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RIP Sharon Sakai

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

stan and sharon

The comic book world is in mourning today.

The wonderfully talented and equally wonderful person, comic book icon Stan Sakai, finally lost his wife Sharon today after a long battle with a brain tumor. Stan and Sharon were like rays of sunshine whenever you ran into them at a comic con or a cartoonist event. I would be hard pressed to think of anyone on this planet that deserved any form of heartbreak or sadness less than the Sakais.

This year the comic’s industry came together to help support Stan, Sharon and their family with a fundraising auction and a book full of tribute art with all the proceeds going to help pay their mounting medical bills. The Sakais have been greatly loved figures in the world of cartooning… many people are keeping Stan and Sharon in their hearts, thoughts and prayers right now. If your worth in this world is measured by the number of people that love you enough to feel your pain and loss at a time like this, Stan and Sharon were rich, indeed.

The only good thing about this is that Sharon is now at peace and her suffering is ended. God Bless, Stan and family. You will all be together again someday.

Grand Rapids Comic Con!

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

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I’ll be a special guest this weekend at the Grand Rapids Comic Con in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The show runs from Fri the 21st through Sunday the 23rd at the Deltaplex, 2500 Turner Ave. NW.

I’ll be doing a talk on caricature on Saturday the 22nd at 10:30 am:

Saturday Nov. 22nd- Main Stage

10:30 to 11:30 am

Tom Richmond, “The MAD World Of Caricatures”: Join MAD Magazine artist Tom Richmond for a fun and informative presentation about the art of caricature! Tom got his start in art doing caricatures in theme parks in 1985 while a college student, and parlayed that into a career doing caricature and humorous illustration for publications,television and film, advertising, newspapers, games and other media including being one of the “Usual Gang of Idiots” at MAD since 2000! Tom will talk about what makes a successful caricature, his process and how it all works for professional illustration clients… he’ll even take you through a MAD job from start to finish!

So come by the main stage at 10:30 on Saturday if you are looking for a quiet place to take a nap.

Otherwise you’ll find me at a table #421 in the “Comic Room!” area with my plethora of copies of my book, original MAD pages, limited edition prints and plenty of drawing stuff to do commissions and caricatures for people. As always, bring me a cold Monster Ultra Zero (white can) energy drink and get a free sketch of Alfred E. Neuman as Batman!

The show hours are:

  • Friday: 4 pm until 9 pm
  • Saturday: 10 am until 7 pm
  • Sunday: 10 am until 5 pm

Hope to see you there!

End of an Era

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

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In March of 1995 I opened a caricature art concession operation at Six Flags St. Louis in Eureka, Mo. We started out with a single location, eventually expanded to two locations, added airbrush T-Shirts (which I eventually sold my stake in to my airbrush business partner Kent Lind), and spent the next 20 seasons drawing Six Flags customers.

After returning from Dallas from the North Texas Comic Con, I got right back on a plane and went to St. Louis. After arriving, I picked up a rental truck, rolled out to Six Flags, packed up all the equipment and stuff from my two caricature locations there and rolled out of town, never to return. This was the first time I have closed a major theme park operation. I watched the specialty retail (tourist mall kiosk) business roll up and die while I closed or sold locations at Underground Atlanta, Riverwalk in New Orleans, Mall of America, and Union Station in St. Louis. Those kinds of operations tend to have short lives, and the longevity my stands enjoyed in most of those locations was very unusual. However I used to think the theme park business was bulletproof… recessions, an up and down economy, unemployment levels… none of these things seemed to dramatically affect our business in theme parks. We did a very steady and reliable per-cap sales level ($ per person through the gate, a telling stat for success in theme parks) year in and year out. There was a balance in splitting the pie between the parks, the artists and me that kept everyone satisfied and created a solid business relationship.

