Interview: Tom Richmond
Tom Richmond started at MAD in 2000, following some commercial illustration freelancing and a brief stint at MAD knockoff Cracked. He was one of the first of the magazine’s parody artists to work extensively in color, and to date he has drawn 23 parodies along with a truckload of other stuff for MAD. He is also the president of the National Cartoonists Society.
What are the scripts like for the parodies?
I get a very structured script. Often the original scripts have about 25 percent more panels than what shows up in the final parody. The editors trim them before they get to me, and what the artist gets is a full layout with the word boxes and the dialogue already in place.
Do you always have to see the movie before you draw it?
Years ago, studios would send MAD press kits to try to entice them to do a parody, realizing the publicity value of it. This was back when MAD was selling 1.5 million copies per issue. These days, studios are so hush-hush about spoilers and character designs that it’s tough. Sometimes we work from a script we find before the movie comes out, but it’s hard to make sure they’re reliable. One parody of the Hulk—I can’t remember if it was the recent one or the Ang Lee one—was abandoned because they couldn’t find a reliable script far enough in advance. In the early 2000s there was a long stint when I was drawing the cartoons before seeing the film—fortunately they were mostly sequels. All the Harry Potters were done without having seen them. I just read the scripts.
The MAD parodies always open with a splash page. Do you guys always try to do the same thing with it?
Mort Drucker likes his splashes to be montages, little scenes, tableaux, close-ups, and things like that taken from highlights of the movie. I like to create one coherent environment in mine.
What are the differences in the writers?
Dick DeBartolo likes silly gags. He loves to write ridiculous non sequiturs, not necessarily drawn from the movie, but more for himself. Desmond Devlin is a meticulous researcher who really goes deep into the movie and he likes to do things like make fun of the director’s career. He likes more topical and current-event gags. Arnie Kogen is halfway in between. He also does TV parodies more often because he’s a TV writer.
The Hunger Pains
How do you feel about the transition to color?
I’m an old MAD fan from way back, so I prefer the classic MAD look which is black and white, but I understand their conversion to color. Sometimes I lament the fact that it’s not in black and white anymore, there’s a certain classic awesome look to that, but this is the 21st century so we’re stuck with color. I do enjoy the color work, however, it is what it is.
What’s changed in the ways the parodies are produced?
It definitely all goes back to the movie industry itself and how it’s changed, with films coming and going so quickly. Films used to be events, and they were relevant for a long time. Nowadays we think maybe MAD should wait to parody a movie until it comes out on DVD. The movie and TV parodies are still staples of MAD, but they’re not in the book as much anymore simply because we can’t do them in as timely a way as we’d like. MAD doesn’t do a lot of art-house films anymore; the focus is on the big blockbuster bubblegum movies, because they have to be something we know will be huge hits and people will at least remember three months on. It’s a shame because I think it’s a lot more interesting to do higher-brow films that have more plot, and you can make fun of the actors and their performances instead of making fun of a lot of explosions. I enjoy doing the Batman movies, but I miss doing art-house films like The Royal Tenenbaums. But it’s really a function of how the movie business works these days.
What parody was the hardest to crack for you?
The ones that are hard for me to do are movies that I have zero emotional investment in, or ones that I’m bored with. If I really love or hate a movie it makes it easier, because I’ve got some interest in it, and I can really go after the details. For example, I really enjoyed The Avengers, and one of the things I noticed was that in the couple of scenes that featured Gwyneth Paltrow—which are clearly just throwaway cameos to get her into the movie—she’s walking around barefoot, in a pair of shorts and this bizarre blowsy white thing, and she’s in the same outfit weeks later when they’re supposedly rebuilding the headquarters at the end. And she’s still barefoot. So I thought, “What the hell is that all about?” I decided that in the one panel she’s in I’d have her with big stinky feet with flies flying off them. If I’d been bored with the movie, I’d probably never have noticed something like that.
Is there a parody you’ve drawn that’s your favorite?
Brokeback Mountain was probably the last critically acclaimed, art-house movie I did, and that was one of my favorites simply because it was like a throwback to one of those movies that MAD used to make fun of, one of those movies that took itself so seriously but still had a lot of things you could poke fun at.