Sunday Mailbag- Caricature vs. Cartooning?

December 13th, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: I am curious if there is a difference in drawing a “standard” caricature (head shots, or your Sketch of the Week, etc.) vs. a “cartoony” caricature, (ie one that involves putting the subject in a situation like “tennis player” or “astronaut”) Does the drawing style change, or can it change, to further emphasise “Cartoon” aspects? Is the only difference really adding a location/job/costume?

A: Within the context of your question, no. There really isn’t a difference when you are drawing a “head & shoulders” caricature and one involving a full body or action situation. Not in the approach of the caricature itself. It’s still a single image and as such you have a great deal of flexibility with how much you exaggerate. Possibly the only difference is you are required to draw a suitable expression on the face, and the face at a suitable angle, to match whatever situation/action your subject is shown doing. If you want it to be a good illustration that is. Doing a caricature of someone looking right at the viewer giving you a big, wide grin while they are simultaneously blasting a mammoth home run is a thing of state fair midways or bad sports t-shirt illustrations. It has the look of a pasted on head.

In the case of doing caricatures for a comic style project like I do for MAD, there is a very big difference.

Single image caricatures allow you to really play with exaggerating the face not just based on the features themselves but things like the perspective of the angle of head, the particular expression of the subject, posture… things that make a single image unique. Those are elements I cannot consider when doing a caricature of someone that in the very next panel will be in profile, then in a three quarter view the other direction, etc. I have to stick with only the kinds of feature observations/exaggeration that will work at any angle and with any expression. That places limits on how far you can push it.

Imagine a really exaggerated caricature that you really think looks like the subject, Then imagine doing a sculpture of that caricature. Suddenly if you rotate it an look at the  profile, the tiny little pin-head cranial mass that was so funny in that single image not only looks like a grotesque distortion, it also no longer looks like the subject. Big difference there.

Thanks to Joshua Mikus-Mahoney 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. Alfred says:

    Good morning ,what advice can you give to someone starting to attemp Caricatures drawing ie how to see thankyou Fan of your work thankyou for sharing your wonderful Talent


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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