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Sunday Mailbag- How long per page?

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Q: The pages you do for your MAD parodies are very detailed and full of a lot of little gags and touches, especially the opening pages. How long to you spend on each page?

A: I get this question a lot when people look at my originals. The only accurate answer is that it takes as long as they give me.

Doing the physical artwork is only part of the work and time I put into a movie or TV parody for MAD. I spend quite a bit of time doing research and getting familiar with the show or film as well as looking for reference photos or stills before I even pick up the pencil. Doing TV show parodies are harder in terms of research, because I need to watch a number of episodes to get the feel of the show and search for “inside” gags I can incorporate into the art. When we do serial shows like the recent “True Detective”, I really have to watch the whole run to completely get it. I know what you are thinking… “Poor baby, you have to watch TV for your job!” Yes, but it’s a two way sword. First, if I hate the show I still have to watch it, and that gets pretty tedious. I’ll never get back the hours of my life I spent watching “Samantha Who?”, “Glee” or “Pimp my Ride”. Second, it’s a lot of hours spent. One season of a typical serial show is 13 hours. If we are talking multiple seasons that’s some major binge watching. Of course, if I love the show like I did “Breaking Bad”, “Mad Men” or the previously mentioned “True Detective”, that’s not very arduous… just very time consuming.

Movies are easier from a research perspective as they are usually less than 3 hours long, and if I see it twice that’s plenty. I usually watch a movie I’m doing the parody art for once when I get the assignment, then again after I’ve read the script and know what scenes we are doing, so I can pay close attention to the visuals during those scenes. Then I download trailers and search the internet for stills or promotional photos to use as reference.

Once I start the actual artwork I do a page in about 2 to 3 days. It takes about a day per page to pencil it out, including roughs and final pencils, 1/2 a day to ink it and 1/2 a day to color it. That’s 2 days per page, but If I take my time it stretches out to 3 days per page. 2 days per page is pretty much my top speed. Any faster and the work suffers. By a “day” I mean about 12-15 hours. I have been known to color and entire 6 page parody in under 48 hours, but that is a function of endurance rather than speed. I simply stop sleeping or doing anything but work, eat and use the restroom  (and it’s not out of the question to do all three at the same time) until the job is done. Not healthy but deadlines wait for no man.

Thanks to Steve Barber 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- Don’t Draw Me Fat!

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Q: Love your book, it helps me a great deal when dealing with my studio works. Especially the ladies’ facial structure as I seem to have problems with (that)…  issues with questions such as ” can you draw me slimmer?” , “can you draw me younger?” etc. How do you deal with such requests?

A: Ah, the eternal bane of the live caricaturist… “Can’t you draw me skinny?” “Don’t draw my buck teeth!” “Don’t draw my wrinkles!”, etc. etc. Why people with low self image or vanity issues would want to get a caricature drawn is beyond me, but live caricaturists get these kinds of requests all the time.

I do not honor such requests. I draw the subject as I see the subject. I draw them age, weight and feature appropriate, and I tell them so up front.

That said, I do not necessarily have to exaggerate the wrinkles, fat, buck teeth or whatever else the subject is concerned about. I can make other exaggeration choices and still get a good likeness when drawing an overweight person without having to make them look like Jabba the Hut. I just don’t make them look like Keira Knightley. If they have a double chin in real life, then get one in my drawing… but I don’t necessarily have to exaggerate it.

This only applies to drawings where the subject is paying for the artwork, which is why I routinely refuse to do those kinds of commissions in the studio. Live drawing is quick, spontaneous, and in general there is a greater degree of acceptance by the customer due to that dynamic. In a studio commission piece the subject can really get ridiculous about how they are portrayed, and that’s why I politely decline most of those offers… plus I am too busy with work that does not have the opportunity to degenerate into a “Glamour Shot” caricature.

If you choose to take on private commissions, be honest with the client up front about what you do and what caricature is. Make sure they see work you’ve done so they can compare your caricatures to yoru subjects and see what level of exaggeration you typically apply, and agree on a “kill fee” if the job goes south and one of your do not want to continue to the finished art.

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- Impossible Subjects?

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Q: Hey Tom! Looking back in your blog, I’ve noticed that occasionally you either re-do a sketch of a celebrity, or even state difficulty with a subject (Nathan Fillion I believe to be one of the more “challenging” subjects) But have you ever had a severe level of uncertainty with a subject? Any subjects that you couldn’t just get right no matter what?  Any more challenging subjects you would care to share about and how you overcame that? I can’t imagine you’d let an uncertain caricature be published to MAD… well maybe who knows?

