When artist Tom Richmond caricatures a famous person, he doesn’t think about their beautiful eyes or striking dimples. He thinks about what he can exaggerate. For the late Sammy Davis Jr., it’s his left eye, which the performer lost in a near-fatal car accident.
“He’s got a pronounced underbite and jutting-out chin and a nose that’s very flat — it’s almost like he ran into a window,” said Richmond. “He’s got that lazy eye, an [artificial] eye, so he’s got kind of a cross-eyed look.”
For more than 30 years, the Burnsville-based caricaturist and illustrator has reveled in sizing up familiar, famous faces. He satirizes pop culture for Mad Magazine, a gig he’s had since 1999, and has drawn for the Cartoon Network and Marvel Comics, as well.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his upcoming ComicCon appearances in Anaheim and San Diego got canceled. Then a fan reached out, asking Richmond if he’d be willing to do a daily caricature exercise with people via social media. He would pick a subject to caricature, draw it himself, and then ask others to do the same.
For the past month, Richmond and his fans have been posting like mad to the Facebook group Tom’s Daily Coronacature! and on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #tomsdailycoronacature. On Twitter, a square-chinned Jimmy Fallon floats in a post above a wide-eyed Lucille Ball. The images are public, so anyone can scroll through and get a fun virtual art show from home.
Mad halted newsstand distribution last summer, but the famous humor magazine is still available in comic book stores, via mail subscription or as digital downloads. The content is about 80% classic reprints, and 20% new work. Richmond still produces work for every issue, but where he used to do a five- to seven-page parody of a movie or TV show, now he does a two-page gag feature or the like.
Richmond has been a fan of Mad since fourth grade. So he kept pitching until he broke into Mad’s notorious “gang of idiots,” thanks to his color work.
He became known at Mad for his pop culture parodies. One of his favorites is of “Mad Men,” the 1960s TV drama that centers around Don Draper, a handsome, powerful ad man with a dark past.
Titled “Sad Men,” the parody opens with a two-page spread portraying the show’s cast as their worst selves. Draper gets the pathetic-sounding name of Dom Dripper. In true caricature form, Richmond enlarges his chin, tightens his face and exposes the ridiculousness of his playboy, future #metoo ways.
The show’s creator, Matthew Weiner contacted him about the parody, and ended up getting the whole cast to sign that splash page for Richmond.
As a kid, he had a knack for drawing goofy pictures of his friends, family and teachers. The word “caricature” wasn’t in his vocabulary until college, when he got a summer job drawing live portraits at Six Flags Great America outside Chicago.
“I realized that I’d been doing caricatures all along, but now I had a name for it,” he said. “By accident, it became a real focus for the professional work.”
He honed his craft doing live caricatures in five to 10 minutes.
“You don’t have time to sketch or overanalyze,” he said. “You look at the subject and go for it.”
He also met his future wife, Anna, during those college years; they have four kids. After a two-year stint as a manager at Six Flags Atlanta, the couple moved back to Minnesota. He rolled out his own caricature operation at the then-new Mall of America and at Valleyfair amusement park in Shakopee.
Because of the pandemic, he might not be at Valleyfair this summer for what would be his 30th season there, but the memories he’s made will live on.
“I remember drawing the same family every year from when their kids were little tiny babies to graduating from high school,” he said. “They had probably 18 to 20 caricatures that I did, and they said they lined them up in their rec room downstairs and watched their kids grow up in cartoon.”