Q: I’ve seen you occasionally write that you do not do personal commissions because you don’t like having to deal with the subjects of your caricatures thinking their caricatures don’t look like them, and asking you to make them slimmer or to ignore features they don’t like… my question is did you really have a lot of problems with that when you did do personal commissions (your caricatures are not particularly mean-spirited, and I think your likenesses are usually spot on), and do you ever have problems with celebrities you draw in MAD not liking your caricatures of them?
A: In all fairness, the reason you cite above is only ONE of the reasons I don’t take many personal commissions… the other being time. I’m just too busy doing publication/commercial work to take on personal commissions, which inevitably end up being put on the back burner because deadlines never seem to end. Case in point, I have a personal commission still not finished that I agreed to do eight years ago. EIGHT. YEARS. AGO. That is pathetic and embarrassing. When I get it done I will post it here and tell the sad story about a fellow caricaturist who has been waiting for it for that long, and is a prince among men for his patience. But I digress…
Yes, I often do have a problem when the subject of a caricature is the person both paying and approving the image. Part of it is that my caricatures are not very derogatory and are based in strong likenesses, meaning the subject sees my caricatures of others and thinks they look exactly like those they are depicting, and then wonders why I just can’t draw them with the same accuracy. It seldom occurs to them that the problem might lie with their own self-image. It is actually easier for them to believe that somehow their face is one of the few in the universe that is simply uncaricaturable than that what they are being presented with actually does look just like them. Now, I am pretty honest about my own work, and while I don’t turn in a caricature sketch unless I think it is a good likeness, I don’t hit a home run every time. Usually, however, those that have issues with their likeness start explaining to me that they don’t have “that round of a face” when they have a face like a giant moon or similar, and then I know I’m in trouble.
It’s not always like that. Many people really love their caricature without qualms. Probably most, actually. But you’d be surprised how many people have blind spots when it comes to their own self-image. They just do not see themselves as others see them. You see it all them time when someone sees a picture of themselves and says “Ugh! That’s a terrible picture of me!” and you look at it and think “that’s you…what’s wrong with it?” It doesn’t fit into their personal self-image. It’s like how people in “The Matrix” look hot, cool and suave when they are in the Matrix, no matter how scruffy and beat up they look in the real world. Another variation of that phenomenon is listening to a recording of your own voice. Most people can’t believe that’s what they sound like, but it is. Everybody else recognizes your voice right away.
Next week I will post a “From the Freelance Files” story about a recent nightmarish job where I ran into exactly this sort of thing, despite at first turning down the job and then getting the client’s guarantee that I wouldn’t have these kinds of issues, but did anyway. It wasn’t a personal commission, it was more like an ad job, but it involved a LOT of caricatures of the company’s employees. It served as a reminder to me why I turn these kinds of gigs down in the first place.
As to the second part of your question, I have never directly heard from someone I drew in MAD that they disliked the way I depicted them, but I did hear second hand that Frankie Muniz wasn’t too keen on his caricatures in my “Malcolm in the Middle” parody. I lost a lot of sleep over that… oh. wait. That’s right. I didn’t care! 😀
Thanks to Billy R.¬¨‚Ä† 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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