Marlo Meekins: Caricature as Character
Marlo Meekins is a legendary creature: the continuously and gainfully employed artist, illustrator, and cartoonist who’s worked on everything you love, but you still somehow haven’t heard of. Unless you’re into illustrators on Tumblr of course, in which case it’s hard to miss her distinctive line.
Hailing from the cluster of suburbs on the New Jersey side of Philadelphia, Meekins wanted to learn animation in college, but settled for illustration and design. That turned out not to be settling at all, as the discipline obviously informs her work and creative life. After school, she went right to regular illustration and character design for the studios, taught drawing and cartooning, and entered the world of competitive caricature. In 2009 she was named Caricaturist of the Year by the International Society of Caricature Artists.
Meekins spent a hot second working on The Simpsons but dropped the gig to join John Kricfalusi at Spumco, where she met her husband, director Nick Cross. Since then, she’s been contracted on all kinds of developing shows (including one for Disney), while still omnivorously teaching, drawing, and posting her work online.
What does it mean to be a “character/concept teacher”?
I teach college-level animation majors. I’m teaching concept art courses and illustration at Durham College near Toronto, which has a great animation program. I mostly teach design and drawing through character design and concept art projects. I only teach part time, a few classes a week, and freelance and do my own projects. I have also been doing talks on drawing and style at colleges and festivals.
You also work on a various shows in development. What’s that like?
Unfortunately I am not able to post any of this work, and many of the shows don’t get picked up. However, it’s still paid work and I enjoy it. The problem with working in development is that it’s so private, and I’m a really social person, an extrovert … I like to sort of perform and show off my drawings (which comes from doing live caricature I guess). Doing my comics is a way to reach out to my friends … I originally thought only my friends would see my comics, but they really took off!
How did you end up teaching?
I am a natural teacher. I believe the best thing to give during a developmental stage is positive encouragement, which is evident in my inspirational comics. Teaching is always something I will do, at least on the side.
You have a distinctive visual style that varies between cartoon-representational and caricature; have you always varied like that depending on subject, or was it something you grew into?
Caricature is my true passion (besides humor in general), so I’d say caricature is really my true calling. My comics on my Tumblr are less formal — something I do for fun just to tell stories and jokes. I never made a film, but I am a huge fan of animation, and I hope to stay working in animation for a while.
You also paint. What inspires you there, versus your drawings?
I enjoy painting a lot … at least the results. It takes a really really long time since I like to render and use oils, so it can be pretty boring and unchallenging. I actually have a whole pile of huge paintings that I haven’t posted and have been saving for a gallery show coming up. Some of my paintings took years to complete … ugh. I prefer a quicker result, and I think my best work is completed loosely and through emotion. Which is why I prefer watercolors as apposed to oils.
Who are your stylistic influences?
John Kricfalusi is probably my biggest influence … maybe not his exact drawing style, but definitely all the theories and methods he taught me over the years. Like most creator types, I’m influenced by a lot of artists. Other caricature artists — Al Hirschfeld, Dr. Seuss. I’m influenced a lot by life.
What’s your personal workspace like?
Oh god. I have a really nice studio space, but I always end up working in the dining room or on the couch. I have another room filled with piles of drawings and a light kit set up for photographing my work. I don’t scan my work … takes too long. I just photograph it all on an SLR camera.
What interferes with your ability to create, and how do you overcome it?
Lack of confidence always gets in the way, which is super irritating and horrible. I think we all deal with it. I yell at my brain to shut the fuck up, that I’m awesome, and I’m going to draw something good.
What drew you to start posting work on Tumblr, and how do you feel about the reception you’ve gotten there?
I started posting on Tumblr because it is currently the most popular blog? I started posting comics because I was influenced by my friend Kate Beaton (she’s great, obviously). For some reason I thought a comic needed to be really long and overworked? I saw a Katie comic on Twitter about her dad offering her Raisin Bran, and she goes into the kitchen and there’s only a bunch of Corn Flakes boxes. The comic was so hilarious and expressive, but really short, so I thought I’d actually start posting my short comics. I never posted my one-panel comics before; I’d been doing them for years, but never thought they were worth posting. But Tumblr is perfect for those (since everything is small or short on there).
Why did you stop doing bento portraits?
Those things take forever, like hours and hours … And I have not had a lot of time lately. I would like to start making them again, though! I thought about doing a comic out of food, but it would probably go bad before I finished it.
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