Legend has it Tom was born with a pencil in his hand… something his mother steadfastly refuted. She would, however, tell anybody who would listen that his head was the size of a basketball.
Tom and his big basketball head were born in 1966 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. After a tumultuous childhood during which he spent many a day in detention as a result of being blamed for every cruel caricature of a teacher that would surface at school (Tom only claimed credit for the “really funny ones”), he attended Art College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he learned absolutely nothing about cartooning, caricature or humorous illustration. He did, however, learn how to draw fat naked ladies and bowls of fruit with varying degrees of skill.
To pay for his college education, Tom got a summer job in 1985 drawing caricatures at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois. Here Tom learned an important life lesson: it was possible to get paid to make fun of people. While still digesting this revelation, he discovered a love for the art of caricature and had the opportunity to work with many talented artists who inspired him. He also discovered, in comparing his early caricatures with those of his co-workers, that his work, in fact, “sucked”. Midwest bred work ethic genes kicked in and Tom began working hard at his art. His ultimate goal was “not to suck”. This remains an ongoing (and some would say futile) goal.
In the meantime Tom met the love of his life, Anna Voss, while at school. Not being too bright in the men department, Tom talked her into marrying him in 1988 and has somehow prevented her from figuring out she could do much better ever since. A sweet, funny, and intelligent woman, Anna has been Tom’s left arm ever since (he uses his right to draw). Too bad she can’t draw… then Tom could just play computer games all day and she could do everything. Tom would appreciate it if, should you the reader ever meet his wife, not to inform her that she could in fact do much better than him for a husband. Tom also requests you not mention the fact that he said she’s “not too bright in the men department”. Don’t mention the “left arm” gag, either… or the fact that he said she can’t draw. In fact, better you not say anything at all. If you feel you can’t stop yourself from spilling your guts, just turn and walk away. Tom thanks you for your discretion.
Tom eventually graduated from college and embarked on his career path. This led first to Atlanta, Georgia, where he managed a caricature operation for Fasen Arts at Six Flags Atlanta. In the 18 months he and his new wife spent in Atlanta, Tom started his own caricature concession operation at Underground Atlanta, a downtown retail attraction. This was the first of what would be many such operations. He also started his freelance career in earnest, drawing comic books for NOW Comics and eventually doing some work for Marvel Comics. He and Anna had their first child there, Elizabeth. Anna had the baby and Tom had the morning sickness and got up three times a night to pee, so it was a group effort. Tom’s portion was relatively pain free, however, whereas Anna had plenty of pain and demonstrated a fluency in curse words previously unbeknownst to Tom during the actual birth. He did write some down in case he ever joins the Navy.
Homesickness and a general distaste for grits and chicken fried steak caused them to consider moving back home. Then came the day Anna uttered her first “y’all”. This resulted in her clapping her hand over her mouth, hurried packing and a panicked retreat back to Minnesota. Tom opened another caricature concession at Valleyfair theme park in Shakopee, Minnesota in 1991. He continued to expand his clients in the freelance world, starting to do work for magazines, publishers, advertising clients and computer game graphics companies. Tom also discovered the computer as a tool for coloring his work… and for playing “Myst”…. and “The 7th Guest”… and… well, you get the idea. A successful 12-step program has cured Tom of his addiction to computer games. Playstation is another story.
In 1998 Tom discovered the National Caricaturist Network (now the International Society of Caricature Artists), an organization of professional caricaturists. Tom joined the NCN and attended his first convention in Las Vegas that winter. In the years since, he has been honored with several awards from the organization including the Golden Nosey for “Caricaturist of the Year” in 1998 and 1999. He also served as president of the NCN for two years. Well, actually Anna did all the work as usual, but he got the credit. Don’t tell her he said that, either. Tom also revived a life-long dream during this time: to draw for MAD Magazine.
