Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mick Stevens - Cartoonist Survey #64

Cartoonist Mick Stevens started drawing cartoons for The New Yorker over 30 years ago. Originally from Oregon he did a stint in San Francisco working in the underground comix scene. In 1979, when The New Yorker accepted his first cartoon, he packed up and moved to New York. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Barron’s, USA Weekend and The Harvard Business Review. Mick’s cartoons have been released in cartoon collection books including Poodles from Hell, If Ducks Carried Guns, Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma, and Things Not to Do Today. He is also featured in both of The New Yorker’s Rejection Collection books. Learn more about Mick and see other examples of his work at his website and his I Really Should Be Drawing blog. You can watch a tour of Mick’s studio here.

What is your favorite pen to use?
Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
One answer for your first two questions: I use felt-tip pens for my every-day drawing, and mechanical pens and ink for finished work. As we all know, sometimes the rough drawings turn out better than the finished work, because the roughs are more spontaneous. I actually prefer the felt-tip versions most of the time, but they tend to fade after a while, so I use ink for finished originals.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer and if you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
In some cases I use a PhotoShop-tweaked version of the original rough drawing, usually without tone, for publication, especially if the work is for the web. In other instances, like finished work for the New Yorker, I use ink and a gray wash. If I'm doing color, it's either PhotoShop or watercolors, depending on what the drawing is used for.

What type of paper do you use?
I splurge a little on paper: I use White 24 lb. Capitol Bond/Light Cockle, which I buy by the case. I use it for everything because I like the texture of it and the way it reacts to the pens I use. For finished original work, for the New Yorker, etc., I use acid-free watercolor paper, usually Cotman 140 lb.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
I enjoy drawing almost anything, but try to simplify things for stylistic and readability reasons. If the reader's eye gets lost in the artwork, he or she is distracted from the joke, which for me is the important thing. Contemporary magazine cartoonists are often not that proficient at drawing in the classical sense, myself included. For some of us, the drawing style, including flaws, is part of the general feeling of the joke. There has to be a match between the style of the drawing and that of the humor.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
I use online stores for everything except the aforementioned bond, which I get from a local printing supply store.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
I'd like to say that I do: (I always wash my hands before drawing. I never wear a shirt. I have a lucky charm in my shoe.) but I don't.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
I can't listen to music or anything else when I'm coming up with ideas. Partly, this is due to another of my interests, which is playing the saxophone. If I hear music, it distracts me completely. I'm constantly trying to understand the musician's language, which for me is like cracking a code, and it takes all my concentration.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Before I discovered magazine cartooning, I loved the Sunday comics and for a time almost worshipped Walt Disney. I devoured all the Disney comic books as soon as I got a hold of them. I wanted to be an animator or a comic-strip artist and kept trying to become one of those things. Later in life I did a few animated things for Sesame Street, and nearly sold a couple of cartoon-strips, but eventually discovered I didn't really have the attention-span or patience necessary for that kind of work. Magazine cartooning was a perfect match for my temperament, as it turned out: The shortest distance between the idea and it's expression.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
I stopped reading comic strips some time ago, but have a lingering affection and respect for some of the greats, like Walt Kelly's "Pogo" and Johnny Hart's early "BC" strips. I thought "Calvin and Hobbes" was great, too.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
Mostly anthologies of early Punch cartoons and annual or semi-annual collections of previously published American cartoons called something like "Cavalcade of Cartoons", with examples of work from the big magazines of the time, like "The Saturday Evening Post", etc. I have a lot of New Yorker collections, etc., but no more "Cavalcades". They used to be easy to find in used book stores.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
No formal training at all. I'm just making this up as I go along.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Both, no doubt. Magazine cartooning is being transformed very quickly now by technology. We can no longer expect to get paid for our work in the way we once were, since the concept of copyright and ownership of the work is now up for grabs. What we used to think of as theft (The use of our work without permission or payment) is now commonplace and for all intent and purposes legal, since people, some of whom are unaware of the previous state of affairs, simply download what they like for free. This could be the end or a new beginning for what we do, depending on how print media adapts to the new realities.

Did either of your parents draw?

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
I've been encouraged by almost everyone I've known or met. There were a couple of exceptions, professionals who saw my early work and actually told me to give it up. (When I look back at that early work, I can't blame them much.) but what they said had the effect of spurring me on, just to prove to them and myself that they were wrong. In that sense, these guys did me a huge favor.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
No. I have an "Idea-box" where I collect my daily doodles and potential cartoon ideas, ten or so of which I select to do up for my weekly batch of cartoons for the New Yorker.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I'm not sure it can be taught, outside of the basics of drawing in general, like the use of color, perspective and composition. Once again, this applies mainly to magazine cartooning. Other forms are more draftsmanship- and design-oriented, closer to illustration, which can be taught. Humor is the important ingredient in what we do, and it's either in you or not.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
50/50, maybe. (It's possible to produce salable work without either.)

Do you collect anything and if so what?
Does dust count?

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
Maybe one of those early dinosaurs which evolved eventually into birds. It would be a very long movie with an upbeat ending, me singing while perched on a tree-branch, maybe.

Are you a righty or lefty?
David, let's keep my sex-life out of this.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
Play the saxophone in Grand Central Station and become a legend.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
A room, a drawing-table, a computer, a few books, cartoons by other artists on the walls. (The most important feature is a faucet projecting from the wall, which dispenses hot and cold ideas on demand.)

Do you play any musical instruments?
Specifically, an old Selmer MKVI tenor sax and a three-year-old Yamaha Custom Z tenor, purchased as a backup horn.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Pick something other than magazine cartooning, at least until its future is determined. Animation might be a good way to go from the standpoint of getting a paycheck.

Who is your favorite artist?
There are too many of them to name. I can't really mention one without including them all. My preferences are pretty much all New Yorker cartoonists, past and present, living and dead, men and women.

Thanks again Mick!

Stephanie Piro, creator of the single panel comic, Fair Game and Saturday's Chick on the strip Six Chix, will be next.

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