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Sunday Mailbag- Portfolio Review?

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: You did a lot of comic book conventions in 2014. Have there been any people coming to you, showing you their drawings and asking for your professional opinion? Could you give them some kind of advice? Did you like it to do? 

A: Yes, that happens a lot.

This can be an uncomfortable situation, especially when the work being shown is not very good. You hate to crush people’s dreams, but you also don’t want to give someone who is years (or maybe never) away from doing anything that might get them work in an industry they clearly love the idea they are “almost there”.

I’ve found over the years that very few people are really looking for an honest critique of their work. 95% of the time all they really want is simple encouragement. Sometimes they just want a little attention from a working cartoonist… someone to say “very nice, keep on working hard!”. For the people who show me clearly amateur work, I give them the encouragement they are looking for, but I also am honest enough to say “you have a lot of work and learning ahead of you”. I always temper that with a little lecture on how great artists are a result of a dash of talent and a truckload of hard work. I advise them to forget about superheroes with big thighs and impossibly long capes and learn to draw trees and cars and ordinary objects. They usually dismiss that but it’s good advice. Even if you eventually get good at drawing pin-up shots of mightily muscled superheroes, they will look terrible when the building they are leaping over looks like it’s made of legos and the trees in front of it look like scrambled eggs on a stick. That advice applies to the vast majority of the work I get shown in that kind of situation. There are only so many ways you can say “you have to learn to draw better”, and with very amateur work that’s really the only advice you can give. I just try and do it in a way that encourages them to keep drawing. Whatever I say will not change whether they ever get good enough to make a living in comics or not, but encouraging an aspiring artist to keep drawing never hurt anyone.

Very occasionally I get someone who shows me work that really has something going. If I get the sense that the person showing it to me really wants a real critique, I will take a good look and try to come up with some things for them to work on. I will still point out what I think they are good at, but with decent work you can usually see some specific things that an artist needs to work on. It might be their composition, figure work, etc. I make sure they know I really see something in their work, and encourage them to pursue art as a career if I think they have the chops for it.

This isn’t my favorite thing to do. That said, if someone thinks enough of my work that they take the time to come to a comic con and show me some of their art asking for advice, I always try my best to give them something real to say to them.

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: Is Comic Art Real Art?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: I have a question with regards on seeing Comics/Graphic Novels as Fine Arts. How do you view comic art? High Art? Low Art? I’m asking as I’m currently facing scorns and that “question mark” look from many of my “fine art” peers on me using comic inking style as a style to paint on canvas etc. And how do you draw the line between fine art and Fan art? or is there even a line to began with.. 

A: Ah… Comic art/illustration vs. “fine art”. Like discussions involving politics, religion and Mac vs. PC, This is a debate that has no winner and no end.

For some reason much of the disdain fine artists have for illustrators and comics artists seem to stem from the commercial aspects of the work. There was a time when illustrators like Norman Rockwell were scorned by the fine art world, and commercially successful authors like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are often dismissed by critics and more high-brow authors as “schlockmeisters”. Even within the realm of “fine art” there are some artists who are looked down on as “sell-outs” or artists of lesser skills but successful because of appeal to the Great Unwashed as opposed to art snobs. Thomas Kincade comes to mind, as does Thomas Arvid. Both produce (or produced in the case of the deceased Kincade) work catering to a target audience featuring mass-appeal subject matter (idyllic, fantasy-like nature scenes for the former, wine bottle/glasses still lifes for the latter).

Back when I was in college in a small art school in St. Paul, MN, there were two camps of artists… the “fine artists” and the “illustrators”. The fine artists considered the illustrators to be unoriginal automatons, who simply reproduced references according to the ideas and direction of others (art directors, authors, etc) and called us “wrists”. The illustrators dismissed the fine artists as “artists who couldn’t draw”, and who hid their lack of talent behind high minded “concepts” that didn’t require the ability to actually paint or draw with any skill.

Nobody liked the graphic designers… but I digress.

Anyway both camps were wrong. There were some tremendous talents in the fine art program who could draw and paint like masters and some of the illustrators who produced work with narrative and conceptual value that was of amazing originality and insight. But, the snide remarks, clique mentality, and general divisiveness continued for some.

