Tuesday, December 07, 2010


If you like to draw caricatures then hold your hat, because this blog will be one of the most important that you're likely to read this year...well, this week, anyway. We'll discuss a wonderful Japanese caricaturist, Tomokazu Tabata, and we'll investigate how he manages to draw drastic portraits without offending people. 

In the previous post commenters EZ, Jennifer and Pappy remarked that some of the recipients of Aaron's caricatures didn't seem too happy about them. The guy above is an example.  Why the sour face? The caricature was a good one; he should have been delighted. Aaron must have felt pretty bad.

My first reaction was that Asians must react negatively to caricatures that give them linear eyes. They don't think of themselves that way, and maybe they're insulted by it.

But Tomo, who's Asian himself, routinely draws linear eyes and Asian subjects love it. What gives? How come they accept it from him, and not from Aaron?

I thought about this all morning, then the answer hit me. People accept it from Tomo because his drawings are so doggone happy and cartoony.  His desire is not to humiliate his subjects infront of a crowd, but to bring them into the cartoon world where everybody looks goofy. His purpose is to glorify cartooning. 

Contrast that with this portrait of an American kid who's slightly wall-eyed.  Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to do it this way. It's realistic enough to suggest that the kid actually has a serious deformity. It's bound to make the kid self-conscious about his eyes.

Look at how Tomo handles a similar problem.  The guy in the upper left is handsome, but he's also a bit chunky. An unsympathetic artist could shred him, but Tomo chooses instead to bring him into the world of stylized cartoons where everybody is distorted. The finished drawing of the guy pulls no punches, yet it still succeeds in having a good-time feel.

This (above) is a terrific picture. It's also philosophical. The value of remembering moments of happiness can't be over-estimated. Remembering those gives us hope that good times are ahead. and in moments of solitary depression, reminds us of the importance of being with friends.

Never pass up the opportunity to be drawn by a first-rate caricaturist. it's always worth the money.

A happy kid (above), with a happy portrait. I suspect that downright gloomy portraits would succeed too, provided the gloom was funny and cartoony. Portraits like that are also happy, just in a different way. It's Tomo's simplicity and directness that sells the picture. 

That approach even works when you pile on a lot of detail (above).  This picture was done by Sakiko Ushiodo.

Tomo also sculpts. Wouldn't it be great to have a sculptured caricature done in his style? It would cost, though. You can't sculpt as quickly as you can draw.

So, have I abandoned Aaron (the two pictures above) for Tomo? No, not at all.

 I like them both for different reasons. Aaron's more grotesque than Tomo, but his best work is so outrageous that it elicits involuntary laughter, and that's the gold standard for caricature. 


thomas said...

Don't like Tomo's drawings that much. As caricatures their kind of generic and don't really tell me anything about the subject. They have a graphic impact, but somethings missing. And some of the stylizing of facial features just seems gratuitous.I don't get the same kind of amusement seeing drawing and subject side by side as with Aaron's.

So there!... (raspberry sound)

I kid, i kid

Steven M. said...

Wow, your on a caricature ball, Eddie!

Aaronphilby said...

Yeah!! Tomo's the best!!! Myself and everybody I know are big big fans.

Jubhubmubfub said...

I love both of their work. And Satsu's also, the one you posted after Tomo's sculptures.

Rossco said...

That Happy Kid drawing is great! The gummy buck teeth are especially nice.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jub: Thanks! Did you mean to say that Satsu did the picture of the girl at the very end? I think the one of the big-lipped guy above that is Aaron's.

Thomas: The ability to make happy pictures is a rare skill. It's a hard a hard emotion to capture in a pure and sincere form.

thomas said...

That's a good point!! And I think they are successful in that,


Brubaker said...

It's Tabata, not Tasata.

Still, great works from Japan. I wonder if he was influenced by Japanese cartoonist Fujio Akatsuka. He did alot of cartoony stuff and was a big influence on me as a child while living in Japan (used to read his "Bakabon the Idiot Genius" comics)

Martinus said...

Tomo is my all time favourite caricaturist! I think he is a genius. I've been drawn by him, and I think he has some kind of amazing instinctual talent for capturing likeness. Most of his drawings seem like they shouldn't be likenesses but they always are.
I think your analysis is spot on. When I draw caricatures, especially when drawing them live, my style is more serious than Tomo's and when someone doesn't ssmile, or even pulls a grumpy face it looks dreadful, but if done in a grumpy, but cartoony way it would look much better.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Brubaker: Thanks much for the reference to Akatsuka! I looked him up and really enjoyed what I saw.

Martinus: You were drawn by him several times? I'm envious! I wonder what medium he uses to color the faces. If it's marker then how does he get a flat color without the strokes showing?

Anonymous said...

How come they accept it from him, and not from Aaron?

Keep in mind that Asian is a term that encompasses a huge variation of people. If Tomo works in Asia and Aaron works in the States, it makes sense that the reactions they get would differ. Their respective audiences likely not only have differing senses of identity, but are also living within different visual communication cultures with unique histories.

By the way, Tomo rocks!

Ben W said...

Ahahahaha, the hipster couple and the old man sculpture really killed me.

yawn said...

I like both Tomo's work and Aaron's work as well. But I still like Aaron's just a little bit more.

Martinus said...

You can see the painting he did of me here: http://martinus-drawn.blogspot.com/
I think he uses watercolour in powder form. I would love to see him working live.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Martinus: Wow! You done by several caricaturists...it's fascinating to see how they all approach it differently. Tomo's was extremely interesting. Many thanks for the link!

I never heard of powdered watercolor. I wish I could see it used.

Brian O. said...

The work reminds me of an asian-caricaturist version of Peter Bagge.