That’s all changed now, and the reason it’s changed is 100% the result of how the theme park companies have handled their businesses over the last decade. Local theme parks, meaning ones that are located in areas that rely on drawing from a clientele with a “driving radius” of say 500-600 miles as opposed to destination locations like Orlando and California which draw in visitors from all over the world, used to have a mix of about 30% season pass holders and 70% out of town visitors who make their trip to the theme park a once a year (or every few years) vacation. They would bring discretionary money to spend on things like souvenirs to remember their day, of which caricatures was a very popular choice. Season pass holders, locals who would come several times a year, were not our demographic since they didn’t often buy souvenirs to commemorate any of their multiple visits to the park.

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If the CEOs of theme park companies got together and decided to put together a game plan to destroy lessee businesses like mine in their parks, they could not have come up with a better blueprint than what they have been doing for the last ten years. Essentially they changed their target customers from out of town, single visit families and vacationers to locals that live within 10-20 miles of the park. They have been catering to those locals and season pass holders in almost every meaningful way they can. How? By making it less expensive to buy a season pass than to buy two individual tickets to the park, making it cheaper to get a season pass than to go to the theme park twice in a single year. They offer season pass perks and discounts all over the place. They have spent millions and millions of dollars and park real estate on elaborate waterparks within the theme park which is an invitation to lounge around in a bathing suit all day rather than walk around spending money, and lately they even have started offering meal plans so customers that come in don’t even need to bring money along for their food. In a short term effort to increase their gate attendance they have increased their season pass holder percentages to upwards of 60-65%. Most of these customers are kids and teenagers who get dropped off by their parents at the front gate to spend the day in the water park, ride a few rides and then get picked up again. Out of whatever figure the park cites as their entire attendance for the summer one of these kids probably counts for 8 or 10 of those people. If the park claims to do a million people in attendance for the season, in reality they probably got about 400,000 unique people through the gate, the other 600,000 are the same people who come multiple times. In reality the number of actual, unique customers that pass by our locations in such a scenario has dropped from 700,000 to about 400,000… coming close to half the number of potential customers. Worse, their efforts have not increased their overall attendance. In fact, attendance is down in most of the parks I have operations in, and significantly down compared to what it was in the 2000s. Less attendance and a dramatically worse demographic is a lethal combination.

Is it any wonder we have been struggling to do the kind of sales we used to do? We’ve been limping along in several theme parks. I have done everything I possibly can to keep the formula we used for decades to be successful: pay my artists the most I can afford to pay them, work hard to find and train high end talent to keep the quality of the work high, treat the artists right to entice them to stick around for several seasons, and create a highly creative and fun environment for my crews to be a part of. For example, even after the theme parks raised their percentage of revenues to a level that borders on ridiculous, I refused to lower the percentage I paid the artists. I just accepted a lower profit level so I could keep good artists happy longer, reasoning that resulted in better sales and an easier time of running things. In an effort to squeeze whatever sales I could from those hundreds of thousands of season pass holders, I offered deep season pass discounts, and even tried to offer a cheap $5 profile caricature for a while. None of that made a significant impact.

Unfortunately things have finally reached critical mass, and the severe reduction of legitimate customers have reduced our sales so much I cannot keep artists interested in sticking around for multiple seasons (or in some cases even to the end of one season) no matter what percentage they get paid. That has finally resulted in the quality of our product going down, difficulty in finding and keeping a good crew, and is contributing to even more dismal sales.

Six Flags St. Louis reached the point this year where the amount of money I was actually seeing at the end of the season was not worth the time and effort of owning and running the operation, and I closed up shop. If there are any caricaturists drawing at Six Flags St. Louis next year, they won’t be my artists. Good luck to them. Theme park managers don’t seem to think our free falling sales are their fault, preferring rather to point to things like that fact that our artists aren’t doing jumping jacks outside the booth barking at passers by to try and squeeze blood out of a turnip, or that we don’t have enough artists in our booths to maximize the sales on high attendance days, choosing to ignore that the few artists we have are not even very busy.

