, but pretty easy to answer in general terms. One: publishing and media consumption in general is going to move almost exclusively to the internet over the next decade or so. Two: cartooning and comics will move with it.

I don’t have any idea what kind of business model(s) will end up being viable in the digital age of media. I think what we will see is a lot of self-published creators combined with a few media giants who will figure out how to present the work of creators on the internet and still have consumers pay for that content… probably through a combination of advertising, subscriptions or ancillary purchases (upselling?). Comic book companies like DC, Marvel and others will continue doing what they do, syndicates like King Features and Universal UClick will transition comic strips into a web-based service of some kind, and magazines/publications will change into internet publications. Advertising will drive most of it, I think. People don’t seem to realize that right now there are still billions of dollars spend on print advertising every year in magazines, newspapers and comic books. When the print business goes away, those companies will still want to spend those billions on advertising for their products… they aren’t going to suddenly say “Well, I guess we don’t need to advertise anymore.” They will want to spend that money where they reach the most potential customers… and that will be on the internet on websites where the content gets tons of traffic. That revenue will be used by to pay to get the best content up on their internet publications to drive traffic… and that means paying the best creators to create it. Cartoonists, comic artists and illustrators will be hired to do it. That said, the boon the internet gave self-publishing will not go away. The ease of disseminating your work and setting up ways to generate revenue from it combined with the incredibly vast number of people using the internet will continue to make self-published comics on the web viable.

I’ve made this point before: none of this is really new. There has always been independent comics creators out there publishing their own work, and there have always been big publishers producing the mainstream stuff. The difference in the last 15 years has been the internet and its ability to allow creators to instantly publish work and make it available to about 2 billion potential readers for next to nothing in costs. Prior to the internet, self-publishing was regulated to ash-can comics being peddled at comic-cons and maybe local comics shops. The costs of quality printing and real distribution was impossible for most independent creators. That is no longer the case. The interesting dynamic here is that self-published creators have about a decade head start on the media giants when it comes to web-based comics. As a result many of the talents that, in a tradition publishing world, probably would be producing work for Marvel or King Features or Conde Nast right now already have established careers self-publishing, and are now the model for up-and-coming talents that eschew the print media world entirely. I think once the big media guns start paying for web-based content in earnest you will see that swing back the other way. Money talks and not many cartoonists also have the business/tech savvy to run their own company and do the creative.

The bottom line here is that the publishing world will sort itself out into the digital landscape, and cartooning and illustration will follow along. The world is not going to suddenly stop wanting to read comics and look at humorous illustrations. There will still be a demand for that kind of work, and computers can create it with software… artists still have to do the creating. It’s an interesting but exciting world coming down the road, it’s exciting to be a part of it.

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 Mailbag- Ever Fear Offending Someone?

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: In light of the events this week with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, have you ever done any work where you were worried you might offend some crazy extremists and get death threats?

A: Yes. Every time I have to draw Justin Bieber, I’m afraid a belieber will jump me in the streets and force me to listen to some of his music.

Seriously, not really. I don’t do the kind of work that pushes people’s buttons or calls into question their beliefs on something as volatile as religion. I’ve done some politically charged stuff but I can only remember one time I did something and thought “this might upset a certain demographic”. It was just a throwaway gag in a MAD feature called “Is Our World Really All That Different From The Matrix?” In MAD #436, Dec 2003. One of the gags went like this:


Uday and Qusay Hussein had been killed by Task Force 20 that summer, and very graphic pictures of their corpses had been released by the U.S. to some criticism. I wasn’t really concerned about drawing them, but in Arab culture the soles of the feet are considered dirty and to present them to someone is vulgar and insulting. So, in picking this angle I was choosing a very insulting depiction… also the hairs, warts and flies I added were not helping. Anyway, I did not get any death threats, fatwas declared, nor did I have to listen to any Justin Beiber albums. I wasn’t really worried of course, but I was aware of the significance of showing the soles of their feet.

For the record if I’m ever called on to have to do a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, I will do so without hesitation… just like if I am asked to do a caricature of Jesus Christ, Buddha, the Pope… or Justin Beiber.

Thanks to FM Stanley 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- NCS Guest Speakers?

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: Sebastian Kruger was the guest speaker at the International Society of Caricature Artists’ annual convention and competition. Does the National Cartoonist Society conventions have special speakers? If so, who does the NCS turn to for inspiration, seeing that each member is (in my book) already an inspiration?

A: Just some background for readers: The International Society of Caricature Artists (formerly the National Caricaturists Network) is an organization of professional caricature artists from around the world. Each year the ISCA has a convention and competition where anywhere from 150 to 250 caricaturists gather at some hotel somewhere and draw each other for four days. Then the resulting work is hung in a big ballroom and the attending members vote in various categories like best color, most humorous, most exaggerated, etc. The big award is the “Golden Nosey” for “Caricaturist of the Year”, with runners up getting silver and bronze, and recognition for the others in the top ten. Lots of awards. They also, as Erik mentions, have guest speakers. I was president of this organization in 1999-2000.