Personally I look on all art as simply “art”. It does not matter to me why it is created or where it hangs, is seen, printed, or posted. It’s art. I either think it’s good , bad, or somewhere in between. That includes art created by established artists or professionals, or so-called “fan art” created by anyone. It’s just “art”. Art is so subjective that the opinions of others on its validity are basically irrelevant to anyone but the person expressing their opinion. One creates art according to the purpose and intent of the artist. That purpose might be commercial, personal, or some combination of the two. The reason for the creation is irrelevant to the art itself, which is created and exists regardless of purpose. One can appreciate it or not appreciate it. It is entirely up to the eye of the beholder. Going back to my previous examples, The Lovely Anna and I dislike Kincade’s work, and wouldn’t buy or hang a print of his in our house if you paid us. However we have several Arvids on our walls, as we love the subject matter and his realistic but painterly oil style is appealing.

I can appreciate great comic art as “art”, some of which I would be delighted to frame and hang in my house (and do). Comic art as done by the best of the best rank as impressive to me as any fine art painting. Likewise I can really appreciate many fine art pieces, although I tend to like realism or representations of real life scenes and subjects as opposed to abstract art. If an artist decides to combine comic art techniques in their fine art, who is to say that is wrong? It worked for Roy Lichtenstein. More power to you.

The bottom line is that there will always be opinions about any art. It’s up to the artist if they want to assign any validity to those opinions. I’ve always found that those who criticize and condemn the loudest usually do that in an effort to somehow validate their own work by putting down another’s , or to demonstrate their intellectual “superiority” to some like-minded group of which they are part of the herd mentality. Ignore them and do what you want to do. That is what art is all about.

Thanks to Dante 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- Least Favorites?

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: I there any part of a project you DON’T like to draw? In other words do you find it anathema to draw anything mechanical or architectural or anything otherwise mundane. — such as animals or cars or trees, etc.? Similarly, do you have concerns when drawing perspectives, foreshortening, etc.?

A: Not really. Drawing mechanical things like buildings or cars is a little different from drawing organic things like plants or people only because the latter requires more rigid order with the forms and the former is more fluid and…uh… “organic” is really the only adjective that applies. Both are just things that are are made up of shapes, so as long as you can draw shapes you can draw them.

I know some people really hate drawing mechanical stuff (especially some caricature artists, who seem to get very disinterested in anything that does not have a neck connected to the bottom of it), but I actually enjoy doing buildings and such. My style is sort of half way between straight cartooning and straight illustration, but I still skew things I draw a little to the cartoony side. Therefore drawing a building or car is not like doing a mechanical drawing of it… I’m “interpreting” the building or car in my own style, which is a little challenging and also a little forgiving when it comes to strict proportion, perspective, or detail. Here are some examples:

chris_bigThis splash page for MAD‘s parody of “Everyone Hates Chris” is set on a Brooklyn street. The buildings are simplified versions of what you’d really see on a street like that… windows are not really that close to the corners of buildings, many details are left out, and the perspective is not just cheated but warped. The important elements are there, though.

Dork Knight_big_big_dea6d67f-4e7d-4d36-910e-b6632b05683c

This MAD splash is also set in a city street but called for a very different feel. The buildings are still simplified and the perspective is again warped, but tje basic mechanics are there. That batwing took some time to draw, I can tell you. I’ve noticed that the “gadget” stuff in movies is a lot more complex than it used to be, with flaps and vents and all kinds of weirdness all over things like superhero armor, space ships and vehicles. Real freaking fighter jets aren’t that complex.

I know I have recently posted this image, but it’s a good example of taking something very mechanical and “interpreting” it as a cartoony-er image but keeping the mechanics intact:

You know, there is something I really dislike drawing. Bicycles. Bicycles are a real pain in the ass to draw, especially the wheels.


Sunday Mailbag- Using Assistants?

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: Do you work with assistants and if not, why ?

