In 1994 I got a job through a design firm to do a cover illustration for the “Rolaids Relief Man Award Media Guide“, a 4 “x 9″ booklet with the current year’s Major League Baseball relief pitchers statistics, put out by Rolaids in conjunction with their sponsorship of the MLB “Relief Man Award”. The cover usually featured caricatures of prominent relief pitchers and/or past award winners. The design firm angle was typical of smaller specialty publications, especially for sports teams or sponsors. They often hired a design firm to do the design and layout of the publication, and then the client would provide the content and a printing house would publish the results.
In this particular case I ended up doing two covers. Originally they had me do the above illustration of three pitchers “knocking on the door” of the “300 Saves Clubhouse”. They liked the final results but we ran into trouble when it was discovered that MLB had to give the approval for any image that included more than two professional players together at once, which was a new legal requirement. Rolaids did not want to go through that process, so we did this second cover with only two pitchers:
I believe that is Lee Smith and Goose Gossage. They liked this one also, and we agreed on a kill fee for the first one that was only a little less than my full fee. Both of these were done using the traditional comic book line and color method (pre-computers) of a film pos overlay and blue line board which is then hand water-colored.
Unfortunately the people that printed the guide didn’t know what to do with the overlay/board combo and just drum scanned them both together at once. That resulted in misaligned lines and horrible color. Even though it as not my fault, the design firm blamed me and I never did another job for Rolaids. They stopped giving out the award in 2012.
Hard to believe but Comic-Con 2014 is only a week away! I don’t have as hectic a signing schedule as I have had in the past, so I’ll be spending a lot more time at the National Cartoonists Society booth this year… which is good since this is my last year as President of the NCS. Here’s my complete appearance schedule (so far):
Wednesday 7/23 (Preview Night)
6 pm-9 pm- NCS Booth #1307
10 am-12pm- NCS Booth #1307
1 pm-4pm- NCS Booth #1307
MAD about MAD Panel- 5:30 pm-6:30 pm- Room 4
11 am- 12 pm- Cartoon Art Museum Sketch-A-Thon Booth #1930
1 pm-4pm- NCS Booth #1307
10 am-12pm- NCS Booth #1307
1 pm-3pm- NCS Booth #1307
10 am-12pm- NCS Booth #1307
1 pm-3pm- NCS Booth #1307
As always I will be doing sketches, drawing caricatures, and selling original MAD artwork, copies of my book and my prints.
In the next couple of days the NCS website will announce their whole appearance schedule, which includes a big celebrity signing on Thursday and the debut of the 2014 NCS Comic-Con T-shirt which I think will be a big hit.
I’m going to do something different today for Monday MADness and send you all via this magic link to the blog of Mark Evanier, to read a terrific piece about the late MAD editor Al Feldstein he wrote this past weekend. Feldstein was the editor of MAD for about 29 years, and Mark’s post really lends some insights into Al’s career and why it was very unique. He talks a lot about some of the things that made Al Feldstein a polarizing figure in MAD history. Some people will tell you Al had nothing to do with the things that made MAD great, that we was nothing but a manager and organizer and did almost nothing creative, that he made a disproportionate amount of money compared to the writers and artists that were the heart of the publication. Others might say he didn’t get enough credit for the magazine’s success.
I never met Al Feldstein, and I certainly never worked with him. He left MAD in 1984 or 1985 (depending on who you talk to) and I was busy graduation high school about then. I have gotten to know many of the people who did work with Feldstein, and the feeling I get is that Al was a hard-nosed editor that demanded respect of deadlines, didn’t tolerate sloppy work, was not very friendly, and ran an ultra-tight ship. One can argue that the creative people that made the funny content of the magazine needed someone like that or the magazine would never have gotten published some months, and I cannot disagree. As a creative type, deadlines are the only thing that keep me on task. Some of the animosity Mark mentions over the money I have seen some hints of from long-time MAD guys, and I would be hard pressed to blame anyone for that. Let’s face it, getting a magazine out like clockwork every issue doesn’t meant a thing if what’s inside that magazine is not something anyone wants to read, and MAD hasn’t been around for 60 years because it came out on time and with all the pages nicely keylined. Some of the other long-time editors, particularly Nick Meglin, had a lot more to do with the content that ultimately made MAD MAD than Feldstein, and Mark seems to agree in his article.
