Sunday Mailbag

October 10th, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: With all the work you do for the MAD parodies, have you ever contributed your own jokes/gags? Or have you ever done any written and illustrated pieces? Do you have any aspirations to write a comic strip or something like that?

A: I guess that depends on what you mean by “writing”. If you mean do I put words down in a script to contribute jokes and gags, then no… I have never done that for MAD.

However when asked this question I do feel confident in saying I “write” for MAD in a certain sense… meaning I do contribute a lot of humor to the features I draw for them in the form of visuals and background gags. I often mention my affinity for the late classic MAD artist Will Elder‘s “chicken fat” style, where he would cram every available space in a panel with a gag sign, visual, character or what have you to add multiple layers of humor to the feature. All those extra gags are really writing… just with pictures not words. Sometimes a MAD writer will specify some background gag they want me to include, and in that case they “wrote” that gag because they came up with the idea and it was in the script. When I write I just cut out the “script” part and put it directly into the art. You can see many examples in just about any parody I have ever done for MAD… some have more gags in the background than others but I am always looking to add something. Which are my contributions and which are the writers? Having the writer call for a background gag is unusual… they usually leave that for the artist… so if there is a gag or joke incoprprated into the art of a panel that does not have anything to do directly with the dialog in the word boxes, there is a 99.9% chance it’s the artist’s gag, unless it’s really funny in which case it’s probably the writer’s gag (heh). Any hand lettered signs or words are also usually the artist’s contribution.

As for “real” writing, I have not been credited specifically as a writer for MAD, but back in my Cracked Magazine days I wrote two of the parodies I illustrated. One was of the 1998 remake of “Godzilla” and the other was of the HBO show “The Sopranos”. The second I co-wrote with my friend and fellow caricaturist/cartoonist Jim Batts, who contributed several gags and had a lot of advice for me on the show’s characters as I had (at the time) not seen many episodes.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have dug up the decrepit old files of those two old Cracked features from early 1999, and here they are with all their artistic inadequacies intact. The first one of “Godzilla” I actually did to show newly minted MAD art director Sam Viviano in an attempt to get into MAD, but he was singularly unimpressed. Cracked, by contrast, not only liked it but immediately bought it and published it in the magazine (you can read about my Cracked adventures here). Click on any of these for a closer look:

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Incidentally the original title of that paordy was “God-Awful”, which makes more sense with the intro title. However I actually only did the first 4 pages to show Sam and when Cracked asked to buy it I had to finish it, so I came up with the Hillary Clinton joke later and changed the title to “God-Hilla”. After that one, Cracked asked me to do a parody of whatever I wanted (obviously their standards were pretty low at the time). “The Sopranos” was really hot and all over the news so I decided on that one and called Jim for some assistance, whereupon he sent me a box of recordings of the show and embellished the story with a number of gags. Again, click on any of these for a closer look:

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And that is the total of my writing credits in humor magazines. As Alfred might say… big deal!

Thanks to Gavin Aung Than from Australia 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. Gavin says:

    Hey Tom – thanks for answering my question! Great read.


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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