Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat With Mike Shapiro
Gag cartoonist Mike Shapiro is another local artist I was unfamiliar with until he dropped me a line. He writes on his blog: "My work has been appearing in [the Wall Street Journal's] Pepper & Salt feature for over 20 years. The cartoons in the WSJ tend to have a business slant and usually no political component. That's a good thing because as someone who tends to lean to the left I'd probably be a bad fit for them if politics were an issue." He also does caricatures for hire, which is a tough field. Shapiro's studied with some of the greats in the field, and I was glad to learn about his work.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Mike Shapiro: My primary gig is doing gag cartoons for magazines, etc. I also do caricatures at events around town. I worked in animation for a few years in the '80s.
WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer, or a combination?
MS: I do my line work the traditional way. I use a Pigma Micron. When I started out I used nibs and ink. I color my work on the computer.
MS: I was born in '62 in New York City and grew up on Long Island.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
MS: I moved down from N.Y. about 13 years ago. I needed a place to live, a buddy needed a roommate, so I threw all my stuff in my car and moved down. I ended up getting married and settling in. My wife and I own a home in Palisades. It's a great neighborhood.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
MS: I went to The Joe Kubert School and studied animation. At the time the great Milt Neil was running the program. Before that I took Mort Gerberg's well-known magazine cartooning class at Parsons. Around that time I also took a class from Paul Peter Porges at The New School. Finally, after I got out of school, I was fortunate to work as an assistant to Sy Barry on "The Phantom" for about six years. Sy taught me a lot about being a professional, meeting deadlines, and in general helped me improve my work. He's a great guy and a great artist.
WCP: Who are your influences?
MS: I think I kind of soaked up the work of a lot of different artists. All of whom were/are better artists than me. When I was younger I spent a lot of time pondering the work of Gilbert Shelton, Jeff MacNelly (and many other editorial cartoonists), and Charles Saxon (along with a ton of other great New Yorker cartoonists). I also was a fan of comic strips: Trudeau, Watterson, Breathed, etc.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
MS: I regret not trying to get work writing sitcoms when I was younger. Artwise, I should have pushed harder for a syndicated strip. I came pretty close but never made the cut.
MS: Business cartoons. My work has appeared in most publications that carry them. Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Harvard Business Review, etc. I currently have a gig doing cartoons for The Washington Post's Capital Business. Not a subscriber? What are you waiting for?
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
MS: I'm sort of proud of just hanging in and being considered a pro. Editors and art directors rarely threaten my with restraining orders when I call.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
MS: I have a few children's books written. I need to move forward with trying to get them published.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
MS: Sometimes it's tough getting in the zone. I might try to look at the work of others who inspire me or maybe I'll read the newspaper for a while. I also sometimes look through my own work. Just plowing ahead can sometimes work,too. Writer's block, for me, anyway, isn't really an inability to com e up with stuff. It's an inability to come up with stuff that I don't think is awful. So, if I agree to just write an hour's worth of terrible stuff, while ignoring thoughts of how I've exceeded this lifetime's allotment for for original thoughts, usually I'll just pop out of whatever rut I'm in. If all else fails I'll try again later.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
MS: Well, the publishing biz is of course evolving. It's hard to tell what's around the bend but hopefully there will always be a place in the culture for cartoons. The decline of print publications doesn't bode well, but there are plenty of opportunities on the Internet that didn't exist 10 years ago.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
MS: There are a lot of really interesting smart people milling about. I also like the size of it. Not too big, not too small.
WCP: Least favorite?
WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?
MS: It really depends on the guest. I try to take my kids to the museums with the hope of getting them interested at an early age. The key with young kids is get in, and get out, while they're still smiling. It's harder than it seems.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?