Sunday Mailbag

October 2nd, 2011 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: When you were first starting out, how did your parents react to your decision to become a cartoonist? Were they supportive of your chosen profession, try to talk you out of it, or somewhere in between? Also, how did the in-laws feel about having their daughter marry someone who aspired to become one of “the usual gang of idiots”?

A: As a young kid my parents were very supportive of my desire to be an artist. My dad worked as a manager for a chain of grocery stores and would bring home reams of this computer track-paper that was used with old dot-matrix printers for printing reports, and I drew on the back of the used paper. My mom was a secretary and also brought home discarded mimeograph paper for me to draw on.

They were very supportive of me wanting to make art my career. In fact, they enrolled me in the “Art Instruction Schools” correspondence art program when I was 14. I did about three lessons with them before realizing the “individual” instruction I was getting amounted to 4 to 6 words of illegible scribbling and several pre-printed overlays obviously selected from different piles depending on the most prevalent problems I had with the lesson. My dad somehow got out of the contract when I pointed out these facts to him. Never once did they discourage or question my choice to pursue art as a career. Had they any idea what the chances of making a good living as a cartoonist were, I’d probably be a lawyer right now. As it was, they were all for it.

My in-laws were delighted that I was an artist. Actually I think it didn’t really matter what I was as long as it wasn’t a guitarist in a rock band, which was what The Lovely Anna‘s boyfriends mostly were prior to me (“losers” is also a term that might apply). All that mattered to her parents was that I treated their daughter like a queen, and made her happy. Good thing, because I worked as a caricaturist at theme parks during the summers and drew in bars and nightclubs while going to art college while Anna supported us with restaurant management and retail jobs… Stavros Niarchos I was not. Fortunately for me I was able to parlay my theme park caricature gig into a business and then get my freelance career off the ground before too long.

I was also smart enough not to mention I was a Green Bay Packer fan until we’d been married three years and had two kids… then it was too late to throw me out of their Minnesota Viking family.

As far as MAD goes, they all have subscriptions and I hear comments a lot about my pieces in the magazine. In fact, I’ve drawn them in to many of my MAD parodies, including my latest one of “Parks and Recreation” in MAD #511:

Click for a closer look

That’s my sister-in-law Theresa with the short, dark hair in the back/center, and the guy second from the far right in the back is my brother-in-law Chris. I drew brother-in-law Joe into my parody of “The Dark Knight”… that leave just two more brother-in-laws to go. I’m waiting for the appropriate moment… like when I might owe them money.

Thanks again to Timothy Houston 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. Are you in this one too? -The guy facing the left, just left of your brother-in-law?

    • Tom says:

      Kind of… It didn’t start out to be me but as I went along it ended up looking like me so I just went with it.


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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