I do think Feldstein deserves a lot of credit for the success of MAD for several reasons. First, he did corral a whole cast of creative geniuses who probably desperately needed corralling, and got a magazine full of brilliant cartooning and writing out regularly… no mean feat. Anyone who thinks brilliant content is all that’s required for success need only look at what happened to Harvey Kurtzman after he left MAD. Second, as I understand it Al was instrumental in finding and contracting most of those creative geniuses who made that great content. Kurtzman took most of the contributors to his MAD with him to Hugh Hefner‘s camp and Trump, and when Bill Gaines hired Al to take over as editor he advertised and found the creative people who became the Usual Gang of Idiots like Mort Drucker, Frank Jacobs, Bob Clarke, Dave Berg, Don Martin and many others. Maybe finding one or two of those would be dumb luck, but the all-star cast he assembled speaks of shrewd judgement of talent and a vision of what he wanted for the magazine. That alone is reason for major credit for the success of MAD, even if Al didn’t provide any of the humor himself.
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 toSteve 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!
The Lovely Anna and I are currently in New York City with Number One Son Thomas as part of his high school graduation present. When one of our kids graduate, they get a trip with just mom and dad to the destination of their choice (within reason). Tom chose NYC and we are seeing multiple shows, touring the sites and putting some miles on the shoes.
We’ll be dropping by the MAD offices tomorrow. I was going to bring the last two pages of my latest job for them with me and hand them in like the old school guys did back when Bill Gaines was there (Al Jaffee still does this) but did not for three reasons:
1. Since my art is digital, it would be anticlimactic to just hand over a thumb drive
2. They stopped giving you a paycheck on the spot before Bill passed away
3. The issue goes to press tomorrow, and I’d have been strung up by my thumbs turning it in that late.
So, I’ll just go in and harass editorial. That never gets old.
Some time ago I posted some of my thoughts on the long-time controversy surrounding the creation of Batman, specifically how much credit Bob Kane really deserves and how much credit writers and artists like Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson should be given. This is hardly a new topic. Kane was a bit of a polarizing figure, and his iron-clad grip on the credit as the creator of Batman has rankled many over the years who know that Bill Finger came up with much of the backstory, mythos and elements that make Batman the enduring character he is.
Writer extraordinaire Mark Evanier has recently written a couple of insightful posts on the topic that are well worth reading. Actually everything on Mark’s blog is well worth reading, but if this issue interests you then these articles are especially worthwhile. Few in the world of comics can speak with the kind of knowledge and authority Mark can, and he has some interesting points concerning standard industry practices at the times that can make you understand why this situation happened… if not condone the rectifying of it today. Read that post here.
I never met Bob Kane or Bill Finger, but I have talked with many people who have met both. I’ve been painted many different pictures of Kane as a person, and not too many of them are very flattering. The common thread among them is that he had a lot more interest in being rich and famous than he did doing any actual creating. Hard to fault anyone for that I guess, but to then demand respect as a creator is a lot to ask. That’s all second hand information, of course. I really don’t know what kind of guy Kane was, but I have never heard anyone dispute that Bill Finger deserves a lot more credit for the creation of Batman than he got, including (according to Mark on his blog), Bob Kane.
Alfred E. Neuman is one of the most recognized pop culture icons in the world. Go figure, but it’s true. MAD didn’t invent him, he’s actually been around since the 1800′s, appearing in ads for children’s dentistry and other products. Maria Reidelbach‘s book “Completely MAD: A History of the Comic Book and Magazine” has a whole chapter on the origin of Alfred, but the bottom line is that nobody really knows for certain when the grinning gap-toothed idiot really first appeared in pop culture.
As the story goes, original MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman had seen images of the “What- Me Worry? kid” from old ads here and there and was always intrigued by it. One day he was in a book editor’s office when he saw the grinning kid on an old postcard tacked on his wall. Thinking it was the original image, he was given it by his colleague and the kid first appeared associated with MAD on the cover of “The MAD Reader“, the first reprint anthology. He then made the magazine as part of an illustrated clip art fake mail order piece in MAD #21. Later he was incorporated into the illustrated border of MAD’s covers. In issue #27 they reproduced the kid on the inside back cover with posters available for fifteen cents (cheap!)… he also was added to the dense crowd scene on the cover of that issue as done by Jack Davis. New(er) editor Al Feldstein and associate editor Nick Meglin by then had recognized that this kid, up until then referred to as either Melvin Coznowski, Mel Haney or the What, Me Worry? kid, was resonating with readers. Feldstein decided to commission an artist to do an original and definitive version of the kid and annoint him MAD mascot. They found longtime advertising illustrator Norman Mingo through a New York Times ad to do the painting, and they dubbed him “Alfred E. Neuman” on the cover of MAD #30. The rest is history.