A: Every caricaturist occasionally struggles with some faces. It could be because the subject has an elusive face in general—a young William Shatner was notoriously hard to caricature. Some people seem to look different in every different picture of them. I find Jennifer Lawrence to have that kind of face. However I think very few people have faces that are difficult to caricature in general.

More often an artist might encounter a sort of “blind spot” for a specific subject, where they just cannot seem to capture them in a way that satisfies the artist. I’ve found the cause of these “blind spots” are an inability to be objective about your subject based on a preconceived idea of how you want them to look in the caricature. That sounds like a contradiction because bringing your preconceived ideas of what a subject looks like to a caricature through your exaggeration choices is exactly what a caricaturist is supposed to do. But sometimes your idea of a certain expression or “presence” of a subject just doesn’t work well with the way the rest of the worls sees them, and you end up trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It won;t fit, and you won’t give up and go with a round peg instead. Then you get failed drawing after failed drawing.

I have struggled with certain caricatures say for MAD jobs here and there, usually as a result of the above “blind spot” phenomenon. Two I can think of recently were the a fore mentioned Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” parodies, and Woody Harrelson (of all people)a in the “True Detective” parody in the latest issue. Part of the problem with Harrelson was that he went back and forth between and older and younger version of his character. You can always tell if I am having a problem with cpturing a subject when you see inconsistencies between the different caricatures throughout the parody. That means I am relying on individual references to get likenesses as opposed to “figuring out” a face and its essentials, and carrying them through the entire piece.

Here are some “inconsistent” caricatures of Harrelson from the parody that don’t quite carry though as I would have liked:

Several of these are successful individually, but as a whole there is an inconstancy in terms of head shape, exaggeration and follow-thru. The chin I especially was not consistent with… in some drawings it’s enormous and others it’s not as prominent. It’s important to note, however, that the artist’s idea of capturing the subject might not be the same as the rest of the world’s idea. I’ve been told by some people they really loved a caricature I did of someone I thought was a big, fat miss, and I’ve been happy with the likeness on drawings where other say they think I didn’t get them very well.

How do you overcome this “blind spot”? You have to step back and try and look at the face with fresh eyes, leaving behind your square pegs and preconceived notions. Let the face tell you what do do. Take a break from drawing that face and come back to it after working on something else if you can. Objectivity is the key. I often will look back at something I did a year or so ago and see where I went wrong or how I could have done much better on it, mostly because enough time has elapsed that I can be more objective in my observations.

Thanks to Cameron Briones 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- Getting Rusty?

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Q: Imagine you have to quit drawing for a while because maybe of an injury. Do you think your drawing skills are getting worse after a longer break? Or is it more like driving a bike: If you once have learned it, you will never forget it?

A: I think the physical act of drawing, i.e. your hand responding to the impulses sent from your brain, is a skill that can degrade somewhat from lack of use. However you really draw with your head, not your hand, so unless you have an injury which interferes with the normal function of your drawing hand you very quickly return to your usual form after a layoff.

That said, certain types of art techniques require constant practice to stay sharp.

Inking is one of those skills that will suffer without constant use, especially using a brush. I will spend long periods of time where I do not have to ink anything substantial and then suddenly it’s time to ink a 7 page parody for MAD, and I find my skills a little rusty. I will warm up with some direct drawing with the pen and brush on some scrap paper, and maybe start inking in the middle of page 4 or someplace other than the splash page. I find it quickly comes back, though. Within an hour or so I am inking right along.

Live caricature drawing is a skill that definitely degrades without constant use, although a long layoff also has it’s benefits. These days I don’t do much live work, so when I do I feel very rusty and frustrated. Those bold, snappy lines don’t go precisely where I want them to go for a while, and by the time I finally get warmed up whatever event I am doing the drawing for is usually over. I do a lot of mediocre or lousy live drawings for a while, and it really is frustrating because I can “see” in my head what I wanted the drawing to look like, but I didn’t accomplish that on the paper.

