Best Parodies Capture not Copy Flavor of Target

December 28th, 2017 | Posted in General

I’m currently working on my first job for the new MAD staff, and part of this project requires me to recreate the look/style of another cartoonist. MAD does this sort of thing quite often, having lampooned comic strips, comic books, book illustrators, and other visual artists over the years requiring one of their artists to “ape” the look of another artist to pull off the parody.

Doing a perfect copy of the style of another artist isn’t exactly the goal with a parody. It’s more capturing the “feel” of the work and certain signature elements of it, so the viewer sees it and instantly recognizes it as what it is meant to be but also instantly realizes it’s not the actual property or the subject artist’s work. Bob Clarke was particularly adept at this back in the day, and was frequently called on to do parodies of comic strips and other forms of cartoon art. I’ve been asked to do this a few times myself, in particular twice doing my take on Bil Keane‘s “Family Circus” (being done for the last decade plus by my good friend Jeff Keane):

From MAD #520, April 2013:

From MAD #544, April 2017:

It’s a delicate balancing act, one that some people just don’t quite get. Take a look at this review of Superman and the Miserable, Rotten, No Good, Really Bad Day from Amazon:

I usually ignore negative reviews of any kind on Amazon or elsewhere. Too many of them are created by people with other agendas, or are just plain stupid (my book The Mad Art of Caricature has one “1 Star” review where their complaint was that the book was damaged in shipping because it was poorly packed!), but in this case I needed to point out the reviewer’s misconception of the goal of the book’s art:

Ordinarily I just ignore these kinds of things because, as they say, opinions are like anuses… everyone’s got one but no one really wants to see it. This, however, is so misguided that I couldn’t let it go without a comment. While I appreciate your saying my work in MAD is “outstanding”, comparing the art in this book to my MAD style work and saying it falls “miserably short” just shows you have no idea what the point and purpose of a parody like this is. The work I do for MAD is my natural style, a detailed and cartoony caricature style which is suited for that purpose. This book is a parody of the 1972 “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” children’s book by Judith Viorst and artist Ray Cruz. When you do a parody of something like this, one of the main goals is to capture the look, feel, and flavor, of the original visuals… without being a slavish copycat. If you don’t accomplish that then the parody falls flat. In this case, I needed to capture the look of Ray Cruz’s meticulous crosshatching style and the feel of his character design all while incorporating the DC Universe characters, serving Dave Croatto’s clever script, and adding some MAD-style background gags. It’s not my usual, much more detailed and frenzied art style because it’s not supposed to be. If you think THIS book is a big departure in style, wait until you see the third book in this children’s book parody series which comes out next year. No doubt you’ll give that one zero stars if you could.

My point is that, if you think I failed at capturing Cruz’s look and feel in the art in this book, then fair enough. But it sounds like you just don’t understand the whole point of parody, and as a self-professed MAD fan that’s a head-scratcher. I just wanted people who see this review to understand where the reviewer is coming from, because the book deserves better.

The MAD kid’s book parodies are perfect examples of what I mean by needing to capture the “flavor” of the target work without doing a slavish aping of the style. In the case of “Goodnight Batcave” we really had to depart from the artist Clement Hurd‘s style because it was too stark and simplistic to support the kind of action the parody called for. So we used color, composition and layout, along with a few of the key elements of the original book, to capture the flavor of the original:

In Superman and the Miserable, Rotten, No Good, Really Bad Day we were able to use more of the crosshatching techniques that artist Ray Cruz used in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day so the art is much more reminiscent of the original. I also kept key elements of the original book’s character designs like the thick figures and the odd, all black pupil eyes, etc. Once again the goal is to capture the flavor not to perfectly ape the style:


The next book I mentioned above is even more of a tricky balancing act. It will probably be announced sometime this spring or early summer, for an October release. Of the three it was my favorite one to draw (although they were all a load of fun to work on).

As for the piece I am working on for MAD right now, the segment I’m talking about is more of an homage than it is a parody, so I am sticking closer to the look of the original artist’s style. Different purpose, so a different approach. You’ll see what I mean when MAD #551 hits the stands early next year.

Bring on the one star reviews!


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