ED. NOTE: The 44th annual San Diego Comic-Con International — the granddaddy of the American comics and pop-culture conventions — is expected to draw more than 125,000 fans to the Convention Center through Sunday. Today, Comic Riffs focuses on talented creators in attendance.
AS A HUGE Batman fan who even owns his own cape and cowl, MAD artist Tom Richmond relishes drawing Bruce Wayne. And as a fan of a couple of AMC dramas, the artist likes to caricature Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston.
“I loved doing the Christopher Nolan Batman films, ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad,’ mainly because I really liked those shows and it’s always fun to poke fun of their things you love,” Richmond tells Comic Riffs. “I just did the art for the parody of ‘The Hobbit’ in the latest MAD (#522), which I enjoyed a lot.
“There are no bad MAD assignments,” Richmond notes, “just varying degrees of fun.”
Comic Riffs caught up with Richmond to talk about the magazine’s legendary artists, the cross-generational reach of MAD’s humor — and what keeps him coming back to the Con:
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MICHAEL CAVNA: As a veteran of the Con yourself, Tom, I’m curious: What do you most look forward to when you attend? What do you most get out of the Con experience?
TOM RICHMOND: Mostly, it’s about connecting with your audience. Seeing old friends and fellow pros is always fun, but there are better events for that. I enjoy meeting people who enjoy comics, and chatting with them.
MC: The MAD presentations will include a look at the TV show. Do you think the show has broadened the audience for the magazine, and perhaps even helped reach the next generation? Because the rapid-fire, quick-parody show certainly appeals to many younger viewers.
TR: Absolutely it’s helped introduce MAD to a new generation. I have several friends with younger kids who had no idea there was a MAD magazine, but think it’s great I do work for the Cartoon Network show. Watching the show leads to getting MAD books and reading the magazine… it’s like a gateway drug.
MC: By contrast, when I spoke with John Ficarra last year, he said the big and beautiful MAD retrospective book was largely intended to be a nostalgia trip for older fans — transporting them back to their adolescent attics and bedrooms when they first discovered MAD. Do you have a sense of what audiences, demographically, are seeing your current MAD work — and does the magazine try to tailor accordingly at all, or not-so-much?
TR: MAD has traditionally never been concerned about it’s demographic, but in the the last 10 years, it seems to be skewing younger. There are fewer longer features — movie and TV parodies are seldom longer than five or six pages. The shorter articles are the only real nod toward the young demographic, though. There are plenty of sophisticated political and other pieces in between the fart jokes.
MC: One Con panel (“Mad About MAD”) teases a look at the new “Inside MAD.” What can you tell readers about this new project to entice them?
TR: I won’t steal MAD’s thunder, but it’s a follow up to last year’s “Totally MAD” with a unique twist the choices of classic pieces, which is sure to lead to some seldom-reprinted articles. There are also several original features done just for the book, one of which was den by the great Sergio Aragones, and will blow people’s socks off.
MC: Speaking of recent books, MAD last year came out, of course, with a Mort Drucker retrospective. As a gifted MAD caricaturist currently building your own legend, what’s your sense of Mort’s legacy? How much did he develop the form you now work in? And what caricaturists did you grow up looking at and perhaps admiring?
TR: Mort didn’t help develop the movie/TV parody art form — he invented it. He is always going to be the parody and caricaturist from MAD. The best I can hope for is to peek from behind his shadow occasionally. As for influences, Mort was a big one, but I also admired other MAD caricaturists like Jack Davis, Sam Viviano, Angelo Torres and Harry North, and outside of MAD the likes of Al Hirschfeld, Phillip Burke, Sebastian Kruger and David Levine.
MC: I’ve talked about this with such topical satirists as Tom Tomorrow and Garry Trudeau, but the lag time for print commentary now can span a slew of quickie news cycles — especially compared with Comedy Central, the Onion online and other digital first-responders. What’s MAD’s approach in general within that reality, as well as yours specifically with the film parodies?
TR: Obviously that is a real issue these days. MAD has been combining more timely humor on it’s website with more “evergreen” subjects in the magazine. As far as movie and TV parodies go, they stick to mostly bigger blockbuster films that maintain some relevance several months after release. We’ve even been waiting longer to do them to coincide with DVD releases. TV is easier because we can time a parody with the debut of a new season of a show.
MC: Any favorite recently minted celebrities or screen offerings that you’ve especially enjoyed caricaturing and spoofing?
TR: I loved doing the Christopher Nolan Batman films, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” mainly because I really liked those shows and it’s always fun to poke fun of their things you love. I just did the art for the parody of “The Hobbit” in the latest MAD (#522), which I enjoyed a lot. There are no bad MAD assignments, jut varying degrees of fun.
MC: As president of the National Cartoonists Society, you’ve seen this digital shift affect fellow creators who work in newspapers and other print outlets. Can you speak to how the NCS itself has adapted to these platform changes — from panels to chapter talks to Reubens awards — and what aspects of the current changes particularly encourage or aggravate you?
TR: Good cartooning is good cartooning, regardless of the method of delivery, but the dynamics of the NCS — which has always been an organization of those to whom cartooning is their main career — makes some venues of cartooning hard to quantify under that criteria. It’s becoming easier as time goes on. We’ve added several online cartoon categories to our divisional awards, and any cartoonist who earns their living with their cartoons are welcome to become members, regardless of how their cartoons are distributed.
MC: Comic-Con is a great way to reach new generations, naturally — what sorts of things do you hope younger Con-goers might take away from attending your panel sessions?
TR: In general, I would hope Con-goers reach out past their familiar favorites and discover new comics and cartoons. There is so much out there.
MC: Did you do anything special for Comic-Con this year?
TR: In honor of the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who,” I did a limited edition print of all 11 doctors in my MAD style — it’s debuting exclusively at Comic-Con this year.
SCHEDULE: On Saturday, Richmond, along with other talent from the magazine, will appear on the “Mad About MAD” panel.