As to the benefits of a layoff from drawing live caricatures, that is more true for newer artists. I remember seeing a big leap in my skills each summer after taking the winter mostly off to go to art school back in the late 1980s. I think your eye becomes fresher and you have matured as an artist in other ways, and you bring that better eye to the drawing table. It would take me perhaps a week of drawing to recover my skills with the lines and the airbrush, but that is all surface stuff. The “underneath stuff”, meaning what I was actually drawing and how I was caricaturing, got better with the time off. That would lead to major leaps of ability during the summer when all that drawing and practice was used to maximum effect.

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: Multiple MADness?

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Q: A few issues ago you had two different pieces in the same issue of MAD. Has that ever happened before?

A: The issue Richard is referring to is MAD #525, which included both the Arnie Kogen scribed parody of “The Following” I did the art for, and the “Abysmal House” piece (written by Jay Rath) I drew for the “MAD 20″.

Having more than one piece is the same issue is a rare thing for me… for any illustrator really other than Sergio. More often than not these days I am doing “continuity” features for the magazine (i.e. the movie and TV parodies), and as these are long and time consuming I am seldom asked to do anything else for a single issue. It has happened occasionally, though. Seven times in fact. Most of the time I had done one substantial feature and then a spot illustration or some smaller piece for the Fundalini Pages, but occasionally I illustrated two multi-paged articles.

In issue #525, MAD asked me to do the art on the “Abysmal House” piece largely because I has just done a similar thing for another client, so they knew I could pull it off. Luckily I had just enough time to squeak it in under the deadline after having done six pages of “The Swallowing”. Here are the other issues I did multiple pieces for:

MAD #463: I did the art for the Arnie Kogen parody of “Everyone Hates Chris”, and a gag article called “MAD presents iToons” by Russ Cooper.

MAD #471: My main piece was for a video game spoof called “When Video Games Become Religious” by Jacob Lambert, and I also did a gag cartoon about Mel Gibson‘s anti-Semitic antics called “One Afternoon on the Pacific Coast Highway”.

MAD #480: Not sure this counts but I actually did three pieces in this issue. One was part of the main magazine, the art for Desmond Devlin‘s parody of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”. Then in the special Ballpark Franks “advertising insert” I did the cover and a two page poster called “The Evolution of Hunger”. Probably doesn’t count. No doubt MAD historians will be arguing about if it does or doesn’t for centuries.

MAD #481: I did two short pieces in this issue… a one pager entitled “Things Shouted Out to Paris Hilton as She Left Prison” and a two pager called “Celebrity Yu-Gi-Oh Cards” written by Michael Arnold.

MAD #482: Wow, never realized until I looked this up this was three issues in a row with multiple pieces in them! I was one of several artists that did spot illustrations for “Mad’s 50 Worst Things About Advertising”, and also did a mash-up parody of “The Sopranos” and “America’s Next Top Model” entitled “Amercia’s Next Top Mobster” by Des Devlin.

MAD #502: I did a one page piece for the MAD 20 called “Henry Gates Arrested in Own Home – Beer & Loathing”, plus a two page Jacob Lambert written article entitled “Board Game-Based Movies We’ll Soon Be Seeing”.

MAD #503: Besides doing the art on Des Devlins parody of “The Big Bang Theory”, I also did a spot illustration for the Fundalini pages as part of the short feature “Reasons Cited by Sportswriters for Not Voting Mark McGwire into HoF”

MAD #525 is discussed above.

Hey, this is a good series to run for my “Monday MADness” feature! For the next few Mondays I’ll post some of the art from these double appearance issues.

Thanks to Richard Griffin 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- Options for Caricatures?

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Q: Hi Tom – I’ve been struggling with the following for over a year now, possibly without realizing it! But I now see we have 2 (or maybe 3 options!) when it comes to creating a caricature.

1. We can keep the head shape as an accurate representation with little or no exaggeration – after all, we are engaged in the quest for likeness (so this is the most important thing – when we see someone from a distance, we recognize them, without seeing their features in detail). We can THEN exaggerate the features – make the eyes smaller, the nose more bulbous, the ears more jug-like, etc, etc…

2. We can exaggerate the actual head shape (still applying the ‘law of constant mass!) and then just place standard features ‘on top’ of that exaggerated shape.

3. And I imagine this will be the best option, although the most difficult for us mere mortals – We do BOTH the above. But finding the balance in between the two is the crux, no? Presumably one results in the other, to some extent…

A: Options one and two are no options at all. Both would create bizarre and unsuccessful, or at best incomplete, caricatures. Only option three above is a viable approach to a caricature.