I still have operations at Six Flags New England, where the denser population and higher income levels keep the crowds better in terms of spending, and at Valleyfair and Nick Universe in in Minnesota, where we have down scaled and are just staying afloat. It’s a shame that what was a healthy business that made money for all involved has become a yearly struggle, but there is little I can do to fix it on my end. The theme parks have become exactly what they have been aiming to become, and this is what we have to work with.

So long St. Louis. It’s been a fun two decades.

Dallas is Getting MAD!

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

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Come see MAD Magazine’s David Degrand, Annie Gaines Ashton, Garth Gerhart, Kit Lively and myself today at the North Texas Comic Book Show at the Doubletree Hotel, 2015 Market Center Blvd, Dallas, TX 75207 (just off I-35 near Medieval Times and behind The Hilton Anatole). Admission is only $7.00 (CHEAP).

I’ll have my usual plethora of books, prints, original MAD art and will be doing disappointing but overpriced caricatures and sketches. As always, anyone who brings me a Monster Ultra Zero energy drink (the white can) gets a free “Alfred as Batman” drawing (big deal)! See you there!

MAD About Dallas!

Friday, November 7th, 2014

alfredhead.jpg“YEEEEE-HAW?”

Next weekend I will be in Dallas Texas to be a guest at the Saturday-only North Texas Comic Book Show, which is doing a special “MAD” event with guest artists and writers from the magazine. Joining me will be cartoonist David DeGrand, who does the features “Ain’t Life DeGrand” and “Patience Man” in MAD‘s “The Fundalini Pages” and “The Strip Club” sections respectively, “Bitterman” cartoonist Garth Gerhart, writer Kit Lively, who has contributed to “The Fundalini Pages” and “The Strip Club” as well as other features, and the special guest of honor Annie Gaines Ashton! Annie is the widow of MAD founder and publisher Bill Gaines, and was a big part of the magazine back when Bill was around.

I met Garth years ago at one of the now defunct MAD holiday parties, so it will be good to see him again. I’ve never met Annie, David or Kit, so I am really looking forward to that. I did the art on a MAD 20 piece that Kit and fellow UGOI member Scott Nickel wrote a year or two ago:


Clicky to Embiggen…

No doubt Kit will be pleased to finally be able to tell me how badly I mangled his gags.

This is kind of an unprecedented gathering of members of the Usual Gang of Idiots, because this might be the first time I’ve seen only recently joined contributors as the sole guests (Annie aside). Most celebrations of MAD center around the legends of the past like Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, or others who don’t have work in the magazine anymore, or folks like Al Jaffee, Paul Coker and Sergio who are “50 year men”. That’s all great and these geniuses deserve to be honored every chance we get to do so, but it’s refreshing to see names like Garth, David and Kit recognized as MAD artists and writers because they are the present and future of the magazine.

The show takes place Saturday, November 15th at the Doubletree Hotel, Dallas Market Center, 9:30 am-5 pm. Admission is only $7.00! I’ll be drawing caricatures and commissions, have plenty of copies of my prints available, some MAD originals, and copies of my book for sale. I’ve you are in Dallas next weekend, stop on by!

The Kolinsky Sable Brush Lament

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

The Winsor Newton Series 7 watercolor brush is considered by many comic artists, myself included, to be the best inking brush available. I’ve tried other brushes, including both synthetic and natural hair, and none I’ve found are comparable. Series 7s have a tremendous “snapping” quality that allow the brush to keep its shape and point, and return right back to it, with vigorous use. They resist splitting and last for a long time with proper care.

Unfortunately, they have become very hard to get in the U.S. thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and something called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES), which has caused a ban on the import of these brushes and others made with the same hair which is obtained from the tails of the Siberian Weasel, also called a kolinsky. There is a lot of rumor and conjecture as to what is going on and why it’s been banned, most of it wrong.

The Kolinsky is not an endangered species. It’s actually a very common rodent in Asia and considered a pest in many areas. The Siberian weasel is categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “least concern for extinction”, the lowest risk of extinction they can assign any animal, due to its large distribution and population (Wikipedia).

