Sunday Mailbag

June 8th, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Who are the biggest influences on your artwork and what is it about their artwork that caused them to impact your work?

A: I actually did a search for this very question on my blog and to my surprise it has not yet been asked and answered! Who knew??

It’s actually a tough question because my influences are a mix of both famous published artists and artists I know personally and have worked with doing live caricature work. Therefore some will be familiar to readers and some may not be. Also, many of the artists I cite as major influences on my work aren’t readily apparent in the art I do today. There are many ways one can be influenced… and stylistically is just one way.

When I was in grade school I was really into comic books, and my favorite artists were Neal Adams and C.C. Beck (I had a lot of old Shazam! comics). Adams art was so well drafted, gritty and realistic… he breathed life into Batman that was shockingly different than what had been seen previously. Beck’s work was much more cartoony, and had a simplicity of design and a whimsical quality that I responded to. For a long time I wanted to be a traditional comic book artist because of these two gentlemen. I also loved funny books, especially the Scrooge McDuck comics by Carl Barks, who I later realized was a genius but as a kid was just my favorite funny artist.

Eventually I figured out that humor was a little more my cup of tea, mostly as a result of my getting a job doing caricatures at Six Flags Great America near Chicago. While working there I met two artists who would really inspire me and get me motivated to improve my caricatures skills. The first was my boss, Gary Fasen. Gary was a great caricature illustrator and airbrush artist as well as a live caricaturist. His drawings were works of beauty in both design and execution. His linework was fluid and exacting, yet spontaneous and full of energy. His color work was smooth and vibrant. His caricatures had great commercial appeal and yet he did exaggerate quite effectively. Terrific work. Gary is sadly dead, and at a very young age. The second artist was Dave Kamish, who’s work had a great animated feel to it. He went on to do work with Warner Bros. on the Animaniacs and has done a few children’s books. Dave could get great likenesses using highly stylized features that almost defied logic, but were brilliant. I worked with many caricaturists over the years that similarly inspired me, but those two got me hooked on caricature as an art form.

While I was drawing caricatures I was reintroduced to MAD, which I had read as a kid but had not seen in some time. The list of artists who worked for MAD and influenced me is long, and their work influenced me in different ways: Will Elder– his chicken fat style, wacky zaniness and just flat out FUNNY drawing taught me that good cartooning is more than just illustrating a script… it tells it’s own story. Wally Wood– his draftsmanship and incredible drawing and inking skills still amaze me. He also taught me the value of making the drawing work as hard as the gags. Jack Davis– He more than any other artist showed me the value of creating a consistent and engaging style that shows itself in not only faces and figure but in the cars and lampposts and buildings and rocks and everything else you draw. He also demonstrated how to use exaggerated action and movement to great effect. Mort Drucker– obviously the master of caricature in cartoon form. Mort’s ability to capture likeness while still manipulating expression is still unequaled. His inking skills are also vastly underrated… his sketchy and loose style define the old axiom “draw with the pen”. Mort’s panel layouts, with their depth and snappy storytelling, are also something I admire. Sam Viviano– Sam’s page layouts and panel designs were also brilliantly clear and flowing. He moved the eye across the page, worked well with expression and got unmistakable likenesses while imprinting it all with an equally unmistakable style. His caricatures really act on the page. I also admire(d) the work of Al Jaffee, George Woodbridge, Bob Clarke, Don Martin and many other great MAD artists. In fact, there were few artists in MAD who I did not learn something from when looking at their work.

Outside of MAD I loved the work of Al Hirschfeld, despite the fact that you can see zero of his influence in what I do. I guess some artist’s work are so alien from the way another artist thinks that all they can do is sit back and marvel. Back in the comic’s world I liked the work of Ty Templeton and Hilary Barta, both of whom did a lot of incredible humorous stuff in a world dominated at the time by the likes of Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld. Templeton’s art had a polish and smoothness that belied the energy and humor it captured, while Barta’s had a rawness and Wally Wood-like feel with the brush ink work that I really liked. Bruce Timm and the animated superhero style also blew me away at the time it became big.

Among illustrators there is one that really is a major influence on me… arguably my biggest influence of all. Years ago I ran across an old book called “Fun with a Pencil” by Andrew Loomis, and greedily bought up all the books of his I could in eBay. Loomis was a rare talent equally adept at cartoons, caricatures and humor as well as realistic art, painting and illustration. From him I learned the value of well rounded drawing skills, and how like a supermodel can never be too thin, a cartoonist can never be too competent at drawing. Being introduced to Loomis was kind of a turning point for me, because before that cartooning and illustration seemed to be too separate entities, and he showed me they are one and the same… or can be. Beyond that was his obvious superior drawing skills… he remains an inspiration and goal to this day. Finally, the usual suspects like Frank Frazetta, Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parish painted the way I’d like to paint if I could paint.

Today artists like MAD‘s Hermann Mejia, Illustrator C.F. Payne and my friend, animator Steve Silver are among those artists who’s work inspires me. Mejia has redefined the MAD look at his caricatures are both stunning and unbelievably expressive. Payne is a fantastic storyteller, who can convey a whole tale in an single image. Silver’s work ethic and sheer love of drawing are a constant inspiration.

Thanks to Jimmy Pereira 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.

Comments

  1. I totally agree with you about hermann mejia, his art work has a big influence on MAD. One of the things I like about his art is that he is so detailed and is always on the dot with the likeness and exageration of peole.

  2. Great influences! I also have the philosophy that even though artists may not share the same style as myself, I can always learn from them. Thanks for answering my question. I’ll have to do some Google searches on the ones I’m not familiar with. I’m always on the look-out for some good inspiration!

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