Sunday Mailbag

April 7th, 2013 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Do you alter your approach in any way when your subject is effectively “pre-caricatured”, like, for example, UK Energy Minister John Hayes?

A: I guess that depends on what you mean by “pre-caricatured”. I would take that to mean one of the following:

  1. The subject has so many obvious features to exaggerate that a caricature is almost superfluous.
  2. The subject has been caricatured by others so often that their caricature has become a clich?©.
  3. Some specific caricature you have seen of the subject influences your own caricature.

Based on your example, I would assume you mean the first one, but I’ll answer all three possibilities.

  1. No, I do not alter my approach to a caricature if the subject has obvious exaggeration choices. I draws’em as I sees’em. The only possible concession I might give for a subject with some really obvious feature would be to try and look for other features as well, and not take the easy road. I believe it was Al Hirschfeld who once said it was entirely possible to do a caricature of Jimmy Durante without drawing his nose. That said, it would be doing a disservice to the caricature to completely ignore features just because they are easy targets. I just make sure I don’t let an obvious feature distract me from other features that should be noticed and exaggerated as well.
  2. This is particularly an issue with politicians. Editorial cartoonists often create a shorthand caricature of a prominent politician that is an amalgamation of many political cartoonist’s interpretations. One cartoonist draws G.W. Bush’s eyes really close together and another gives him a tiny forehead, and gradually the elements that work become part of most editorial cartoonist’s caricature of GW Bush. In fact, editorial cartoonists “condition” the public to recognize the politicians they often draw in caricatures using less and less detail until the simplest of cartoon lines are instantly read as the current president, or whomever. They establish just a few important elements and teach their readers those elements in combination are so-and-so. That’s when the lapel buttons with the name of the politician on them are dispensed with. Usually those important elements they end up with are razor-sharp exaggeration choices, and well worth considering when doing a more illustrative approach to a caricature of the same politician.
  3. There are some people who I simply cannot think about doing a caricature of without seeing some iconic caricature done by some terrific caricaturist in my head, which makes it hard to be objective. For example, every time I try and draw Barbara Streisand, I see Mort Drucker’s drawing of her from the MAD parody of “A Star is Born” (“A Star’s a Bomb” from MAD #193). I have to work hard to get that out of my head when drawing her.

Thanks to Hugh 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.

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