Sunday Mailbag

January 6th, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Your work is a total rip off of Mort Ducker’s style. How do you sleep at night?- Anonymous

A: Other than when my wife pokes me when I snore too loudly, I sleep just fine, thanks. I usually don’t post anonymous questions or comments, but I thought his one would be worth answering.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that, but am confident in saying that my work isn’t a rip off of Mort Drucker‘s, and anybody who thinks so isn’t looking really looking. Mort will always be identified with caricatures in MAD, and anyone doing traditional ink line, cartoon caricature likenesses in MAD will inevitably be compared to him. Some will dismiss such work as a “Mort Rip Off” out of hand. I once had a respected colleague of mine tell me he thought Sam Viviano‘s work to be a total rip off of Mort’s style… how ridiculous is that? Sam’s work is vastly different from Mort’s. Some people can’t see past the cartoon likeness, and so they label it a rip off. That’s visual illiteracy or just plain lazy observation. It’s a like saying all Fords are rip offs of Chevrolets because they all have doors, wheels and windows.

There is a big difference between being influenced by an artist and stealing his style. Influences pop up all the time in an artist’s work, because the definition of being influenced is seeing things in the work of another artist that resonate with you and those things begin to seep into your own art. That is natural and you see it all the time. Mort himself shows the signs of influence in his work from Norman Rockwell (take a look at the kids he draws, especially the profiles) Ronald Searle (look at his background people) and even Andrew Loomis (compare their signatures). I have definite Drucker influenced in my work, but I also have been influenced by Jack Davis, Wally Wood and many other cartoonists. All cartoonists have their influences.

I said I am confident my work is not a rip off of Mort’s, and I have several reasons for thinking this. First, the fact that I work for MAD at all. They famously refuse to hire copycat artists. You don’t work for MAD if you are a rip off of one of their classic artists. If you don’t bring something new and unique to the table, you do not get in. I was told early on in my efforts to get into MAD that my work was a little too Druckerish, but that they saw me moving farther and farther from his influence as I developed my own voice and told me to keep at it. Eventually they saw my work as my own, and I started getting jobs from them. I know some cartoonists who have worked for MAD copycat magazines and who’s work is totally aping that of Davis, Drucker or Wood who will never see the inside of MAD no matter how good their mimicry is. Longtime MAD editor Nick Meglin took me aside one day when I went to MAD to show them my work and explained this to me, and then told me that I was not like those artists and would one day work for MAD because he saw my work as developing away from Mort and Jack and Wally and towards something uniquely my own.

But most of all, I know I’m not a Mort clone because I am not trying to be, nor ever have tried. I copied the occasional Mort drawing in a sketchbook study, as well as those of a hundred other artists, but I don’t whip out old MAD‘s and look at how Mort drew a hand or an panel or a face. I never even really poured over Mort’s work or studied it fiercely. I appreciated it, but in wasn’t ever close to the focus of my efforts to develop as an artist. I draw out of my own experiences and thoughts, and any similarities to Mort’s work, or Jack’s or Wally’s, are natural extensions of their influence on me. I draw the way I draw, in a style mostly developed from hundreds of thousands of live caricature drawings done at theme parks in the last 22 years and not from copying drawings out of MAD or anywhere else.

So, thanks for the comment, but I totally disagree… and so does MAD.

Thanks to anonymous 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!


  1. kmcnutt says:

    Leaving a remark like that as Anonymous? Coward. I think it’d be more than OK to ask a question like that were you not anonymous, because it might mean you were interested in a real conversation. Scourge of the internet: anonymity.

  2. SteveH says:

    Tom, you are your own man and when people say things like the question that was asked, well it is frustrating. When I am drawing live at weddings, people sometimes say that the drawings look like the PowerPuff Girls cartoons! Well of course I would never even want to emulate a style like that for my work and I’m never quite sure if it’s a compliment of just a dumb thing to say? Anyway, I ignore it and that’s what I find works best, just let it go over the top of my head! I totally understand what you say in your reply. I love Morts work too and have been influenced by his awesome talent but I do not wish to draw exactly like him. I have always wanted to develop my own style and today can say with head held high, that I am in the place I want to be with my own style and continued development of my drawing abilities! So we are each to our own and will always let ourselves have inspiration and influence from other artists as together we survive!

  3. Philbert says:

    Tom, thanks for answering Anonymous’s question, as ill-informed as it may have been. I believe just about every cartoonist has been compared to SOMEONE. To the untrained eye I guess the nuances are lost. Personally, I always thought you were ripping off Angelo Torres (hey, jus’ kiddin’.)
    I wonder if this reader thought Drucker was ripping of Ingres, Durer or Leonardo? Judging from the scratchy nib and expert lighting technique, that Jack Davis fella was just a Rembrandt rip-off. I think Harvey Kurtzman was a No-Account Hack who took a Japenese calligraphy class in the Army.
    You were kind enough to compare one of the doodles I sent you to the work of Don Orehek. I assure you that I’m familiar with his style but I never studied him. If by seeing his work published it proved that a loose, sketchy style worked, then I would say I was encouraged that the way I drew was viable as well. But, if any of my stuff works it’s because of what I bring to it. Don Orehek could no more draw like me than I could match him. Just as you bring your own wit, humor and sensibilities to your work, Mort Drucker utilized what was inside of him (and him alone) to make his work unique.
    Because of the forum you work in, you will always be compared to the Mad Masters. Be proud that your work stands next to theirs as your own.

  4. jgm3 says:

    While I realize that a ‘drive by’ insult like this should not be worth pondering, it’s worth digging into for the thought it provokes.

    First, I would say that such a conclusion could only be drawn by someone not intimately familiar with your work or Mort’s. I am a musician by trade and I hear similar inaccurate comparisons with musicians all the time, and I have intimate experience with having to develop a unique style instead of just copying peers (or heroes.)

    If you stand 50 feet back from a 3 yr old’s painting, it might look similar to a Picasso, but when you stand a little closer (ie:educate yourself) the differences start to emerge!
    I am merely a hobbyist when it comes to drawing, but even I can easily tell the difference between a Drucker, a Richmond, a Torres, a Davis…all of you guys have little quirks that set your style apart.
    If I pick up a guitar I can spin off 5 seconds of a Stevie Ray Vaughan tune and anyone born in the last 50 years will know the style I’m copping. Does it make me a great player? NO…it means SRV’s style was that strong.
    The fact that even a layman like myself can sit down and by memory draw something ‘in the style of’ Richmond, or Drucker, or Davis etc… tells me that you have accomplished something in terms of style.
    Sorry…feeling a bit wordy today 🙂
    You and Drucker are very similar in one respect…you both use black ink…


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