Sunday Mailbag- Using Assistants?

February 8th, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: Do you work with assistants and if not, why ?

A: For those who might not know this, some cartoonists have assistants that do certain tasks for them in order to get work done more quickly and, thus, be able to accept more work. These tasks can range from minor stuff like erasing the pencil lines from inked boards to major stuff like literally doing all the work (called “ghosting”). In most cases these assistants get paid but get no credit on the final work. This practice has been around since comics began, and in fact was very common in the early days of comics and comic strips…many future cartooning superstars got their starts as assistants for the superstars of that time. Old school comic book and daily comic strip artists sometimes had whole studios with many assistants doing many tasks (and if your name was Bob Kane, you just hired far more talented artists and writers to do all the work while you took all the credit and kept most of the money… but I digress). Comic book artists in particular may take on assistants as interns or paid helpers because stuff like backgrounds can be very simply roughed in by the principal artist but the tedious task of drawing all the windows and bricks and other details can be done by an assistant while the main artist goes on to other pages. Productivity means income in the comic book world. Comic strip artists may use uncredited inkers or colorists, and even gag writers, to keep up with their deadlines. Anyway, you get the idea.

I can’t say I’ve never used assistants… I’ve done it three times. Of the three times, two were utter disasters.

Disaster number one:¬¨‚Ć I was working on a series of T-shirt designs for a golfing company that was coming out with a line of humorous products making fun of “hack” golfers. I was really under the gun with multiple projects and these golf guys were really demanding, so I asked one of my former caricature artists from my theme park operations (who shall remain nameless) to ink my designs for me and I’d do the color. When I got them back the inks were terrible and I had to redo them completely… saved no time and cost me money.

Disaster number two: In an effort to save some time on the most tedious part of any MAD job (I mean apart from having to actually read the script), inking the word boxes and panel borders with a tech pen, I tried my wife The Lovely Anna on the task. She did her best, but I spent more time fixing crooked lines, ink blobs, and bad corners, than I would have spent just doing it myself. She will just have to be content being smarter, better looking, and in general better at pretty much everything else in life, than I am and leave the art stuff to me.

The one time it worked out I hired a different theme park caricaturist named Andrew Blakeborough to do some inking on a whole lot of illustrations I was doing for a computer game from Hasbro called “Super Scattegories”. Andrew was a graduate of the Joe Kubert school, and did a great job with the inks saving me a lot of time and making some dough for himself. I colored the finals and the client loved them.

Other than those three times, I have drawn and inked every line and colored or painted every illustration, comic, or cartoon, with my name on it. Come to think of it, since I redid both the first two examples of using an assistant and was not credited at all for the Hasbro job, nothing with my name on it as sole illustrator contains any element I did not do myself.

Why? Well, the disasters not withstanding I am very particular about how anything with my name under it turns out, and as such just can’t turn over any aspect of it to another artist. That includes the backgrounds, flat colors and any other minor details. Knowing me even if my assistant does a decent job I’m going to be fixing and correcting things, so the only benefit to having and assistant, saving time, is largely negated. My hang up, but that’s just the way it is. I want things to turn out the way I want, and the only way that happens is if I do it.

If I ever worked on a long term project like a comic title or similar, I might have to get over those issues and take on an assistant, but for now I prefer doing it all myself. Plus I have kids in college and don’t want to part with any of the pay.

Thanks to¬¨‚ĆLucio Daniel 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. Merbitt says:

    Hi Tom! Lucio Daniel here.
    Thanks for your answer.
    All the best

    Lucio Daniel (aka Merbitt)


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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