Sunday Mailbag

July 5th, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: This is a simple question that I started wondering about when I saw your photos of your operations in St Louis. I see you have examples of caricatures in your various shops. Are these examples of your work or the work of the artists that work in your shops? If these are the hired artist’s own examples then my question is mute. I ask this only because I remember you telling of other artists being caught using your work as their examples. This would seem to be the same thing except that you are granting permission for the usage of the drawings. The drawings are not “stolen” but still not legit examples. Just wondering about your thoughts on this.

A: Actually I get this question every once and awhile, usually from other live caricaturists that think having my caricature samples up at a caricature booths where I very seldom work constitutes false advertising… that customers are being led to believe they are getting a drawing done by me when instead some other artist is going to draw them.

Considering I often voice my displeasure about street caricaturists who print off sample caricatures of mine and of other caricaturists and try to pass them off as their own, I have to admit that is a legitimate question. Aren’t I sanctioning the same thing in hanging my samples in all my theme park operations?

No. That is a different animal, and here is why;

Firstly, my caricature booths are not staffed by only one artist. We have large crews of as many as 16 different artists who work various locations all summer long in any given theme park. Samples from multiple artists, clearly signed by different people, are on display in every location. Some are mine, but most are done by the artists from that specific park. In other words, my samples are just some of the samples that are hanging up. I encourage everyone to have at least one sample up in each location. We are clearly not trying to pass off all the drawings on display in a location as that of the artist(s) who happens to be sitting there that day, unlike the afore mentioned street artists. Besides, although I do not draw in any of my locations regularly I DO draw in them occasionally… at least once a season and usually more, so it’s only fair I have some samples up.

Secondly, although individual drawing styles differ somewhat all the caricaturists working with my operations work in the same techniques, and the samples are meant to be representative not of specific artist’s work but of those techniques. Either I or one of my managers teaches these techniques to our artists, and it’s not much of a stretch to have the guy who’s work everyone’s training is based on have his samples on display even if I am not drawing there regularly.

Finally, and this might be the most definitive reason, these are my booths and my operations, and if I want to hang up my own samples then I get to do so. I built the buildings, bought the frames the samples are placed in, the paper, paint and pencil lead they’re drawn with and the screws that affix them to the wall and pay the rent to keep it all there so as far as I’m concerned, that buys me the right to display what I want to display. In other words, it’s my playground so I get to pick the game.

Sorry if that sounds a little defensive, but whenever I get this question that is my natural reaction.

I think there is a big difference between having the owner of a caricature stand displaying some of his or her own work (along with the work of the artists to regularly work there) and some street artist stealing the work off the internet and either redrawing it, signing their names to a print or otherwise passing the work off as their own. I have always took great pains to make sure we operate in an ethical and honest manner. The artists that work at my locations are instructed not to claim any work on the walls is theirs if it is not if they are asked. They are encouraged to do their own samples so they have something to point out if asked which of the drawings on the wall are theirs. I even make sure that the vast majority of the samples on display are true examples of what a live drawing ends up looking like, and not some elaborate illustration that would be impossible (or at least very difficult) to duplicate in a reasonable time drawing live. I do allow a certain number of “WOW” sort of samples with some more detailed background or scene, but even those use no tools or techniques that we do not employ in our live work, and our price signs do clearly state that “full bodies and theme may be extra”.

As far as I’m concerned, our policies on caricature samples on display are perfectly fair and ethical. I do understand where the question was coming from, however. Thanks for asking.

Thanks to Marv Sohlo from Woodbury, MN 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. I remember talking to you Tom about this similar situation that happened at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach, with another artist using your samples on there display! There are a whole family of portrait artists (who all like and think nothing of it because competition doesn’t effect me, because I am used to it) and they all switch out all there work with each other.

  2. I see your point, Tom. It’s like going to a restaurant and seeing a photo of a meal in the menu, but what they bring you looks totally different. But hey, it’s their restaurant!

    • Tom says:

      You analogy is right up to the part where the meal looks “totally different”. The meal in the picture was likely not cooked by the same chef in back that cooked the one pictured in the menu, but that chef was likely trained by the one who did cook your meal, and it should therefore be in the same ballpark.

      Live artists aren’t machines that stamp out the same product over and over. These are hand drawn, spontaneous caricatures and subject to the limitations of that process. If EVERY caricature on the wall was done by me and I allowed NONE of my artists to hang their own samples, that would be unethical. That is not the case.

  3. Ryan Roe says:

    When I do a bad drawing I sign it Ed Steckley…is that wrong?

  4. Ray Gardner says:

    These are two totally different animals.

    Someone using samples from another artists to whom there is no connection whatsoever is quite simply dishonest. And what do they do or say whenever their own product doesn’t look as good as the samples anyway?

    If I own, run or work with a caricature booth where other artists are working as well, of course there is going to be a collection of samples from various artists.

    And it’s not as if the average park goer is looking for a specific artist.

  5. That was a good question with an excellent answer.


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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