Sunday Mailbag

April 18th, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: How can one produce a caricature of someone that exaggerates their features without insulting them?¬¨‚Ć Various sites I’ve seen, including yours, exhibits a lot of great likenesses that don’t look offensive (since they’re not of me) so how can I assure myself the “subject” will have as much fun as all of us?

A: The only 100% correct answer to that question (at least the second part) is “you can’t.” The old adage “you can’t please all of the people all of the time” is definitely in play when it comes to drawing caricatures, especially where live caricature is concerned. I have seen the most innocuous and downright flattering of caricatures be rejected by the subject just moments after the most brutal and exaggerated of drawings was received with great delight by another subject. You cannot control the emotional makeup of the subject you are drawing… they will react how they will react. You can only control your drawing and your intentions with that drawing. It’s what you are trying to accomplish that matters.

I think there is a big difference between the caricaturist that intentionally tries to upset their subjects and the one who is trying to just do an honest caricature. Caricature to me does not need to be derogatory, it just needs to be honest. Honesty means that you give the face what it is demanding it be given, and not go searching for what is not their nor look for flaws that are virtually meaningless with respect to the entire face. Some caricaturists seem to think they more mean spirited and nasty their drawings are the better they are. That’s far from the truth. A good caricature captures the subject and the things about the subject that makes them unique. When the exaggeration (or distortion, as many of the attempts I’ve seen at super-exaggeration end up becoming) overpowers the likeness or the capturing of the personality of the subject, then that caricature is a miss. I’ve blogged about this before, and recently linked to a great blog post by my pal Ed Steckley, a caricaturist who can do those kinds of wild exaggerations without letting them become the focus of the drawing but tempers them the honest eye of an objective artist.

The bottom line is that if you draw people with the intent to create a caricature with a strong likeness and exaggerate to the degree the face “asks for it”, you will find most people respond well. You’ll get a few without a realistic self image who would probably object if you drew a flattering portrait, but those people wouldn’t be happy with anything and were idiots for even sitting down in the first place. If you approach your caricatures looking to exaggerate first and capture likeness and personality second you will find your subject’s reactions less favorable. Your intentions with your drawing are all that are within your control.

Thanks to Andrew Probert 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. Tom, I have 2 questions for you!
    1. Do you generally draw the ladies more flattering?
    2. Did you bulk up in the gym to avoid getting your ass kicked by dudes that dislike your interpretation of them?

    I can tell you that I would always draw the girls very cute!!! It worked well in my favor!


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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