In 1999 Tom joined the National Cartoonists Society, largely because of the support of MAD Magazine legend Mort Drucker, whom he got to know thanks to Anna. Attending his first NCS Reuben Awards weekend in San Antonio in May, he eagerly brought his portfolio with him to show MAD editor Nick Meglin, a longtime NCS member. His reaction was a resounding yawn. Not deterred thanks to a healthy dose of you-can-do-it attitude and the fact that he spends most of his time in his own fantasy world, Tom focused on further developing his work in order to break into MAD. Subsequent showings of his revised portfolio resulted in more encouraging reactions. In one showing long-time MAD artist and current art director Sam Viviano actually cleared his throat before yawning while reviewing Tom’s portfolio! Tom didn’t sleep for a week from the excitement. Ignoring several annoying restraining orders, Tom continued to deluge the MAD art staff with submissions.
Eventually shrugs and even head tilting became noticeable during portfolio reviews. In the meantime Tom did some MAD-like work for longtime MAD clone Cracked Magazine, as well as for bigger better clients like AOL Digital, the Minnesota Twins, National Geographic for Kids and many others. In 2000 Tom finally broke into MAD. At an NCS Reuben weekend in New York both Nick and Sam reviewed Tom’s latest work. Nick leaned into Sam’s ear and whispered something. Tom thought it was “this stuff is great”, but Anna was sure he said, “let’s eat at eight…” Regardless, Tom was given his first MAD assignment for reasons yet to be determined. Today he is pleased to be considered one of the “Usual Gang of Idiots”, at least until they can find somebody better who will work as cheap. Until then you can see his movie/TV parodies and feature article illustrations in almost every issue of MAD. Tom also contributed regularly to the Cartoon Network’s MAD animated show, doing character design work that was then passed off to real animators who do the hard work. Tom says his involvement with the show had nothing to do with its eventual cancellation, despite what you may have heard otherwise.
Tom continues to do freelance art for many other clients, and was honored with an NCS divisional Reuben Award for “Advertising Illustration” in 2003 in an episode known among NCS scholars as the ‘hanging chad debacle’ that changed the way the NCS conducts balloting for said awards. Tom refused to give it back, however, and it hangs proudly on his wall. In 2006 and 2007 the NCS once again honored him with a divisional Reuben, once again in “Advertising Illustration”, in 2009 for “Newspaper Illustration” and in 2014 for “Magazine Illustration”. This time accusations of blackmailing the voters were voiced, but never proven. He also opened many other caricature concessions including Six Flags St. Louis, Six Flags New England, Nickelodeon Universe and St. Louis Union Station. His hope is to continue to draw for a living and never again be forced to get a real job, if for no other reason than to prove his dad wrong.
In 2011 Tom became president of the National Cartoonists Society, proving how few actually qualified people (okay, NO actually qualified people) wanted the job. Impeachment proceedings never got past the preliminary phase, and he stepped down in 2015 after two terms in office. The NCS is still recovering.
At the 66th Annual NCS Reuben Awards, held in Las Vegas in May, 2012, Tom received arguably cartooning”s highest honor: The Reuben for “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year”. Tom would insert yet another self-deprecating joke here, but this is too great an honor to do that . . . Tom feels it would be a disservice to previous winners like Milton Caniff, Al Capp, Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, Garry Trudeau, Mort Drucker, Will Eisner, Jack Davis and over fifty other cartooning legends he is quite sure his name does not belong with. Tom will just have to count on his continuing to write in the third person to provide a humorous touch to this paragraph.
Tom works in a studio in his home in Burnsville, Minnesota, where he lives with his afore mentioned beautiful wife Anna and daughter Elizabeth. Daughters Victoria and Gabrielle, and son Thomas have all grown up and are out in the real world. All the kids take after their mother, thank god. Tom loves all things “Batman” and is a self-proclaimed comic book geek. He is also an amateur bodybuilder, partly for the exercise but mostly because “cartoonists, Batman fans and comic book geeks get beat up a lot” and large biceps are a good deterrent for that. Plus he has several daughters and enjoys intimidating their potential boyfriends. He is also a fan of baseball and the Minnesota Twins, unless they “suck” in which case he’s still a fan but complains a lot.
You now know everything you didn’t want or need to know about Tom. Tom asks that you do not use this knowledge for evil. Tom thanks you.