In my book I cite the universal foundation of any caricature is exaggerating the relationships of the features to one another. This means that all features, and this includes the head shape, are interconnected and to exaggerate any aspect of them is to affect the rest. No feature is an island that you can just exaggerate and leave the surrounding face unaffected.

One of the concepts in my book is “the law of constant mass”, which basically states that you only have X amount of mass in any face, and if you decide you want to make a feature on the face bigger or smaller to create a caricature, you cannot just add or take away mass to do this. You must move the mass from one to another area of the head. So, if you decide to exaggerate the jaw you must reduce the mass in another area, likely the top of the head. If you want to make the nose big, that mass or energy has to come from somewhere. In this way you maintain the balance of the head itself.

It would be virtually impossible to even accomplish your first two options above. If you have a simple, realistic head shape, you are already locked in to the relationship of the interior features themselves (Unless you are prepared to draw the eyes up on the crown of the skull, or the mouth on the chin). Likewise once you exaggerate the head shape, how can you draw “standard” features within it? The distances and widths of the head have presumably changed, which would then change the relationships of the interior features so that they stayed in the same relative locations on the head. This is why I say that exaggerating the head shape is the single most powerful exaggeration choice you make with any caricature… exaggerating it forces you to change the relationships of all the features to match.

A good caricature takes the whole head into account, not just a single feature or exaggeration. You can build an entire caricature around only one observation that you want to be your key exaggeration… big eyes, perhaps. But the resulting drawing will have other elements of the face adjusted to make those big eyes fit and make sense with the rest of the head.

Thanks to James Gardiner 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- Ideal Day off?

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Q: I know you have a full schedule at the drawing board and a family to manage and cherish, but if you had a full day to use to just fill the well, gather inspiration for your art, how would you spend it?

A: I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy that the best way to recharge your creative batteries is to do nothing creative at all for a while. My ideal day off is to go nowhere near my studio and completely disconnect from the drawing board. In fact, the less I can even think about work the better. Total escapism by going to the movies or sitting down with a good book is the best way to spend that time if there is no family activity going on. Otherwise I’d want to spend the day with The Lovely Anna or any and all of my kids doing anything at all that doesn’t involve drawing.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I would not enjoy spending a day at some cartooning event talking shop, or looking at the work of other artists at some gallery show or comic con. It’s just that the best way to regenerate creative energy is to let it build up a bit so you need to release it again. Creating art is a little like scratching an itch. After a while, you have scratched enough that you don’t itch anymore. The only way to get that itch back is to stop scratching and allow it to come back. Switching gears does that for me.

So, a beach chair, a book and a mai tai works pretty well for me. Here in Minnesota the window for doing that is two weeks in early August.

Thanks to Justin Robertson 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- International MADmen?

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Q: There are foreign editions of MAD, for instance in Germany. They often translate articles of MAD, but there are also contributions from local artists. Do you have any contact to these foreign artists? Is there something like a meeting of international MAD artist once and a while?

A: There are still a number of foreign editions of MAD being published, although not as many as there once was. It’s my understanding that they license the MAD brand and a certain amount of the US edition’s material and then produce their own content using local creators and (presumably) more local topics to make fun of. Here’s a website with info on the foreign editions of MAD, if anyone is interested.

As for your question regarding a meeting of international MAD minds (and being that we are all “Idiots”, that would be a short meeting), I’ve never heard of one. That would be a really fun thing, but I can’t imaging it happening. The closest thing to it I’ve ever participated in was last October at the Australian Cartoonists Association‘s Stanley Awards in Coffs Harbour. During the weekend I was on a panel with the editor of the Australian MAD Dave Williams, and artist Anton Emdin, who does work for both the Aussie and US editions of MAD. We talked about the process of doing MAD parodies and the differences between how we do them in the US and how they do them down under—there are not many differences. Dave kindly mailed me a stack of Australian MADs shortly there after. They are a lot of fun to look through, but since I don’t speak Australian I can’t understand a word in them (ba dum bum).

SL270631Me, Anton Emdin and Dave Williams

Thanks to Dominik Zellinger 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- Parodies Outside MAD?

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Q: I have to admit that I am a little disappointed because I thought that just maybe Mad would have done a satire of the movie “Gravity”.  The movie was a big hit and quite notable (notable enough to warrant a Sergio Aragones piece in #526) and certainly worthy of the satirical minds at Mad to shred to pieces.  A miss on the magazine’s part, I felt.  And that got me wondering.  Have you ever considered simply doing your own satire of a movie or TV show that Mad ignored to satisfy your own wish to see that movie or TV show skewered?  Nothing like a seven page endeavor, of course, but maybe a one or two page spread that you’d basically keep as your own private property?