The National Cartoonists Society is a similar organization in that its members are professionals but in the cartooning field. However, the NCS’s annual Reuben Awards is a very different sort of gathering. Awards are given out but there is no onsite competition, the work being recognized and honored is from the entire previous year. And yes, the NCS does have speakers during the Reuben weekend.

It’s interesting you ask who members of the NCS turn to for inspiration. That’s an easy answer… those who do great work. The NCS is filled with excellent cartoonists and some of the most famous in the business, but the majority of members are simply hard working cartoonists that make a living in the field but are not household names with well-known properties. For every NCS member as famous as a Garry Trudeau there are ten cartoonists in the NCS who you have probably never heard of but still make a living as a cartoonist. These are the backbone of the organization, and they are both those who are inspired and those who DO insipre.

As for speakers, having been president of the NCS for the last three 1/2 years, I’ve been the guy who has put together the speaker line-ups the last three Reubens (one more to go). I try and assemble a mix of the famous, the interesting, the up-and-coming, cartoonists from different areas of the industry, those who honor the past and those who embody the future. Here was last year’s NCS speaker line up:

Eddie and Chris represented current and future cartooning perspectives, Greg and Sandra were my current superstar speakers, Suzy is an amazing success story from an area of the industry not usually thought about: licensing, and Russ and Bunny & John were celebrations of long and tremendous careers. A good mix, I thought. I do try and find a couple of cartoonists from the local area of where the convention is being held, as a local flavor is a good ingredient.

2015’s speaker line up will be announced early next month… there are some exciting speakers. I’m hoping to go out with a bang with my final Reuben Weekend.

Thanks to Erik Johnson of Bellingham, WA 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: Caricature Banter?

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: Drawing is just one aspect of the art of live caricature. Another aspect is smalltalk with your subject. You have already written about an extraordinary conversation “drawing somebody naked”. Can you give an example of a typical conversation during a live caricature? Are you talking about the weather or something like that? And what are you doing if your subject is a child or a person who does not understand English? 

A: You’re right about drawing being only one aspect of the art of live caricature. Live caricature at its best is a performance art. Those who can combine great drawing with great “banter”, and especially those who can play to the audience watching the drawing, are the full package. I’ve seen some caricaturists lean too heavily on only one of those aspects, and the results are not as entertaining or satisfying.

There really should be no “typical” conversation with your live subjects, but sadly there is. There are a number of stock questions or comments many people use to “break the ice” with their models. They usually involve asking “where are you from?” or “are you have a fun day?”… boring stuff but they work to get the subjects talking. That is the key… keeping a conversation going while you are doing the caricature. Where it goes is up to the artist. You can stick to the cliche stuff, or get them talking about something that really interests them. Use your observational skills… if they are wearing a “Walking Dead” t-shirt you can ask them about the show. If the environment you are drawing in gives you some possible subjects to bring up, use that. Say you are drawing at a theme park where they just put in a new roller coaster, you can ask them is they are daring enough to ride it, and talk about your first time on the ride. Just get some talking going and keep it going.

I always hated the banter. I would much rather have just shut up and drawn, but that is boring and awkward with nothing but silence between you and the subjects. I had to force myself to joke around with the models and the crowd because I recognized that was a big part of the experience. If my subjects were not talkative, I’d turn around and bring the crowd into the conversation. Maybe make some jokes about not being sure which one of the couple I was drawing should get the five o’clock shadow. Dumb jokes, but they get laughs.

Kids are easy to talk with. When you are dealing with someone who does not understand your language, you are stuck. Then I make goofy faces at them to get them to smile. Not a lot else you can do in that situation.

Thanks to Dominick 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 Mailbag- Pre-Internet Photo Reference?

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: Prior to the internet and image search, how did you gather reference material for caricatures?

A: Internet search engines have certainly spoiled me. If I want to do a caricature of Jennifer Lawrence, I am only a few seconds away from having literally thousands of photos of her to choose from… some even show her wearing clothes. Back in the days before Google, Yahoo and their ilk, it was a lot more time consuming a process.

