Sunday Mailbag

July 11th, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I usually assume most artists are skinny or out of shape guys like computer nerds… but when I saw your picture you looked like a WWF wrestler. I workout myself and I was wondering if you could share with us your regiment and more importantly your diet and/or supplements. For instance I stick to a complex carbohydrate diet and I take creatine. I lift weights every 3 days yet I go all out. My main exercises are bicep curls and dips with a weighted belt. Also, I was wondering if you could share with us people’s reaction (such as fans or industry professionals) to your stature when meeting you. Artists get pinned with words like “emotional”, “sensitive”, “touchy” and I think it’s great that you potentially battle the stereotypes of creative types.

A: I hope people will excuse the departure from art-centric questions to one like this once and awhile.

Your question make me chuckle, because I often do get some shocked looks when I first meet someone who knows me through my work and has never met me in person. Not that I am a hulking giant or anything, but after nearly ten years of active weightlifting I have a noticeably big build. Many people do not expect a cartoonist to be a big, buff guy, but I know several who make me look like a wimp. My friend of 20 plus years, comic book superstar artist Doug Mahnke is one of the strongest guys I know, and holds some powerlifting records for his age bracket in Minnesota. My pal Tom Nguyen, another well known comic book artist and inker, has competed as a bodybuilder and has a great physique. There is an actual former WWF wrestler named Lash LeRoux aka the Ragin’ Cajun who is now a pro caricaturist and illustrator! There are several other examples. As professional artists we sit on our butts all day long, and as many people who have a sedentary job do we feel the need to get exercise. I know I feel better and have far more energy when I am working out regularly. Some people run or swim or play tennis… I like to lift weights and challenge myself physically.

As far as workout advice, that is a very individual thing. It all depends on your goals and what you want to get out of it. Lifting to build size (hypertrophy) is different from lifting to get stronger (strength and power) or to lose weight and get toned (endurance). That said I believe strongly in the concept of “Periodization”, which means alternating between hypertrophy, strength, power and endurance workouts at 2 to 6 week intervals. Periodization keeps your body guessing by changing the demands placed on it and not giving it time to get used to the routines and plateau. Working on the other aspects of weightlifting only helps achieve your primary focus… Whatever that might be. Since my primary goal is to build and maintain size, I focus on the hypertrophy workouts by doing more of them or greater lengths for those periods. However I still work in a three week program of endurance training and maybe a month of strength training between hypertrophy routines. I will also do hybrid routines where I will work from hypertrophy reps (8 to 12) down to strength building reps (1 to 5) or incorporate some power movements like snatches or cleans into some other training periods. Some time back I blogged about some of my workout routines, so if anyone is interested they can read about some of the exercises I do for chest, legs, back and arms and shoulders.

Regarding diet and supplements: Following my rotator cuff tear and surgical repair I obviously had to lay off lifting for a long time. In fact it took over 9 months before I was able to even really begin to work out again, and I had to take it easy for several more months. Now, about 16 months removed from the surgery, I am almost back to 100% with just a slight drop in stability and strength in my repaired shoulder… and that will catch up in time. However during my convalescence I did not watch my diet very well (actually I watched it extremely well… I watched a lot of food disappear into my mouth). I was at an all time high of 243 pounds in late November following all the traveling I did last fall. Australia did me in… too much good food, beer and wine down under. Upon my return I was finally able to get back in the gym regularly but more importantly I figured out that I need to start paying attention to the amount of food I was eating. Bodybuilding demands good eating habits to be successful, but I never paid much attention past making sure I ate every few hours and got plenty of protein… meaning I overate and also ate bad stuff too often. I was never really “fat” until this fall, and I decided to do something about it.

Despite the proliferation of bizarre diets you see all over, losing weight is a relatively simple thing… you simply consume fewer calories in a day than you burn. The trick is to do it in a manner that doesn’t mess with your body or cause you to lose too much too fast, lose lean mass rather than fat or lose it in a manner that will result in gaining it quickly back when you cease whatever insane diet you are following. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say… I simply started counting calories and adjusted my caloric intake so I would consume less than I burned every day at a pace that should cause me to lose 1 to 1.5 pounds of fat per week. I still ate six times a day, getting in 220 grams of protein and eating low gylcemic carbs as much as possible (green vegetables, whole grains, etc) and avoided too much sugar and starch. That’s really all there is to it. 5 to 6 small meals a day prevents your body from going into “starvation mode”, where it believes food sources must be scarce as you are denying it adequate intake, and slows down it’s metabolism. It also hoards fat for later use, meaning it won’t burn much fat for fuel but instead will burn your muscle tissue. Starving yourself by eating hardly any calories make you into a skinny fat person, as you lose more muscle than you do fat. Plus, once you actually do break down and have a bad meal or two, your body kicks into storage mode and packs that all on as fat at a much higher rate than usual, gaining your weight back quickly.