Alfred is still of course a big part of MAD. He is also something the MAD staff keep close tabs on. When I first started with MAD, I was told in no uncertain terms not to try and do “my interpretation” of Alfred. I am to do the Mingo original if I incorporate Alfred into anything. No profiles, no three quarters, no changing of expressions (unless it’s part of the intended gag). Even minute changes in Alfred’s expression or look, or any situation Alfred may be placed in, needs to be approved by the staff. Alfred has a true identity and they do not want to see him “out of character”. Only certain long time MAD artists are allowed to have their own versions of Alfred, and they include Sergio Aragones, Al Jaffee, Mort Drucker, Paul Coker and maybe a few others.
Alfred is not easy to draw, because he is very “off” (literally and figuratively). MAD instructs all it’s artists to copy the Norman Mingo Alfred proportions as exactly as possible. Rendering and such is up to some interpretation, expression can be altered to accommodate a gag IF IT”S IMPORTANT, but that requires full editorial approval. Usually the grin and the eye contact with the viewer is not to be changed. Hair, clothes, accessories, etc. are all able to be changed for gag purposes.
However the basic proportions need to be accurate. I’ve seen amateur drawings of Alfred with a small cranial mass, big jaws, tiny eyes, huge foreheads… lots of departures from the accurate proportions. If you want to draw Alfred, you have to respect his odd visual “presence” just like Payne, Parada, Fredrickson or any of the recent MAD covers artists are required to do.
Mingo’s original Alfred from MAD #30
To draw Alfred, the best thing to do is to study the Mingo original and it’s oddball proportions. Here they are and the placement of them:
Notice that while he has a basically straight vertical centerline, his horizontals are tilted lower on the right. The corners of his eyes and mouth are in a line with his neck on the left side (his right), but not on the left. His eyes are famously crooked, with the right lower than the left. the tops of each ear line up with the outside corner of each eye, making them skewed as well. Do not depart from these proportions, or your Alfred will be “off”.
Here’s an “MAD approved” drawing of Alfred:
Take a close look at your drawing of Alfred and study the proportions. Really look. Are they accurate? They have to be. It’s important that Alfred is “on model”. He really does have a certain look, in expression and form, that creates a sense of his odd “What, Me Worry” personality.
Here’s another Alfred I did as an icon for this site:
Q: I’ve just come from noseying around your blog where I’ve been greatly enjoying your “The Game is Afoot!” Sherlock Holmes series. This sparked me off thinking: when creating something like this, is the subject matter primarily chosen by your own enthusiasm and tastes (I know you’re a big Holmes fan), or are you keeping one eye on what might be a popular seller when it comes to limited edition prints?
Also, I was wondering whether you have all of your prints made in one go – or if you have a few smaller runs done periodically, to minimize the risk of being left out of pocket with boxes of unsold stock? I’m just curious to know your approach.
A: As to the first question—a little of both. So far I have not had too much trouble finding subject matter for a limited edition print that satisfies both my creative interest and that will appeal to an audience as well. I don’t think I would ever do a print where only one of those factors is paramount. The Holmes print is probably as close to being one-sided in favor of my interest in the subject over its commercial potential as any I might do, but one can argue that between the Robert Downey Jr. movies, the Benedict Cumberbatch BBC series and the “Elementary” TV show here in the U.S., Holmes’s popularity is at a high point right now. I figured this one would sell much slower than my others did, and I was right on that. It’s selling well but not crazy well like the Bond and Doctor Who prints sold. In fact, I am thinking about doing another print for Comic Con in a few weeks that I’d sell alongside the Holmes print… one that will appeal to the comic book crowd a little more.
As for the printing, I get them all done in one single run and then delete the high res full sized file so a reprint, even if I would be so lame as do do one, is not possible. I keep a high res, reduced size (about 50%) file in case I want to include the art in a book or something someday, but the actual file used for the print is gone and the original art is sold. Limited edition means limited edition. The printing I do is not cheap but it’s not ridiculously expensive like a giclee either, so I am not worried about being stuck with stock. 450 prints sounds like a lot but that stack is only about 8 inches high and the investment is not that gigantic. I actually order 500 prints, so I have some extra in case of any being damaged or my screwing up numbering or personalizing them. It might take a long time to sell them all, but eventually they will sell out.
Thanks toMike Giblin 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!