Tom Meade asks: I have read that many good cartoonists are manic depressive, but, from hearing you speak, and from reading things that you have said, it seems to me that you are a generally upbeat and happy person. Are there (or were there) ever times when you found it difficult or impossible to be funny or inspired, due to events in your life, or bouts of depression, and if so, would you please share your thoughts on this?
Sergio says: Well, Tom, I have been a very fortunate man. I had a happy childhood, a very normal adolescence, and a very fortunate career. The sad events that occur in my life are the sad events that happen to everybody with losing friends and family, but that is a natural occurrence, as natural as being born. When the sadness happens in the middle of work, I have learned to separate my personal grief from my trains of thought. Immersing myself in humor alleviates all pain and makes for a continuous deliverance of ideas.
Alexander Wilson asks: How does one (or I or me or me correcting someone else’s idiocy because he or she doesn’t know and I do or will once this question is answered) pronounce Sergio’s last name?
Sergio says: Sergio is pronounced with the “g” sounding somewhat like an “h.” And Aragonés means “born in Aragon” so you say “Aragon es…” with an accent on the “e.” In Mexico, as in Spain, we use both parents’ names so in Mexico, I am Sergio Aragonés Domenech. By the way, Domenech is Salvador Dali’s mother’s maiden name but as far as I know, we are not related.
Chris (no last name) asks: Concerning your art, have you ever or would you ever consider having an understudy/apprentice?
Sergio says: That would be an impossibility for many reasons. First, my artwork is totally a unit with my writing. It flows in a way that I couldn’t stop to assign anything to anybody. I also keep very weird hours. I never know when I’m going to get an idea. I live in a very small town and now that I’ve closed down my studio, I’m working at home. And my work, as you know, is so unorthodox that from one panel to the next, the drawings are completely different…totally opposed to the way of working in something like animation where every drawing has to look like the one before. So sorry but I think I have to do it all by myself.
Mario Gonzalez asks: ¿Cuanto tiempo paso desde que creo a Groo hasta el momento de su primera aparicion en un comic?
Sergio dice: Querido, Mario…cerca de diez años. Al final de los años sesentas trataba de entrar al mundo de los comics (en Mad entre en 1962). Pense varios personajes pero Groo fue el que quedó! Podria extenderme, pero Mark esta escribiendo esto en maquina! [Mario asked, “How much time passed from the time you created Groo to the moment of his first appearance in a comic? Sergio replied, “About ten years. At the end of the sixties, I was trying to enter the world of comics. I entered Mad in 1962. I thought of some different characters but Groo was the one that stayed. I could extend this but Mark is typing this in Spanish…” This is the last question we’re accepting in Spanish. — me]
Jim Brocius asks: Have you kept track of how many “marginals” you’ve done at Mad?
Sergio says: I wouldn’t know the exact number but if we do some mathematics, we can figure it out. They publish around ten every issue and I have been in every issue of Mad (except one) since #76. The current issue number is #428 so that works out to 351 issues or around 3,510 marginals, but actually I draw more. For every issue, I send four pages of finished marginals and they select the ones they need. I have 40 years of unpublished material, the ones they don’t pick, and the reason I don’t redraw them or use them again is that I like to use my brain every day and come up with new jokes. The brain is like a computer. It is a computer! I don’t know how it works but automatically I know when I’ve done a gag. Sometimes, it fails but generally I know that what I produce is new. Of course, they are often variations on the same subject, as you can see. Maybe when I’m old (older) and my brain doesn’t work correctly, I’ll start using the unpublished gags in my files. Meanwhile, count on me sitting in the coffee house, thinking up new material.
Ruben Arellano asks: Everyone is always impressed at how fast you can draw a gag or strip cartoon. But what I’d like to know is what is actually going on in your head while you’re drawing the gag at lightning speed. Do you have to consciously think about what you are drawing, or does it happen in a sort of autonomous way?
Sergio says: It’s both. If the gag is complicated, you spend more time thinking about the way you’re drawing it. Sometimes, an idea comes in for another gag while you’re inking one, and what I do is to make a note on a separate piece of paper. When you’re drawing comics, you get very involved in how the story is going to develop and you spend more time daydreaming on that particular subject. Some other times, you start with the drawing and then the gag comes to you in the middle of it. That is when you start working on the solution of the gag, which is composition, placing, equilibrium, and character design. All of that comes almost automatically because I’ve been doing it for almost 50 years.
Larry Steller asks: We know that you do a lot of research for your artwork, and that you often combine sources to come up with a unique, signature design that looks workable. What was the most challenging and/or time-consuming single piece of research you recall doing for artistic reference?
Sergio says: Research takes a great percentage of my time. For my “MAD Look At…” articles, I have a few weeks to read about the specific topic. For instance, I just did a piece about videogames and I went to shops that specialized in them and I had the enormous help of Kirby Shaw, who spent a long time after his homework showing me all his video games, what’s popular, how to play them, etc. For the graphics, I looked at the magazines and advertisements. Every month, the same process gets repeated with a different subject. For the comics, it’s different. Once the story is all solved, I immerse myself in National Geographics and memories of my travels to give the characters the proper backgrounds that at the same time is different and appealing to the reader. Weapons take a long time, as do crafts and architecture. The greatest amount of research goes into stories involving known characters, such as the Star Wars projects I’ve done, or when Mark wrote Sergio Destroys DC and Sergio Massacres Marvel. I had to go through so many comic books in order to faithfully reproduce the characters.
Matt Hansel asks: Does Sergio ink with only a fountain pen?
Sergio says: Yes, except for the marginal cartoons for Mad, which I do with a Rapid-o-Graph technical pen. Since those are reduced so much, I want to keep the line clearer so the drawing will read. But everything else is done with a Pelikan fountain pen which I fill with Badger brand non-acrylic black ink. Once in a while, I use a brush to fill up large black areas.
Tyler Sticka asks: In your work, I’ve noticed that you blend simple character expressions and actions smoothly with elaborate crowd scenes and architecture. Is there ever any difficulty in making sure the elaborate does not overpower the spontaneous, and vice-versa?
Sergio says: Not when done judiciously and only when needed. In comics, like in movies, your experience allows you to know how to separate close-ups from long-shots that are generally to indicate place and location. Once you’ve established where you are, you go to the character and elaborate on expressions and action. Architecture presents a special challenge. I have tried to change locales and different ambiances in each comic but after 150+ issues of Groo, places wind up being repeated. My best sources are my travels and my collection of National Geographic.