I have had great success and I heartily recommend My Plate at for keeping track of calories. This is a free online program that allows you to track your daily calories and measures it against your goals. You answer some simple questions about your lifestyle, habits, body type and goals and it gives you a base calorie goal for the day, then your enter the foods you eat and count down your calories. Their database of food is incredible… Almost every kind of supermarket brand food or restaurant fare is listed, which makes it easy to track both your calorie intake and macro-nutrient consumption. Since my weigh in at 242 in late November I have lost 34 pounds and likely close to 40 lbs of fat (gained a few pounds of muscle) for a new leaner weight of 208. I’m hoping to keep this body fat percentage and gain about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle back to settle in at 220 or so.

As for supplements I used to take everything under the sun that was legal. These days I have learned only a few really work well enough to take. I take an NO2 supplement pre workout, a creatine mixed with l-glutamine post workout, protein powders and a good multivitamin daily. I also cycle a test booster like tribulus with ZMA for testosterone support. That is it. Most supplements are garbage.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy, but this is a lot easier than many people would credit it to be. It takes a few weeks of militant adherence and then a commitment to keeping up with the program. I have many bad nights of eating but my approach minimizes that impact and keeps me from gaining back the weight. at 44 I look better than I did at 30 and feel better as well… it’s a win win. I hope to keep achieving my modest goals as the years roll on.

Thanks to Stephen Busfield 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. Bearman says:

    Former wrestler Jerry the King Lawler is also a great caricature artist these days.

  2. Stephen Busfield says:

    Thanks Tom! Ah man, I took Tribulus at one point and it’s like rage in a bottle… I suppose that’s great before you hit the weights. =) NO2 huh? Well, you’d be so pumped that you’d not be able to bend your arms and maneuver a pencil. =)

    • Tom says:

      “Rage in a bottle”?? You must be thinking of different stuff. Tribulus terrestris isn’t that potent… It’s an herb that is supposed to increase your body’s own testosterone production by increasing lutenizing hormones, which are a signal to the body to produce more testosterone. Most of the research that is referenced for these effects happened in the 1950’s with Bulgarian and Russian athletes. More recent studies seem to indicate that those effects are either non-existent or minimal at best. Personally I think it works best on older males who’s testosterone production has decreased with aging, and it helps bring it back up to more youthful levels. It won’t do what steroids do, however, and that is artificially increase your hormone levels way past normal. I feel I’ve had some success with Tribulus products. NO2 products are supposed to give you big pumps by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the muscles and give you a lot of energy and strength in the gym. The basic ingredient in all NO2 products is the amino acid L-arginine, which is a good thing to supplement with because it not only relaxes blood vessels allowing more blood and oxygen to your muscles, it stimulates the natural release of growth hormone, is essential in the creation of creatine in the body and helps with injury healing. Most of the rest of the claims of NO2 products like the high energy and power in the gym is a result of the heaps of caffeine and stimulants they put in it. I recommend SynthaSize by VPX, which is a stimulant free NO2 product that also has creatine and other compounds that are beneficial to training… and the lack if stimulants means you won’t have a heart attack in the gym.

      • Bus says:

        Agreed. I took, I think it was Tribulus Pro (or plus) and it was a blue bottle with an atomic bomb (I think symbol). It got me really strong, but I felt on-edge. I tried it for over 2 months, I’ve heard the same from others. I got some serious gains from it though. Also, I once took Leucine (sp?) and that had great effects. Long story short just complex carbs really gave rock-like attributes to muscles esp. after taking Argenine. Thanks again Tom.

  3. julio cesar naranjo says:

    Hi Tom, im getting back again on the weightlifting and you a have a good rutine, in mine rutine ill make 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 ,6 reps, the last one its optional when your out of breath and you make some more. I know that you will say its very exhausting but thats only at the beginning, and you cant believe the results, your strength will be more of course, and believe or not your muscle will grow more to. Ill check out the livestrong web page to keep more organized with my meals. Take care.


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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