Q: Do you ever argue with art directors on a piece you are working on when they want changes you think will ruin the piece? Do you ever refuse to make the changes?
A: The short answer to that first part is no. I would say I do not ever really “argue” with an art director. That said, I will “go to bat” for some aspect of the artwork I am doing for them if I think the changes they want work against the effectiveness of the piece.
What I mean by “go to bat” is if I think something they want changed really does make the piece weaker, I’ll explain to them why I did what I did. That might sound a bit like arguing, but there is a big distinction… I don’t try to dissuade the AD from making the change. I just explain my thinking behind why I did what it is they want to change. It’s just giving them more information, and I make it plain I’ve got no problem making the changes they want if they still want to make them. Sometimes this discussion leads to something like “Oh, I get it, Yeah, just keep with that.” Sometimes it’s “I understand but it’s not really reading for me, let’s stick with my direction.” Sometimes it’s “Just make the changes, schmuck.”
And yes, sometimes the art direction they demand does weaken the piece. Sometimes it improves it. It all depends on the art director. I’ve said before here that whenever I get direction from MAD art director Sam Viviano it always improves the work, because Sam really knows what he’s doing with complex jobs like TV/movie satires. That doesn’t mean I don’t “go to bat” for some aspect of the art, but under the same sort of terms. Usually when I do not agree with some change Sam wants it has more to do with the accuracy of the “scene” in some TV or movie when are parodying than something like the storytelling or effectiveness of the gag. Sam might want some change in a panel and I’ll point out that it would make so sense in the context of the scene, because maybe some character was not in that scene or it happened at night or some other very specific element of the scene from the show would be changed or ignored. Those are different from his storytelling or humor direction, which always improves the piece. Other art directors I might not bother to discuss the changes at all, they aren’t interested in a collaboration.
As to the second part of your question: no, I do not ever refuse to makes a change insisted on by an art director. It’s their piece, and if they want a change I’ll make it. I might not like the result, but if that’s the case I just won’t use that piece in my portfolio. In some extreme cases, I require them to remove my byline or any credits, or use a pseudonym. That’s only ever happened to me once. Once I accept a job I follow it through to the end. If it becomes a nightmare, I’ll just never work for that client again.
It’s very easy to get a poor reputation in the illustration biz if you become someone who gets bent out of shape when you get art direction. It’s easy to do… as an artist you cannot help but get emotionally invested in your work. That’s the price you pay for being an artist and not a machine that just spits out art. Someone asking you to make changes to something you really sweated over, especially if you are particularly proud of it, seems like being personally rejected. No one likes that. You just suck it up and finish the job.
It’s important to be able to emotionally detach yourself from something when it is required you do so. Whenever I get some really dumb art direction on a piece I really thought was shaping up to be a winner, I always just remember a conversation I once had with the great Jack Davis. We were discussing working with art directors and Jack told me (in his charming ol’ buy southern accent) “if they want me to make some changes, I just crumble up the old one and do a new one… it’s just drawin'”. I figure if some art director has the temerity to art direct Jack Davis, and he can toss away some sketch (which was probably some little piece of genius I’d be lucky to do half as well someday) and just do it over, I should just shut my mouth and get over it.
Thanks to Grant Jonen 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!
703 My cover art for the next issue of MAD, exclusive sneak peek from @entertainmentweekly website
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