Sunday Mailbag

December 21st, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: As an artist who has done a lot of caricaturing both in the past and currently in your career-when you go out in public do your eyes see people in caricature form? In other words your eyes are trained to study peoples faces for caricature do you find your eyes constantly studying people as if you’re working?

Also have you ever gone out-met someone briefly-gone home and been able to draw them from memory with great accuracy to test your visual recall?

A: To the first part of your question: Yes, I’m afraid I cannot look at a person without seeing a caricature of them in my head. This is totally involuntary, believe me. Many times it has literally distracted me from focusing on what I am supposed to be focusing on. For example, The Lovely Anna and I are big theater patrons and have season tickets to the Minneapolis theater season (don’t laugh, many shows premier and do test runs here prior to going to Broadway as the audiences are very representative of those in New York. We have seen many hit shows here before anybody ever saw them on Broadway, like “The Lion King” for example.) More than once, on the way home in the car Anna asks me what I thought about this or that in the show, and all I can remember is the gigantic forehead on one of the chorus line performers, or some similar attribute on someone that drove me to distraction. Once I was watching a movie with John Travolta in it with a bunch of friends and I commented that Travolta’s chin looks like someone had driven a small nail deep into it with a ball peen hammer. My friends told me I ruined the movie for them because after my comment that chin dimple was all they could see whenever Travolta was onscreen. Ooops… welcome to my world. I also have been known to get busted staring at someone at a restaurant or store, and I can say with great authority it is not very well received to answer the question: “What are YOU lookin’ at?” with the comment: “Your brutal overbite!” Still it can be a blessing… you can almost always find ways to entertain yourself amid the most boring of company, events or social gatherings. Just like fakirs and swamis can spend days contemplating their big toe, a caricaturist can spend an easy hour pretending to be listening deeply to someone’s diatribe when they are in fact considering the hairs growing out of the mole on said person’s cheek. It might look like a small blemish to most people, but to a caricaturist it looks like Fred Savage‘s mole in “Austin Powers in Goldmember”… about the size of a grapefruit. I try to refrain from bursting out laughing at inopportune moments… like funerals or in intensive care units. It’s a curse.

As to your other question, no, I have never conciously gone home and drawn someone from memory. My friend Steve Silver does it all the time, and praises the practice for it’s development of your observational skills. I would agree with that, but I just have never thought about it and done it. Sounds like a great idea, though.

Thanks again to Mr. Happy Go Lucky 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. richconley says:

    Tom, this is funny, after a week of live events I was commenting on how I now walk through a mall and make comments like “eyes are really close, long chin, wide nose”. My wife kids that I don’t ever get “beer goggles” , I get “caricature goggles”. It often amazes me how we see the world so differently than most people, and how often I hear people say “how did you even notice that”, I guess it’s just how we are. BTW I love your Blog.

  2. bluemoonpaul says:

    Now I’m wondering if you were staring at my double chin the whole time at lunch last week.
    = – )

  3. bluemoonpaul says:

    …or one of my many other flaws?!? Now I’m having trouble sleeping, thanks.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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