Sunday Mailbag- Reining in Exaggeration?

August 6th, 2017 | Posted in MAD Magazine

Q: Someone told me you hold back on the exaggerations of your caricatures in your MAD Parodies for some reason. Is that true, and if so why?

A: That’s sort of true–or at least true to a certain extent.

First off, I’m not really much of a “mean guy” caricaturist. I do not exaggerate features to the point of grotesqueness… my goals are seldom to push the exaggeration as far as I can. I am more about exaggerating expression than anything else. Still, without exaggeration of the features all you have is a portrait, so clearly exaggeration in some form is a crucial part of a caricature. If I have no requirements placed on me by the nature of the job or reason for the drawing, my natural inclination is to just draw the face, and see where it takes me.

That said, the specifics of a given job will dictate how far I will push exaggeration. In an article that is critical of a subject or satirical in nature, more and perhaps “harsher” exaggeration is often appropriate, but not always. In the case of MAD parodies, an extra dimension is added in that the same subject appears in caricature over and over again, at different angles and with different expressions. This requires a certain level of consistency with respect to head shape, relationship of features, etc. Otherwise it looks like the subject’s head is changing shape and mutating panel to panel, even if the likeness is there in each instance. That won’t work if you want the reader to buy that it’s the same subject each time.

More times than not caricaturists base their caricatures on a single angle or pose, and exaggerate based on that angle. For example, if the subject has their head tilted back and is looking down their nose at the viewer, a caricaturist will likely end up giving them a large chin/jaw and a small cranial mass… that’s caricature based on the foreshortening perspective of the angle of the head, not so much the features themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that, it could make for a really good and funny caricature. However if you were to do a sculpture to match that caricature, so that viewing the sculpture at that same angle gives you the same image, and then rotated that sculpture to look at the profile or some other angle… chances are those exaggeration choices will no longer work. You’ll be looking at something distorted at best and with no recognizability as the subject at worst. I want my caricatures in a MAD parody to at least be in the same ballpark with respect to consistency at different angles, so I do have to be aware of where I apply exaggeration and how far I push it. I would not say I “hold back” my exaggerations, but I am sensitive to the specific needs of the work and choose my exaggerations to meet those needs.

Also, the MAD staff value good likeness and expression over crazy levels of exaggeration, especially in the movie and TV parodies. They want the caricatures to be funny but not to distract from the storytelling or the gags, and rightly so.

Thanks to R. A. Griffin 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. Is there any celebrity either one you drawn for yourself or for a MAD movie/TV spoof that you had or have the hardest time drawing? Anyone you have the hardest trying to capture a good likeness?



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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