I used to keep what was called a “morgue file”. I believe the term was originally used to refer to collections of old police files and reports, but illustrators used it for their photo reference collections. I used to subscribe to just about every entertainment magazine there was, and after The Lovely Anna was done reading it I would clip out the pictures of celebrities, sort them by the individual, and paste them onto 8.5″ x 11″ pieces of heavy paper into a sort of collage. Then I’d either put them into their existing folder, or create a new folder for them. Thus, when I had to do a caricature of Tom Cruise, for example, I’d pull out the Tom Cruise folder and it would contain a number of pages full of pasted-up pictures. I’d take just about any picture I found, but really looked for different angles or unusual expressions. The best sources for pictures were the tabloids or the trashiest of the entertainment mags like OK. They didn’t airbrush their pictures like Entertainment Weekly or US did, so you got the real deal. At one time I had a very large file cabinet full of celebrity folders, from the super-famous to the mostly obscure.

This method really became a challenge as my autistic daughter, The Animated Elizabeth, became obsessed with tearing paper. Many autistic kids have overwhelming OCD issues, and for a while one of her’s was ripping up paper into tiny pieces. Her favorite thing was to tear the FACES out of magazines. If she got hold of one of those entertainment magazines, I’d find it later with EVERY SINGLE FACE torn out and shredded. I remember thinking “why can’t she be obsessed with tearing pictures of FEET out of magazines???” She eventually moved on to other OCD issues, but now I have the internet!

I often get the question “What did guys like Mort Drucker or Jack Davis do to get references for movie parodies back before the internet?” I’m sure they had multiple sources including their own morgue files, but I know of at least one resource that I saw evidence of having been used. Movies used to have these kits they sent out to theaters that included not just movie posters, but many 8 x 10 stills from the film, actors head shots, etc. About 14 years ago I was working on a piece that included a caricature of Matthew Broderick, and an internet search for him resulted in a link to an eBay auction for a vintage one of these theater kits from the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. I was looking through the various uploaded scans of the photos from the kit, and they looked very familiar to me. I pulled out my boxes of old MAD Magazines and found the parody of Ferris Bueller, drawn by Mort Drucker. I compared the photos from the movie kit to Mort’s panels. Every single photo was obviously used as reference by Mort for the parody, right down to the poses and in some cases the backgrounds. It was very cool to see the actual reference he was working from. Movie studios used to send MAD their press kits in hopes the magazine would parody their film, since that was great publicity. Maybe that’s where Mort got it, or maybe he was friends with a local theater owner.

My morgue file is long defunct. No need for it anymore. Image searches certainly make life easier.

Thanks to Paul from Omaha 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- Caricaturing Lamps?

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: I have a question which might be a little more atypical than what you usually get. I admire how a cartoonist can draw things like floor lamps, armchairs, automobiles, etc -and give them each their own personality or quirky fun shapes. Since this is something I struggle with, I wanted to ask how much of your rules for caricature can be applied to props, vehicles, plants, or other inanimate objects? How do you decide on which parts of a floor lamp (for example) to exaggerate, and which parts to de-emphasis?  Do you have a few rules I could follow, or advice on what to look for, when taking everyday objects and making them funny/quirky looking? I’d love to see some examples of things you’ve drawn and read your thinking process behind the choices you made in arriving at their shapes!

A: Regular readers of my blog will recognize this important piece of advice I was given by MAD editor Nick Meglin and art director Sam Viviano that I often bring up:

When I first started working for MAD, both Nick Meglin and Sam Viviano gave me advice about the nature of great cartooning, and it was no surprise that Jack Davis was the example they both cited. The essence of what they told me was that a great cartoonist creates a world populated by people, objects, places and things all seen through their eyes… and all drawn in a way that creates a believable and cohesive world to the viewer. You cannot draw a goofy, cartoony dog peeing on a realistically drawn fire hydrant and convince the viewer they are looking through a window into a cartoonist’s singular world… the juxtaposition of the different looks is confusing. The fire hydrant and the dog need to be drawn in a similar fashion, so they look like they belong together and are seen thorough one set of eyes that see the entire world in their own unique way. “Jack Davis’s drawings of a chair, a car, a person and a cat all look like they were drawn by Jack Davis, and they look like they belong in a Jack Davis world,” Sam told me once. “That is what makes Jack’s world so convincing.”

That is somewhat related to your question. In creating that cohesive world, a cartoonist does apply the same sort of sensibilities or “view of the world” to anything they draw. That means the inanimate objects in a scene get the same stamp of cartoonishness or exaggeration that the caricatures get, or should.

So, how do you apply the same sort of exaggeration you would apply to a person’s face to some inanimate object like a TV or a floor lamp? I really is not that much different than the caricature you draw. Similar to making observations of a face, you look at an object in terms of its shape and, especially, its weight. By weight I mean observing where the balance and mass of an object is centered, and using that as the central focus of the drawing. Other things that can be exaggerated are things like sharp angles, arcs, thickness, etc. Like a face or a figure, you look for where an object is fat and where it’s thin, where it is solid and where it is insubstantial, where it’s square and where it’s round, etc.

