Sunday Mailbag

June 2nd, 2013 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Please tell us about a topic that’s intrigued me for long time…the SIGNATURE OF THE ARTIST, like your aesthetically pleasing signature. And why CAPITAL LETTERS. Like Mort Drucker also signed in Capital Letters. Please share any tips on how and what type of signature should an artist sign with. Also the placement of signatures. Do you sign your cheques/ bills etc with similar sign , or there’s a separate and exclusive “Signature Style” meant only for Artwork?

A: Artist’s signatures are a sort of fascinating thing, because most are very deliberately designed. I only know of a very few artists that simply write their names in their usual hand writing as a signature (Jack Davis is one), most have spent some time at least thinking about it as a design element. After all, your signature becomes part of your artwork and therefore should have some kind of recognizable aesthetic quality to it. There are no guidelines, it’s all up to the artist.

My signature evolved a little bit over the years, but it’s essentially the same one I “designed” when I first became a live caricaturist in 1985 and had to sign thousands of drawings every summer. I did put some thought into it. Its got elements from the signatures of three different artists that I admired… and that I thought had cool signatures:




And here’s mine:


The big “R”, the large circle for the dot of the “i”, and the swooping “d” extending down at the end comes from the Walt Disney signature (Walt’s actual signature isn’t as pretty as this logo, but it’s the same basic design). The three vertical lines for the “m’s” comes from Mort Drucker and Andrew Loomis‘s signatures. I wanted to come up with something interesting with mine that I’d never seen before as well, so I decided on a capital ‘H” in the center where the horizontal line extends and underscores the rest of the last name. No doubt someone else has done this before but I have never seen it, so it’s original to me.

There has been come changes to it over the years. For a while I was doing this box around my signature, which I’d seen many comic book artists do, but I abandoned that shortly after I started with MAD because it made it too big and blocky. I also used to put the year next to my name, but was told by MAD they didn’t want me to do that as if they reprinted the art sometime in the future they wanted no date on the actual artwork, so I gave that up also. Otherwise this is the same signature you’d find on about 60,000 live caricatures I did from 1985 to present, although I only sign my last name in most cases.

As for placement, that depends on the composition of the art. With freelance work, I never sign magazine illustrations and certainly not ad or product work. Magazine work gives you a byline credit, and you never get any credits for ad or product work. The only published work I ever sign theses days is in MAD, and that’s more out of tradition and the fact that it’s more like comic book work than magazine illustration. I don’t like to put my signature in any place where I think it’s too obvious or might distract from the art. In some cases I don’t sign it at all, especially the MAD splashes because there isn’t that much room outside the art and you are never sure about last minute moving of word boxes or cropping or whatever. Sometimes I just plain forget to sign them. What seems to work best for the MAD stuff is when I can find a fun place to incorporate my signature into the art, like carved into a wooden chair back or painted like graffiti on a wall.

Finally, I use the same signature on anything I sign… I don’t have a special “art” signature. You can’t use that knowledge for evil by cashing checks from my bank account, because I’d have to actually have some money IN my bank account for that to work, and with two kids in college that never happens.

Thanks to N Gomes 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. Hey Tom! Cool idea doing an entry on the signatures. It’s really neat to get the insight on how people do what they do and why. You may know better than anyone besides the man himself, but do you know what the three dots above Mort’s signature are/mean? I’ve never heard an explanation or even anyone bring it up in his interviews. Thanks again for the fun (and informative) daily blog postings!

  2. N Gomes says:

    Thanks a lot Tom. This signature thing really fascinates me for a long time. Why I asked about writing cheques and all with same signature was for the same reason you mentioned. Since the main function of signing cheques is the assumption that your signature can’t be copied that’s why mostly people sign in running hand but doesn’t this bother you that your sign being in capitals, plus being all over the place can be misused. I use to think that the likes of you and Mort Drucker have a running hand signature, representing your handwriting, for all financial purposes.
    Anyways, you’ve been doing Sunday Mailbags for a long time and I remember you once saying that visitors of your blog might have run out of questions. but there’s of course plenty to learn from you yet. I almost took secret pride while posting this question assuming that nobody would have earlier asked about signatures. Am I right?


Sketch o’the Week- Burgess Meredith! #batman #batman66 #penguin #caricature #madmagazine

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