Sunday Mailbag

February 1st, 2009 | Posted in MAD Magazine

Q: When I was a kid, Mad was all in black and white.¬¨‚Ć All your jobs are in color.¬¨‚Ć Do you feel this affects how you work compared to when Mad artists didn’t have to worry about coloring?¬¨‚Ć Are there things in the sketching and inking process you have to sacrifice because of the coloring phase?

A: As I have said here in the past, I will always feel a little like I missed out on the “good old days” having not been a part of the old black and white MAD. That isn’t exactly accurate, as I technically did appear in the last issue of MAD that was entirely in black and white. My first job for MAD appeared in issue #399, which for all intents and purposes was the last issue of MAD to be completely in the classic, all black and white format with the cheap old paper stock. I did a piece in #399 called “Gadgets to Really Make Home Theater Like Going to the Movies”.

Click for a closer look…

All the subsequent issues of MAD were in color or mixed formats. #400 was an anniversary issue that was printed on the new stock and in color (at least all the pages were capable of color, even if some were still in black and white). #401 had a large color insert for the “MAD 20″, where I did the piece with the two inauguration scenes I wrote about in November. Half that issue was in black and white and still on the old stock… this would turn out to be the last time that stock and format appeared in MAD (so far). #402 was entirely on the new stock with a mix of black and white and color. #403 was the issue that MAD officially announced the move to color and (GASP!) the inclusion of advertisements. So, I did squeak one job in before MAD changed from it’s classic format.

Back to your question- Yes, working in color is different than working in black and white for a lot of reasons. First it obviously takes a lot longer. Even adding full gray values to an inked piece of art takes a lot less time than fully coloring it. Beyond that, using color makes you think somewhat differently about everything else as well, especially the inking. Knowing I am going to color a piece of inked art will mean I will not do as much establishing of values with the inks themselves… fewer areas of solid black and almost no gray washes or tones for example. What value work I do add needs to be in a way that will not mess up the color. I could rely even more than I do on the color to establish the values of a given piece of art, but I have always believed that color should be meant as a compliment to an inked illustration, and not to do the heavy lifting on it’s own. Therefore I have always sought a balance in the inks vs. color. I want my inked, uncolored pages to stand on their own as finished art, and not look like coloring books waiting to be finished. On the other hand, I want to use a color so that it would compliment my drawing style and add something to it, but also not overpower the line work. I don’t always succeed, but largely I feel my coloring does not come off as “digital” and allows the line art enough room to breath on it’s own. Only occasionally do I resort to coloring effects for funky lighting or whatever that doesn’t read in the black and white version as well.

Specifically concerning MAD, there are definitely some things I do differently than the old school MAD guys did because of the color format change. I don’t add any grayscale effects to the board themselves (or very little, anyway), whereas old school MAD work had a lot of values added in gray with markers, washes and rubylith overlays. Lacking those values I tend to do heavier linework and more crosshatching that will not interfere with or muddy up the color. I still add solid black areas with the inks, although maybe not as many as I would without know the color is coming.

Here’s a panel from last year’s “Ironic, Man” parody that shows the differences between the black and white versions and the color:

Even in black and white I established a lot of the lighting and
values with the inks using blacks and hatching to suggest the mood.

The color version adds form and dimension to the original inks, but
it is only adding to what (hopefully) was already suggested.

One major difference from the way artists like Mort Drucker and Angelo Torres worked is with regard to backgrounds. In black and white, it is okay to allow your backgrounds to be vignetted or to just draw partial backgrounds and objects to suggest environments. The softer grayscale nature of the art makes this read very nicely. In color to do that creates a very unfinished look. Therefore unless I am going to do just a simple color wash in a background (which I do at least one on evry page), I am forced to draw all the way into the panel edges with all the background environments.

Other than that my approach to the art I do for MAD is very much in the traditional vein… penciled and inked on drawing board with dip pens and brushes at 200% of print size.

One other point about the color… I may feel like I missed out on an era because my starting at MAD basically coincided with the introduction of color, but I have no illusions that is a coincidence. I am quite sure a large part of the reason I got into MAD, and made such a fast transition to doing the “continuity work” in TV and movie parodies is the fact that I worked in color, and digital color on top of it. The guys at MAD knew they were going to color, that their established artists were unwilling or unable to work in full color to take advantage of the new format, and they needed to find some artists that could pull off continuity work in color. I was in the right place at the right time and got lucky.

Thanks to John Vaughters 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. John Vaughters says:

    Very interesting. Especially what you said about using a vignette style in BW art. I can remember many such panels with very loose, sketchy backgrounds, but until you put it like that, I would never have thought it doesn’t read so well in color.

    Thanks a lot for the response!

  2. James says:

    I have some of my dads old issues and now they’re kind of black an yellowish!
    I love mad!


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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