A: Regarding “Gravity”, I actually asked the guys at MAD if that one was in the pipeline. They said it was being considered, but they decided not to do it. There were probably several reasons but I suspect the chief two were that Sergio was doing his “MAD Look at Gravity” and that the film was basically one person floating around in a series of space vehicles, so not much visual fun. Plus they said I suck at drawing Sandra Bullock. The timing of the movie in relation to the release of the magazine was probably a factor. Anyway, it wasn’t to be. A lot of really worthy movies don’t get the MAD treatment because of various reasons, not the least of which there are only six issues a year to go around.

As to doing them on my own, I actually had thought about that at one point… kind of a MAD web comic that I could eventually collect in a book or something. Then I remembered how much %$#%& work these things are, and came to my senses. Seriously it would be fun to do and I think I could write well enough to pull off some short ones, but I just don’t have the time to do that.

Thanks to Art Armstrong 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- Comic Cons?

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Q: Just curious what made you decide to start doing comic-cons, and do you find you get a lot of fans that come and find you?

A: I saved this one for today seeing as how I am currently at C2E2 in Chicago doing a comic-con!

MAD is the red-headed stepchild of comic books. It sort-of is a comic book but not really. In general it does not mix with the cape n’ tights fanboy crowd, but there is some crossover. I get a few people that come up and have actually seen my work in MAD, and have (usually) nice things to say, but nothing compared to a real comic book artist with lines of people holding multiple copies of their comic books and being commissioned to do sketches of comic book characters for $100 plus.

There are three kinds of MAD fans at comic-cons: ones that read the magazine and are familiar with my work, ones that USED to read the magazine years ago but haven’t in years so they have never seen my work, and those that have no idea MAD even exists. Of the three, the latter are only made up of teenagers or very young adults who have a very narrow focus on their comic book tastes, i.e. if there aren’t zombies, superheroes or it isn’t manga, it does not exist to them. Actually those are very few… most people have at least heard of MAD and seen it peripherally if nothing else.

The majority are people who read the magazine as kids and have a special place in their hearts for it. I have many a conversation on the genius of Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Sergio and others. It is truly awe-inspiring how big an impact MAD made on pop-culture in the 50s through the 80′s. The nice thing is a few of those people will pick up a copy of MAD the next time they see one, to see what it’s all about these days. They’ll probably throw it down in disgust, but at least they’ll look at it!

The MAD animated show on Cartoon Network has really raised MAD‘s profile. After they see the MAD logo on my signboard, I get lots of very young kids coming up and saying they love that show. Fortunately I can say I actually worked on the show a bit, and then we discuss our favorite clips. Some of these kids have started reading the magazine as well, all thanks to the show. It’s a damn shame that got cancelled… it was very highly rated but apparently shows with a lack of toy tie-ins don’t see a lot of longevity. Four seasons and 100 plus episodes was a bit of a wonder for a show like MAD. It was fun while it lasted.

There are two reasons why I started doing comic-cons. First and foremost, I actually make some money at these things. There is no way I could take time out of the studio if I did not. I don’t make a lot, but it’s enough to justify my time away from other work. Second, I actually have something to sell and promote at these shows. Once I had the book done, that became something I could always have a pile of and sign for people. Then I started doing the prints, which was another thing that I could have for people to buy and get signed, or at least to look at. I do a lot of drawing at these shows as well… that has surprised me a bit. There are actually quite a few artists doing caricatures at these cons, but people still seem surprised they can get themselves drawn as opposed to some comic book character. I draw them as their favorite character, or in some theme/topic, but with a humorous bend. Yesterday I did a girl as Aphrodite IX (had to google that one). I labeled her oversized firearm “Ginormous Gun Co, Ltd”, and thought about labeling her equally oversized breasts “Ginormous Silicon Co. Ltd”, but decided to stick to the kid-friendly route.

The one thing I am missing at these cons are stacks of MADs to sell at cover price and sign for people. Lot’s of folks come up and would probably get a copy to check out what MAD circa 2014 is like. I’ll have to ask the guys at DC if I can get some copies at distributor costs or something. It’s an opportunity to promote the magazine better, which is another reason I like to do these shows.

Thanks to Zach 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!


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