Sunday Mailbag

May 17th, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Do you ever think color MAD cartoons would’ve been funnier in B&W?

A: No, I do not think that the color art in MAD would be funnier in black and white. Color is incidental technique and has little impact on the effectiveness of a cartoon. A cartoon is either funny or it is not. Most of that has to do with the concept/writing of the cartoon and in art terms with the drawing/communication. Funny drawings are funny drawings. The work of MAD artists like Jack Davis, Don Martin and Sergio Aragon?¬©s is visually funny. If they were to take their art from the black and white days of MAD and color it, it would still be visually funny. Not one ounce of humor would be taken away from it. Conversely, a piece of bad cartooning will not suddenly become funny just because of the technique it’s rendered in. I explain this concept to the new artists who come to work with us doing live caricatures at the theme park concessions and start using the airbrush to color their drawings. I never bother asking if potential artists have any airbrush experience because the use of the airbrush or any coloring technique has little to do with good caricature. I look only at their drawing and observational skills. I tell these new artists that the drawing is by far the most important thing, and only functional skill with the airbrush is required for a good result. A bad caricature with a really good paint job is still a bad caricature. A good caricature with only a mediocre paint job is still a good caricature.

This is a lesson it took me a long time to realize applied to my illustration work as well. I used to study the inking of Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker and other classic humorous illustrators/ cartoonists trying to figure out why my inking didn’t have the same pop and life as theirs did. I tried the same tools they used, the same inks and the same papers. I used to look at their originals and marvel at the seemingly loose almost careless nature of the inking and wonder how they did it. It took a long time to come to the conclusion that their inking techniques were as incidental as airbrush color on caricatures is. It’s the DRAWING underneath that counts. A Jack Davis drawing that he inks with a pen nib, brush, marker, Bic pen or a sharpened stick is still going to be a Jack Davis drawing. The presentation is only the medium that allows our eyes to see it. Once I learned that lesson and started drawing with the ink instead of concentrating on the “quality of my line” my inking started becoming more energetic and had more life. Now all I have to do is learn to draw as good as Jack, Mort and Wally. Uhhhhhh… I’m not holding my breath on that one. 🙂

I do kind of lament the fact that I started with MAD right as they switched to color, but at the same time I recognize that the switch to color was one of the biggest reasons I got in at MAD… I was capable of movie/TV parody work and could to it in digital color. They needed someone like that and I came along at the right time. Still the classic black and white look is… well… classic. It would have been fun to have done more of that kind of work in MAD.

Thanks to bishopslikepawn 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. Judex Jones says:

    That’s true for most creative activities,no! When I was teaching and producing student films I was constantly telling them that if it wasn’t in the script no amount of hot damn SFX would make it work. Takes a while for some people to get that, I think.

  2. bishopslikepawn says:

    Hey, thanks for answering my question. “Color is incidental technique and has little impact on the effectiveness of a cartoon.” Not the answer I expected but I’ll try to take it on board worry about those techniques less.

    Maybe I should pester one of the ‘classic’ artists to get a second opinion …

    Another question : Does following construction religiously (ie. drawing cubes, spheres, lines etc. as guides for volume and shape) get in the way of making funny cartoons? I can probably figure it out on my own but you might have some thoughts on it.

  3. John Read says:

    bishopslikepawn: e-mail me (, would you please? I publish STAY TOONED! and I’d like to ask you a question related to what you asked Tom.

  4. […] cartoons would have been funnier if they had been in color. Tom’s response is that he just had to draw with ink – and can read the explanation for yourself. I agree with it but with webcomics I think color is […]


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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