A: For those who might not know this, some cartoonists have assistants that do certain tasks for them in order to get work done more quickly and, thus, be able to accept more work. These tasks can range from minor stuff like erasing the pencil lines from inked boards to major stuff like literally doing all the work (called “ghosting”). In most cases these assistants get paid but get no credit on the final work. This practice has been around since comics began, and in fact was very common in the early days of comics and comic strips—many future cartooning superstars got their starts as assistants for the superstars of that time. Old school comic book and daily comic strip artists sometimes had whole studios with many assistants doing many tasks (and if your name was Bob Kane, you just hired far more talented artists and writers to do all the work while you took all the credit and kept most of the money… but I digress). Comic book artists in particular may take on assistants as interns or paid helpers because stuff like backgrounds can be very simply roughed in by the principal artist but the tedious task of drawing all the windows and bricks and other details can be done by an assistant while the main artist goes on to other pages. Productivity means income in the comic book world. Comic strip artists may use uncredited inkers or colorists, and even gag writers, to keep up with their deadlines. Anyway, you get the idea.

I can’t say I’ve never used assistants… I’ve done it three times. Of the three times, two were utter disasters.

Disaster number one:  I was working on a series of T-shirt designs for a golfing company that was coming out with a line of humorous products making fun of “hack” golfers. I was really under the gun with multiple projects and these golf guys were really demanding, so I asked one of my former caricature artists from my theme park operations (who shall remain nameless) to ink my designs for me and I’d do the color. When I got them back the inks were terrible and I had to redo them completely… saved no time and cost me money.

Disaster number two: In an effort to save some time on the most tedious part of any MAD job (I mean apart from having to actually read the script), inking the word boxes and panel borders with a tech pen, I tried my wife The Lovely Anna on the task. She did her best, but I spent more time fixing crooked lines, ink blobs, and bad corners, than I would have spent just doing it myself. She will just have to be content being smarter, better looking, and in general better at pretty much everything else in life, than I am and leave the art stuff to me.

The one time it worked out I hired a different theme park caricaturist named Andrew Blakeborough to do some inking on a whole lot of illustrations I was doing for a computer game from Hasbro called “Super Scattegories”. Andrew was a graduate of the Joe Kubert school, and did a great job with the inks saving me a lot of time and making some dough for himself. I colored the finals and the client loved them.

Other than those three times, I have drawn and inked every line and colored or painted every illustration, comic, or cartoon, with my name on it. Come to think of it, since I redid both the first two examples of using an assistant and was not credited at all for the Hasbro job, nothing with my name on it as sole illustrator contains any element I did not do myself.

Why? Well, the disasters not withstanding I am very particular about how anything with my name under it turns out, and as such just can’t turn over any aspect of it to another artist. That includes the backgrounds, flat colors and any other minor details. Knowing me even if my assistant does a decent job I’m going to be fixing and correcting things, so the only benefit to having and assistant, saving time, is largely negated. My hang up, but that’s just the way it is. I want things to turn out the way I want, and the only way that happens is if I do it.

If I ever worked on a long term project like a comic title or similar, I might have to get over those issues and take on an assistant, but for now I prefer doing it all myself. Plus I have kids in college and don’t want to part with any of the pay.

Thanks to Lucio Daniel 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- RSI Trouble?

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: A few months ago I finally got my first serious contract as a freelance illustrator, but unfortunately, almost at the same time I started feeling slight twinges in my wrist, that initially just came and went, but now they’re starting to last longer and increase in intensity as well.

I have been considering getting a Cintiq (now I’m using a tiny Bamboo, that I think because of its relatively small surface being mapped onto a bigger screen kind of forces me to concentrate too much on getting my lines right and thus grip the pen too tightly). Do you think that could be a solution or is it just a bad habit that I’d still have, independent of the size of the workspace and the direct eye-hand connection? The other thing is, most articles I read say that one’s forearms should be in a horizontal position while the screen should be at eye level, which might not be the case with a Cintiq, so from that aspect e.g. an Intuos might seem like a better choice. What do you think about that? I’d also appreciate any other thoughts you have on ergonomics and ways to prevent RSI.

A: Sorry all for the long question, but there were some specifics here that I thought belonged part of the discussion.

First off, like I say when I answer question on copyright and right of publicity and say I am not a lawyer, I am not a doctor. If you are having problems with repetitive stress injury to your drawing hand/wrist, seek real medical advice.

