Q: When you illustrate a typical multi-panel parody, how do you determine which panels should receive greater emphasis than others — or simply look the way they do? Is this a co-development process with the writer or do you act independently to lay out the story the way YOU want to?
A: The story and what is going on in each panel, plus the design of the page as a whole, determines the design of each panel. If the story line or gag in a given panel requires a great deal of detail or many figures or a lot of action or some other visually intense imagery then I need to serve that need in the art. Those panels that don’t require such visual impact, say just two characters talking, I can add background detail or sight gags or whatever as I want. Overall I need to keep a few intermittent panels simple to give the eye a little rest as it reads the parody, but if too many panels in a page are “talking heads” panels I need to beef up some of them to keep the energy and visual humor flowing. Ultimately it’s my job to create the visuals, so I lay out the story according to my interpretation of the script, then work with the art directors on anything they don’t think is working or could be done differently to greater effect.
This is entirely a process between me and the art director. The folks at MAD very specifically compartmentalize the art from the writing, and the artist from the writer. This is mostly a function of them having approval/control of the entire piece. Editorial decisions on how the art and writing work together all need to go through the art directors and, if necessary, the editors. The only time the writer is consulted about the visuals is if I have a question on what they intended in a given panel or I point out some problems with continuity (say if dialogue from a movie is being depicted as taking place in the wrong scene or at the wrong time in the film) and the editors don’t know the answer. When something like that happens, the editors call the writer and relay the answer to me. Everything has to go through editorial.
Besides, Dick Debartolo won’t answer my calls, Dez Devlin has my number blocked on his cell phone, and Arnie Kogen has still never heard of me, so I can’t talk to them directly.
Thanks to Joel Kweskin 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!
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919 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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