‘What, Me Worry?’

Celebrated illustrator Tom Richmond on growing up on a steady diet of comic books and working with his heroes, The Usual Gang of Idiots.

Written by Shantanu David | Published: December 10, 2016 12:13 am
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Growing up in the “land of 10, 000 lakes” or, more prosaically, Minnesota, Tom Richmond spent his childhood poring over comics (when he wasn’t jumping into one of the lakes). He followed the usual trajectory, starting with Harvey Comics, which published PG-friendly titles, such as Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich, before moving into the twisted lanes and alleys of Gotham City and Metropolis, illustrated in both pop and sepia tones, as he followed the exploits of Batman and Superman.

Around this time, he discovered MAD magazine, the iconic and iconoclastic magazine that catered to strictly adult sensibilities with its irreverent and occasionally risque parodies of popular culture. “The kind of work legendary illustrators such as Sergi Aragonés, Jack Davis and Mort Drucker did, layering the already hilarious scripts with visual gags and adding to the humour is something that really influenced my work,” says Richmond, 50, who is chief guest at the Alto Delhi Comic Con.

Richmond, who knew he wanted to be an artist as soon as he learned people have to work for a living, ended up working with his childhood heroes. Like Batman and Dr Strange, he had many years of work to go before he reached there. “I was doing caricatures at an amusement park for a summer job while I was in art school, and just fell in love with it. That’s when I realised that this was the medium I wanted to work in,” he says.

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He started managing caricaturist stalls in different theme parks while sending his work to NOW Comics for a comic based on a TV show, Married… With Children, and Marvel Comics’ Coneheads, based on the cult Dan Aykroyd film. In 2000, he got a chance to work with MAD, eventually joining The Usual Gang of Idiots, a collective of long-time illustrators and writers of the magazine that included all of Richmond’s idols. It was a dream come true, and Richmond hasn’t dared pinch himself yet.

“Ninety per cent of the work” he does for MAD is illustrating their parodies of TV shows and movies. He has worked on titles such as Sad Men (Mad Men), Muddled Family (Modern Family) and Two Defective (True Detective) as well as franchises such as Scavengers (Avengers) and The Hunger Pains (The Hunger Games). “The most recent movie I did was for last month’s issue, Silly, based on Tom Hanks’ Sully, which was a lot of fun,” says Richmond, who enjoys adding his own visual puns and side gags to the comics.

He has worked on some covers for the magazine, which traditionally feature mascot Alfred E Neuman dressed up as a main character from that issue’s parodied movie or show. Neuman is known for the signature gap in his teeth and his catchphrase, “What, me worry?” While at the Delhi Comic Con, Richmond drew a poster of Neuman featured as Rajinikanth, which will sell exclusively at the convention.

Richmond certainly isn’t worried, saying the future of graphic novels has never looked brighter. “Thanks to the advent of the superhero movies I think comics have never been more relevant. They’re introducing whole new generations to the medium and that’s something to celebrate,” he says. Richmond himself has been celebrated a number of times, having been named Caricaturist of the Year twice (1998 and 1999) by the National Caricaturist Network as well as Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 2012, a title previously bestowed on luminaries such as Charles Schulz (Peanuts), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and fellow idiots Drucker and Davis.

He got to realise another childhood dream when he got to draw the cover for an issue of Detective magazine, known for first introducing Batman to audiences way back in 1939. Drawing a whole Batman comic is the one item left to be checked on his bucket list. When he isn’t drawing other people Richmond pays attention to his own outlines. He is an amateur bodybuilder in his spare time. He also likes spending his days in Minnesota with his wife and kids. Whether he still jumps into lakes remains a mystery.

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