So why the ban? Here’s a post that explains in detail, but the gist of it is nothing more than a paperwork screw up. Essentially CITIES is an international agreement between governments to try to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of said animals and vegetation. While the Kolinsky is not threatened nor even close to being considered in danger of being so, CITIES has the species listed as needing to be monitored to be sure it does not become endangered (???). CITIES requires all sorts of certificates to prove that the export, import and re-export of anything like animal fur is within CITIES guidelines, and that incomprehensibly includes this non-endangered rodent. Apparently some time ago several shipments of Kolinsky hair were shipped to China with invalid certificates issued by a non-approved organization and were rejected by CITIES, and thus all brushes made with Kolinsky hair are banned from US import. ALL brushes mind you, since CITIES can’t tell which ones were made with the hairs imported to China under incorrect paperwork and which ones were made with hair imported under perfectly acceptable certificates.

No one seems to be able to tell anyone when this mess will be corrected and when we will be able to legally import Winsor Newton Series 7 brushes in the U.S. again. In the meantime the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CITIES continue their heroic and tireless fight to protect the continued existence of unendangered, rodent pests everywhere with their mountains of paperwork moving at a speed that makes glaciers look like Ferarris.

Excellent work, CITIES and the U.S. government!

The 2014 NCS Reuben Awards Show Video

Saturday, October 18th, 2014
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NCS video guru John Lotshaw just posted a full length film of the 2014 NCS Reuben Awards on the NCS YouTube channel. It weighs in at a whopping 1:57 but is chock full of fun thanks to the antics of emcee Tom Gammill and assorted cartoonists who played along with said antics, the show direction of Bill Morrison and the video work of the afore mentioned Mr Lotshaw. I believe this is the first time a Reubens has ever been released in its entirety on video to the general public.

There are many highlights, but in particular you will see:

  • Tom G’s spectaular opening number
  • Renee Faundo recieving the Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship
  • Weird Al” Yankovic receiving the A.C.E. Award
  • Bunny Hoest Carpenter and John Reiner being honored with NCS Gold Key Awards
  • Russ Heath get the Miltion Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award
  • More Tom Gammill video fun
  • Lots of cartoonists getting awards
  • Wiley Miller receiving the Reuben for Cartoonist of the Year

Unfortunately we couldn’t include the original video intro featuring a montage of clips from “The Simpsons” that revolve around comics, comic strips and MAD Magazine because YouTube refused to accept “Matt Groening said we could use these!” as actual copyright use permission. I’m going to try and get something more official, and if I do we’ll have a new version to post.

In the meantime, enjoy the show!

More NYCC!

Friday, October 10th, 2014

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Image courtesy Jason Chatfield

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Image courtesy Luis Rosario via Facebook

The Lovely Anna and I working it at New York Comic Con. For a Thursday it was a very busy opening day.

Of course we ran into some problems right away. Like an idiot I shipped the wrong backdrop support unit to hold up that banner you see behind us. It should be two feet taller and should not be about to collapse upon us at any second. Fortunately we were able to MacGyver it so it is at least standing. That’s the only negative. Otherwise met a lot of nice people, did a lot of fun drawings, has fun on the “MAD about MAD” panel, and quite a few people took home some prints, books and original MAD art they bought from me. I even had a guy come up with a copy of  a “Married… with Children” comic from back in the Day for me to sign!

I’ll try and get some shots of some drawings today.

New York Comic Con 2014!

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

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I’m off tomorrow to get set up for the New York Comic Con.  The Lovely Anna will be my booth babe, and you can find us in Artist’s Alley at booth H6 starting Thursday!

MAD About New York Comic Con

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

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From the MAD Website:

A VIEW TO A SHILL DEPT.

Are you going to be at the New York Comic-Con? Well that’s great news! Ready for the bad news? So will the Usual Gang of Idiots! Check out the MAD panel on Thursday, October 9th at 6:15 PM with staffers John Ficarra, Sam Viviano and Ryan Flanders; artists Peter Kuper and Tom Richmond; and writer Jonathan Bresman! Ask questions! Win prizes! Swallow your pride!

 

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