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Sunday Mailbag- Trouble Caricaturing Familiarity?

April 13th, 2014

Q: Let’s say someone loves your rendition so much, they keep showing up for you to draw them. Does this affect your ability to produce a caricature, or do your drawings of them actually get better?

A: How intimate familiarity with a subject affects your ability to caricature that subject is an interesting question. Specifically you are referring to live caricature work (I assume), and that is a little different of an animal. Unless your subject comes back to get a drawing several times a week, you really cannot get so familiar with their face that it affects your ability to draw them objectively. After all, you only spend a few minutes actually observing them and there will likely be hundreds if not thousands of faces that sit in front of you before you see that same subject’s face again. You might recall some elements of your earlier drawings but with so little actual time spent observing them, you will still mostly have “fresh eyes” with each new caricature. I’ve draw caricatures of the same people every summer and I don’t feel it helps or hurts the results to do that.

Drawing people you really are familiar with is a different story, though. I’m talking about people you spend significant time with in your life. That interaction both improves and hampers your ability to caricature them.

Familiarity improves your caricature of someone because you have intimate knowledge of their mannerisms, personality and “quirks” of expression that you can bring into play in your caricature. These are things that you just don’t have when you draw someone “cold” having not seen them in motion or in life before. Drawing caricatures of celebrities works better if you have seen them in films or TV, when their images are not airbrushed/photoshopped to death like they are in magazine photos. You have a chance to see them as they really are—moving, speaking and breathing. Working from a single photo is a crapshoot, and eliminates any sense of the person you get from actually observing them in real-life (or at least on the screen). You can more effectively caricature your room-mates, friends, co-workers, etc. because you have made many observations over time and can use them to capture your subject better.

Familiarity can also interfere with your ability to caricature someone, because it can cause you to lose objectivity. It’s natural to downplay or overlook the blemishes and imperfections in your close friends and family members because your eyes don’t see them the way a stranger’s eyes would. Not that blemishes and imperfections are critical to a good caricature, but the WHOLE STORY is and those elements are part of it. You can’t do a complete and honest caricature of someone if you only tell part of the story.

It is also very possible to be TOO close to a subject. People who are long-time, integral parts of your life like family members might elude you in a caricature just because you cannot seem to capture what your inner eye is telling you they look like, and you are incapable of only using your outer eyes and being objective. This is literally a subconscious thing… you are tying to be objective but the drawings keep being “off”. I compare it to how your own voice never sounds like you when you hear a tape recording of it, because you have a certain idea of what you sound like in your head and you accept that version of your voice internally rather than what your ears actually hear. Likewise your brain seems to tell you your family members look one way when your eyes might be trying to tell you different. That’s what a mom can sit there and coo about how cute their baby is when it really looks like a cross between Gollum and a baked potato. I know I have a hard time drawing my parents, and I think that sub-conscious, psychological block is part of it.

Some people have no trouble stepping back and being objective even when it comes to caricaturing their closest friends and family. The end result for those types is usually some scathing family caricatures and no one sending them birthday cards or inviting them over for Christmas dinner.  Similarly, I did a caricature of my wife The Lovely Anna once…


Thanks to Virginia Baker 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!

More Sakai Benefit Auction Items!

April 11th, 2014

The Comic Art Professional Society has added their weekly fresh items to their ongoing auction benefiting the Sakai family. As usual they have a mix of fun fan art and mind-boggling work from well-known comics pros. This week’s update includes originals from Paul Chadwick, Richard Corben, Lar deSouza, Jan Duursema, Troy Nixey, Paolo Rivera, Dean Yeagle and a whole lot more. Worthy cause, great original art available, win win for all involved.

Bye Bye QuizUp!

April 10th, 2014

Regular readers of my blog probably already know this, but I am a bit of a Sherlockian, that being a scholar of the literary character Sherlock Holmes. In my particular case I am all about the original four novels and 56 short stories (aka the “canon”) written by Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I have a casual interest in the various films, TV shows and such featuring the Holmes characters, but it’s the original Canon that I am partial to.

I was pretty happy to find some months ago that the smartphone/tablet app “QuizUp” had a literary “Sherlock Holmes” category. This app is a trivia game where you play against another person in real time, answering 7 question pertaining to your topic with a 10 second time limit. The points you get for each right answer depends on the speed in which you choose the answer, each question having four choices. The Holmes category must have had about 300 questions that you cycled randomly through. I really got into playing. In fact the category just got updated with new questions the other day, and I wrote about half of them for the software company that makes the game. As of the writing of this post, I am ranked second in the world in the Sherlock Holmes topic.

Sadly, I’m never going to play the game again.

Once the topic got updated I started playing it, but found something odd. Not with the questions… the new ones were very difficult, needing an extremely detailed knowledge of the stories to get many of the answers right. I did not know some of the new ones, so obscure were the references. What was weird was I kept losing games to people who were at very low levels in the topic. These people never missed a correct answer, even though they had so few experience points, they must have only played a couple of matches at most. I’ve played over a thousand. This didn’t stop… I kept losing to people new to the game but who got perfect scores. At first I thought there must be a wave of serious Sherlockians who have just discovered the game, but these questions are so hard no way would anyone be able to answer all seven correctly, every time, having never had the questions before. Then, as the number of new players with perfect answers kept piling up, I deduced something was afoot.

I did a web search or two and sure enough, there are QuizUp cheat apps out there that allow you to jack up the number of points you get for each match and automatically enter the right answers for you. That’s what these new players are using. How sad is that? What possible entertainment value is there in a game that’s automated to cheat for you? I shouldn’t be surprised… the internet is rife with thieves and scam artists… but still, how pathetic. Sorry, just needed to vent.

Ah well, it’s a relief in a way. Now I can quit the game and not care about it. I might even be able to get more work done now!