That said, I have only had problems with RSI once, and that was a bout of De Quervain’s Tendonitis in my wrist. It was not caused by drawing, but by an injury from punching a heavy bag. The problem was that drawing exacerbated the injury, and would both not let it heal and caused a lot of pain making drawing harder to impossible. I went to the doctor and this ensued:

Doc: “You have De Quervain’s tendonitis, where the tendons in the outer area of your wrist swell and rub against the band of tissue that holds them in place, causing pain and further swelling.”

Me: “Amputation?”

Doc: “Funny. No, you have to cease all activities that irritate the issue for as long as it takes to go away. Once the swelling is gone and your tendons are normal sized again, you’ll be fine unless you re-injure it doing the same activity that caused it in the first place. What did you do?”

Me: “I was punching a heavy bag.”

Doc: “I thought you said you were a cartoonist?”

Me: “I’m a cartoonist who occasionally hits things really hard.”

Doc: “So, you make a living drawing with your right hand, and you put that hand in a padded glove and throw it with all your strength against a large heavy object? And you consider that a good idea?”

Me: “….”

I sold the heavy bag.

It took over a year for the tendonitis to completely clear up. In the meantime I had to give up doing live caricatures because I pressed too hard with the pencil and that pressure was what was causing the irritation to the injury. Regular drawing and working was not a problem with that particular injury, so just the live stuff had to go, or I needed to switch to a marker that didn’t require the pressure.

Anyway, on to your question.

First, ignore the advice about horizontal forearms and vertical screen… that’s for typists. While I am sure using such a small surface area for drawing and painting like a small Intuos or a Bamboo is part of the problem, likely the way you hold your pen and how hard you are pressing for pressure is the real culprit. I’ve seen rookie caricaturists hold their pencils in the oddest and most awkward ways. Good ergonomics is the most important aspect to avoiding having a problem with RSI. The second most import aspect would be avoiding doing the same, exact motions over and over again… that’s what it’s called repetitive stress injury.

The reason I never had any RSI problems even after doing live caricatures full time for 20 summers was, surprisingly, because I did live caricatures full time for 20 summers. Yes, I pressed hard when I drew live to get big. bold lines, but I also learned to draw not with wrist and finger movements, but with my arm and shoulder. I’d pivot my forearm at the elbow and rotate my arm at the shoulder to get big, sweeping lines, with my hand went along for the ride. Sure, for the fine stuff I’d use my wrist, but by involving my whole arm I switched between different muscles, tendons and ligaments throughout a drawing, meaning the repetition on any one tendon group was minimal. Rethinking how you actually draw is not easy to do but just experimenting a bit might loosen you up.

How you hold the pen/pencil is also important. Grab the pen and take a good look at how you are holding it. Where do you apply the pressure from? I’ve found that artists that have trouble with RSI tend to apply pressure from one finger somewhere on the pen, usually the one placed at the top of the pen opposite the drawing surface. A better way is to hold the end of the pen in a three-digit grip, Thumb-index finger-middle finger. all surrounding the pen in a triangle shape. Then apply your pressure with all three equally like you are trying to extend them all at the same time. Better yet, learn to use the weight of your arm to apply the pressure. That takes the stress off the little tendons in your hand.

I would say that getting a Cintiq, or a larger Intuos, would help because with the greater surface area you’ll be able to use your arm and shoulder more for drawing, but I know plenty of digital artists who use small tablets and have no problems with RSI. You know you can adjust the pressure sensitivity of your tablet, right? Try making it more sensitive so you don’t have to press so hard, and develop a lighter touch with the pen. You won’t like it at first as you are so used to using a certain level of pressure, but keep at it and you will quickly get the same results with a lighter touch. That will make a huge difference on the stress you are putting on your tendons.

Once you have RSI problems it is hard to get rid of them because the act of drawing, even when done more ergonomically, will keep that RSI from healing. A brace or wrapping your hand in an ACE bandage for a while while working on fixing the issues that caused it in the first place will hopefully keep you drawing.

Thanks to Lorant Sarkozi 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- 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!


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