Sunday Mailbag

September 16th, 2012 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Hello Tom. Big fan of your work in MAD. My question to you is that your work is easily recognizable. Have you ever felt you were too comfortable in your style and was ever tempted to radically tweak it?

A: That depends on your definition of “style”.

Some might define style as simply the visual look of someone’s art. That would mean that using a different style would be as simple as using different mediums, or changing the technique used for finishing. Personally, I think “style” is deeper than that. It’s the way an artist sees the world and interprets it through their drawing and art. That would make style independent of medium or technique. That also makes it very hard to change one’s style, although many artists can do it.

With that said, I really only have one style. I draw the way I draw and have no interest in drawing any other way. However, I have experimented with different techniques . . . not because I feel too comfortable in any one particular technique, but rather to make my work appeal to a wider range of clients. The work I do for MAD, which I call my “line and color” technique, might not appeal to other magazines or publications because it’s too “cartoony”. I have been told more than once it is too “MAD Magazine” like . . . (can’t imagine where they got that from). So, I have two other techniques I use occasionally for other projects that call for different looks to the final art:

Colored Line Technique

This is simply my usual inked line illustration, but the black line is colored to create a softer look:

This technique works well for more mainstream magazines, that want a humorous, gag-orientated image but not the comic book look of black lines and color. I’m doing a three page gate-fold illustration for Minnesota Monthly Magazine using this technique for the “Best of the Year” issue this month.

Painted Technique

This one is a more radical departure in terms of process. I work right on top of my pencil sketch, and just start painting. There is still a linear element to the work . . . it’s definitely not a “real” painting like Mark Fredrickson, Sebastian Kr?¬?ger or C.F. Payne might do, but it’s much more of a value-based technique:

This technique seems to appeal to news or political magazines and publications, but I occasionally use it for other projects when the source material seems to call for it. In fact, I did a painted illustration for MAD #518, because the nature of the image needed a more elaborate visual look. I’ll share that piece once the issue is out.

Whatever the technique, underneath it all, it’s still my drawing style. I feel no need to try and change that, and I”m not sure I could if I wanted to.

Thanks to Tome Obaro¬¨‚Ć for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar,¬¨‚Će-mail me¬¨‚Ćand I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Robert says:

    Why tamper with perfection, when you’re on a good thing, stick to it. Cheers

  2. Kyle Maloney says:

    I’m not sure style is something someone even Can change. I’m not talking about technique like the render style or medium, but style is more of a byproduct of how people interpret things they see. You can emulate some styles to a degree, but it’ll probably just look like an imitation at best.


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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