Finally, you can apply a personality to an inanimate object as well. Some objects have a menacing feel to them, while others may feel lighthearted or some other way. Some of that has to do with the design of the object, and some with its intended use or meaning. Cars are a great example of this. Some cars are designed to look powerful, fast and aggressive. Other cars look more fun and friendly. Others will scream “family” while another might imply wealth and high society. You can exaggerate these attributes visually.

As an example here’s a drawing a did several years ago for On Patrol Magazine of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier:

CVN 65


One of the things that struck me with this ship, and most aircraft carriers, is how thin narrow the hull is beneath the enormous width of the deck. It lends a very top-heavy feel to the ship, like it is precariously balanced on the edge of a knife. I would have exaggerated that aspect even more with a wider deck but for the requirements of the space in the magazine, which demanded a more vertical aspect to the image. Another attribute the ship has is the tremendously complicated nature of the surface… it is full of railings, objects, and stuff, all over.

To be honest I seldom put much thought into how to “exaggerate” objects when I am drawing. It just sort of happens. It’s harder to separate your style from something than it is to apply it.

Thanks to Nasan Hardcastle 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: Practicing Caricatures?

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: When teaching people to draw caricatures, do you have them draw a hundred variations of a nose, eyes, chin, etc., or do you have them jump right in and attempt to draw caricatures. In other words, what’s the best way to practice drawing caricatures?

A: While practicing individual features on their own is a useful exercise for learning to draw those features convincingly, it doesn’t really help you get any better at drawing caricatures. A good caricature is the sum of the parts, not the parts themselves. The exact same nose on one person might be exaggerated in a completely different way on another person because of how that nose relates to the rest of the face… it’s just one part of a greater whole.

The only way to get better at caricature is to draw caricatures of full subjects. You have to develop your eye for recognizing how all the features relate to one another, and exaggerating those relationships. You can’t do that by practicing drawing noses all day long. Yes, you need to have the kind of command of drawing individual features to be able to capture them well, but that’s just getting good at the building blocks, not learning how to assemble the blocks to make the building.

What I often do with new artists who might be struggling at drawing a specific feature (say “eyes” for example) is to have them spend extra time looking at and drawing the eyes in their caricatures for a day or two. I have them concentrate on capturing the shape, expression, subtleties, and the relationship to the rest of the face, of each subject’s eyes… but they still have to draw the rest of the caricature. That is something you can do with any feature. It’s just important to understand that it is all the features and their relationships to each other that creates a good caricature.

Thanks to Randy Miramontez 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, November 23rd, 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 over 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: Penciled Finals?

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

Sunday Mailbag!

This week’s question comes from Ginger Meggs cartoonist, illustrator and caricaturist extraordinaire Jason Chatfield:

Q: I notice your sketch-of-the-week pencils are a lot tighter than your MAD parody draft layouts. Have you ever considered doing a parody as pencils a la Mort, then colouring over them? I realise it’s not your usual style, but your Sketch-Of-The-Week sketches are incredible.

A: Thanks, Jason. Glad you enjoy the SotW.

Jason refers to some of Mort Drucker‘s later work in MAD, which seemed to get away from his traditional pen and ink style and includes more pencil work and less ink. Having never seen any of the originals of that later Mort art, I can’t really speak to how much of it was really pencil, and how much other mixed media like marker pens and such, but it definitely looked a lot softer and looser than the straight pen and ink work he did up through the late 90’s.

It would be an interesting experiment to do a parody entirely in tight pencil as opposed to actually inking it, but I don’t see me doing that unless exactly the right subject matter came along. It would certainly need to be in black and white… I don’t think color and pencil would mesh very well in print unless I basically fully painted the whole thing, and that would take forever. The hard black lines hold the looser color technique I use for my MAD work together… you’d be surprised how sloppy my painting looks when zoomed in. The strong lines make that work, softer pencil lines would need a lot more of a tight painting.

Most of my “sketch of the week” drawings are not really sketches. A “sketch”, at least to me, is a visual exploration or study of a subject as opposed to a finished piece of art. That implies taking risks, following paths in the sketch that might end up in a dead end, and generally being loose and carefree with the drawing. The ones I post here are (usually) way too tight to be a real sketch. They are more like graphite paintings than sketches, and rely on values much more than line. So, many of my more elaborate sketches would not translate well into a line drawing unless there was a fair amount of values added in the form of painting or crosshatching.

Because the panels in MAD are small and my caricatures by necessity are very small to fit into the format, it’s better in MAD parodies to stick with caricatures based on lines as opposed to values, and least for me. The approach to each is different.

Never say never, however. Who knows? The right subject may come along where something like a pencil and painting technique would be perfect. The only thing that worries me about doing it is that the editors at MAD might pay me a lower page rate because they’ll say I saved money using no ink!

Thanks to Jason Chatfield 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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