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Summer Edition
Volume 98, Number 1


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Cartoons and community

Artist Scott Trobaugh discusses the evolution of the "Community: Living with Freaks" feature

In each issue of The Bridge, we try to include features that engage the mind of the reader, drawing from themes key to the mission and overall purpose of Messiah College. In this issue, we include an excerpt from the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. The excerpt—entitled “Community: Living with Freaks”—addresses the challenges and benefits found in living with others. As in the development of all of our features, the editor and designer attempted to integrate the content with the graphic design.

Student writer Devin Thomas ’09 sat down with Scott Trobaugh—illustrator of the “Community: Living with Freaks” feature and graphic designer at Messiah College—to discuss the evolution of the feature and the art of drawing caricatures.

Thomas:

I believe the idea to include caricatures with this feature came from Rebecca (Becky) Ebersole Kasparek ’96, the editor of The Bridge magazine. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about, and how the two of you collaborated on this feature?

Trobaugh:

I’ve always wanted to do illustration, always wanted to work that into any design job that I had, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to do that. The idea for the feature stemmed from a poster I did for [the Department of Theatre performance of] the show Noises Off here on campus. I had looked at a number of earlier posters for that show, and rather than trying to find the original artwork for the show—which, I think, was done back in the 1970s when that play was originally written—I decided to do my own take on it. And I got a lot of really good feedback from that.

Becky saw those posters and thought that that kind of artwork would really fit with Blue Like Jazz, so her idea provided me with an opportunity to incorporate my interest in illustration into the feature, and that was a great experience.

We talked about the fact that this was a different kind of feature—typically, we have something that is written either by our writers or by a freelance writer, but in this case we had an excerpt from a book. The excerpt that we chose was something tongue-in-cheek and fun, but still carried with it some significant truths—I was amazed by the book and the way that Donald Miller [the author of Blue Like Jazz] was able to do that.

So we wanted to do something with a bit of a lighter approach, but in the overall design, though, I still wanted it to have some gravity, and that’s why I chose the image of the hands holding the house. I really thought that that image balanced the weightiness of what Miller had gone through.

Even for just the caricature that you drew of me, you did two different versions—very different versions. What led you to draw two different versions? Were you trying to capture a different physical feature in each one, or was it something else?

Devin Thomas '09 as a cartoon

Devin Thomas '09

Actually, out of the caricatures I drew for this feature, yours was unique for a few reasons. You were the one, of the four people, that I had spent the most time in your presence. I know how you dress, I know your personality and all these little aspects of it—so a lot of that just came out in the drawing. As I was drawing, I didn’t actually use a photo of you—I just drew you from memory—and of course I got a few things right, and a few things wrong.

I did, maybe, four or five sketches altogether, but from the first sketch the one thing I knew I was going to do was to stylize your hair, because your hair is—obviously—one of your most prominent features. [laughs] From quite a distance, actually. [laughs] So I had this idea in my head: I knew I was going to do your hair in these little cinnamon bun-like, stylized curls—that’s just what hit me when I was working on your drawing, so that stayed consistent. The other things—the shape of your glasses, the shape of your nose—were adjusted as I observed you in the office.

How do you capture the essence of the person you are drawing in a caricature?

Actually, that’s a very interesting question. Artists have worked hard on figuring out ways to do that for years. I’ve studied a number of different ways to do that, read a number of books on caricature and portraiture and that kind of thing, and it’s something that I still personally struggle with a lot. Other people might look at something that I’ve drawn and say, “Oh, that looks pretty good,” but I’m comparing it against all the work of all the other caricature artists I’ve ever looked at, and so—by comparison—mine aren’t very good, to me.

Of course, there are scientific ways you can look at it—like, the size of the nose in proportion to the size of the eyes, or the size of the eyes in proportion to the rest of the face. Everybody’s different; nobody is that “perfect archetype,” so as you look at other people you can see how their features are out of that perceived “balance.” That’s what gives somebody a certain characteristic.

One of the things that really helps me is seeing the person live, because people exude something, and I think about them and their personality as I’m drawing. I think that just comes from drawing a lot and talking to a lot of people.

How did you learn to draw caricatures?

I read a lot of MAD magazine as a kid, and a lot of the best caricature artists in history have worked for that magazine, so I look at a lot of that kind of work. Guys like Mort Drucker and Tom Richmond—I just try to study what they do and look at how they render things.

Another really amazing caricature artist is Al Herschfeld—you’ve probably seen his work even if the name doesn’t ring a bell. He did a lot of stuff for the New York Times. He had a very linear style, and in just two or three lines could capture a likeness. He was really a master at what he did.

But you have to develop your own style. So I’ve looked at a lot of different things—different kinds of artwork that I like, spanning the last hundred years or so of popular culture—and I’ve learned different things from different artists, so it becomes this kind of amalgam of everything I’ve ever been interested in.

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