Quick Draw: Sergio Aragones speaks about his legendary comic career

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Rae Zhuang/Courtesy

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After 75 years, things haven’t yet slowed down for the world’s fastest cartoonist.

Sergio Aragones, the legendary artist most famous for his work with long-running parody periodical MAD Magazine and the “Groo the Wanderer” comic book series, will be taking a break from his busy schedule to attend the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco this weekend.

This year marks Aragones’ fiftieth with MAD Magazine, where he has personalized every issue with his segment “A MAD Look at…” wherein an entire two-page spread is filled with a batch of Aragones’ latest comic strips pertaining to a unifying theme or concept.

Another hallmark of Aragones is his “Marginal” humor, a genre he dominates. Sprinkled throughout every issue of MAD, miniature sketched comics that rely solely on physical comedy can be seen scribbled in the page margins or clinging to text boxes.

For a man who works mostly in the two-dimensional universe, he is astonishingly complex. As a child, Aragones was forced to leave his home of Spain during the Spanish Civil War and live as a refugee first in Paris, and then eventually Mexico. The only thing consistent in an otherwise tumultuous life was his love for cartoons.

“I enjoyed humor of what I read and saw in the cartoons … movies and in the comic strips, and I realized that I had a knack to make silly comics from a very early age,” said Aragones. “I was doing humor because I never really studied art, and I didn’t know how to draw realistically.”

After college, Aragones decided to try his luck as an artist in New York, moving there with only  $20 to his name. It was during this colorful and hyperexpressive time of the 1960s when he finally began to get paid to do what he did best: articulate his unique, off-kilter vision for others to experience.

“Whatever images I saw, I wrote about. It was more of a creative outlet of what was in my head more than drawing like an artist, per se. I was more of a writer expressing myself on paper.”

Half a century later, he is still on his mission to show us what he sees: a place where men sport heavily rounded, robust noses, all women are accented with perfect, full lips and the environment is a Technicolor-splashed mishmash of scenery and satire. This is the world as seen by Sergio.

But creating this world is not easy.

At a time when information and entertainment are constantly pumped into the collective psyche, Aragones takes care to rely on his own imagination for inspiration. His writing process is a solitary journey, often taken while sitting at the marina near his home or somewhere quiet.

“I just sit there and think. I don’t listen to music … I listen to me, I listen to my brain. I tell myself stories,” he said.

This is a habit that’s served him well, earning him a prestigious reputation within the comic book world.

Aragones’ other work includes animation for the MAD television show, illustrations for “The Simpsons” comic book series, and various contributions to advertising campaigns.

He is also working on a new book series titled “Sergio Aragones Funnies,” his first autobiographical venture in which he recalls some of the more humorous moments of his life. This last project presents the challenge of working extensively with something not wholly familiar, Sergio Aragones the cartoon, complete with his trademark handlebar mustache.

This extensive body of work serves as the thumbprint for Aragones’ unique mind, but it would not exist if he’d yielded to the pressure of his parents to follow a more secure career path. Aragones recalled the trend of families in exile to push their kids onto the route of becoming architects or engineers. Although he might not realize it, when one looks at the complexities of his self-made cartoon universe, the skills required of a top-level engineer or architect do indeed seem present in vivid form.

“I’m still at it, you know, to try and get better. And what happens is when you’re growing up you look at a cartoonist and you go ‘Oh I want to draw like that,’ and then you see another cartoonist and you go, ‘Oh I want to draw like that,’- so slowly you change your drawings based on cartoonists that you like. Until you realize that you’re drawing your way and you like it better than any other people’s way. You stick to it and you grow into it.”

The style he stuck to has made him famous, putting the cartoonist in high demand wherever ink spills. If you manage to catch the quick draw at Alternative Press Expo, you’ll see an Aragones that is still going strong. Retirement? Never. Aragones is on a mission to bring to life the world inside his head, one panel at a time.

 

EVENT DETAILS:

What: ‘Spotlight on Sergio Aragones’ at the Alternative Press Expo 2012

When: Oct. 13

Where: Concourse Exhibition Center, San Francisco

Time: 1:45 p.m.

Other details: The Alternative Press Expo takes place Oct. 13 and 14 and showcases independent publishing with hundreds of exhibitors and various workshops and programs.

Contact Ryan at [email protected]

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