MAD #527: The Slobbit 2

April 10th, 2014

The Slobbit 2 pg 1-2Clicky to embiggen…

Yesterday Moviepilot.com posted a sneak peek at the splash page of MAD‘s parody of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” written by Desmond Devlin with art by yours truly. You can check out the full splash page with text here (although it’s kind of small to read). Above is the final art for said splash. I will post a few more panels of art from the parody once the issue hits news stands on April 22nd.

Sketch o’the Week- Lena Headey!

April 9th, 2014

Lena Headey © 2014 Tom RichmondI’m going to start a series of sketches of the cast of “Game of Thrones”, starting this week with Lena Headey as Cersei Barathonen. I have already done a couple of cast members:

I may redo them, though. Especially the one of Maisie Williams. For now I’ll do other characters.

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From the Freelance Files: The Movie Poster that Wasn’t

April 8th, 2014


Sometimes when you freelance, a job comes along that seems promising and then it falls thorough or never ends up being brought to completion for whatever reason. I wouldn’t say I’ve had a lot of those kinds of jobs, but after 25 years of freelancing I’ve had my fair share. Most never get to the point where I do any actual drawing for them, except when that drawing is part of a conceptual stage where I get paid for my efforts regardless if the job gets “picked up”. Those kinds of jobs are fairly common in the advertising world. I have done illustrations for packaging or marketing campaigns that never actually get used or run, but I still get paid for the work.

The image above is a rough concept I did as a pitch for a poster for the independent film “The Linguists”, but I didn’t get paid anything and it never went beyond this conceptual art. I did this back in 2007 right when the film was about to be featured at the Sundance Film Festival. “The Linguists” is a documentary following two researchers abroad on their quest to document obscure languages that are on the verge of becoming extinct. I ordinarily never do anything “on spec” (meaning for free in order to secure the job and MAYBE get paid), but in this case I spent a small amount of time cobbling together this rough layout for the client to use to try and sell the poster concept to the rest of the producers/investors. This image is actually is a very dumbed-down version of the original concept, which was to be a high energy action caricature of the two main guys and lots of surrounding caricatures of some of the colorful people they meet on their travels ala a Jack Davis crowd scene illustration. Even this less-manic concept got rejected because they felt it would have been too humorous. Actually the original concept would have been far more humorous… this rather boring design was an attempt to salvage the idea a little. In all fairness I didn’t think a humorous poster was right for this film anyway. There was very little funny about the movie, and a poster like that would have given the wrong idea to a potential audience. Still, it would have been fun.

Ah well, you can’t win them all.

Monday MADness: Cars!

April 7th, 2014

This week’s Monday MADness is a peek behind the scenes of a feature from MAD #467, July 2006 entitled “Rejected Characters from CARS” written by Jacob Lambert (Clicky any to embiggen…):

cars1-2Pencil roughs…cars3Some of the characters included were: “Guzzle” the 3 miles-per-gallon Winnebago, “Denny Dent” the garage-hidden hit-and-run suspect, “Cheesy” the ridiculously pimped-out Kia, “Don Pablo” the illegal alien-stuffed Econo van, and “Flippy” the rollover-prone SUV…

cars_MADFinished Art


Sunday Mailbag- Maddest Artist Edition?

April 6th, 2014

Q: Would you like to see a MAD’s Maddest Artists edition of your work? I personally would love to see one as you are my favorite contributor who is not of the original gang of idiots. Also do you think you have had a big impact on the magazine like others who got their own books: Mort (Drucker), Don (Martin), Sergio (Aragonés) , and Dave (Berg)?

A: First part: I’m flattered, but I do not have anywhere near the body of work deserving of such a collection, and there are many, many MAD artists more deserving of a collection that I am. Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Bill Elder, Angelo Torres, Sam Viviano, Paul Coker, George Woodbridge, Jack Richard, Bob Clarke, Duck Edwing, Rick Tulka, Paul Peter Porges, John Caldwell, Drew Friedman, Hermann Mejia, Harry North and Tom Bunk come to immediate mind, and a few others no doubt. If they do all of those at a rate of one a year, I’ll have 30 years with MAD and then maybe I’ll have enough work to warrant such a book. That’s a big IF.

Second part: No. Not even close. I am a lesser son of greater sires and can only see the parade because I stand on the shoulder of giants. That’s not false modesty or me fishing for compliments, that is simple truth. I’m carrying on a tradition that better artists than I innovated and made great. I innovated nothing and am only adding my voice to an already heralded chorus. I’m proud to be part of the MAD family but I’m not kidding myself that I belong in the same conversation as the names you mentioned.

Thanks to David Frautschi 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!

What would the Real Alfred E. Neuman Look Like?

April 4th, 2014

What, Me Worry?

Like this. Sculpture by Jordu Schell, via this website. Hat tip to Dalton Vaughn and Doug Gilford‘s MAD Cover Site, Facebook edition.

This is really well done, because it isn’t easy to make Alfred look convincing in three dimensions. Not only are his eyes uneven, but the center axis of his face is slightly tilted, and one side has considerably more space between the eye and hairline than the other. His ears are also lower than natural, and asymmetrical. There is a lot about his face that is ‘off” in a way that only stands out when you see a mirror image of it. Drawing him isn’t that easy, either.

Sakai Benefit Auction Going MAD!

April 4th, 2014

Jack Davis!

The Comic Art Professional Society‘s auction to benefit Stan and Sharon Sakai took a real MAD turn with their latest batch of listings. Included are originals from MAD legends  Jack Davis (see above) and Al Jaffee (see below).

$_57-1Sergio had a fantastic piece up earlier but that auction must have ended as it’s gone. There are lots of other great pieces up for auction for a very worthy cause. New pieces are added every Thursday or Friday.


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