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Reynolds: Walk us through your process in caricaturing someone. You must use some photo reference. Are your caricatures composites from photographs? Do you find the ability to capture someone's likeness is a struggle that you have to work through, or is it simply an inherent talent?
Friedman: I'm not really a "caricaturist" in the classic sense, as far as exaggerating features for the sake of exaggerating features or going just for laughs. I'm more of a "situational" artist, at least that's what I've been called by some. I think what I do is closer to what R. Crumb does when he creates a likeness of, say, an old time blues musician (not that I would compare myself to Crumb). That is, use SLIGHT exaggeration, distortion, using the photo ref as a starting off point, maintaining your particular "style," and hopefully creating something a photo couldn't. I DO rely on (good) photo reference, and I have a pretty large clipping file I've collected over the years. A good example of my "working process" would be to talk about the Milton Berle cover to the first OLD JEWISH COMEDIANS. I had clipped that little photo of "Uncle" Milty maybe 25 years ago from (maybe) PEOPLE. In the photo, he's lighting his cigar and looking off to the side a bit. I'd always kept that photo, and that particular expression in the back of my mind, waiting for the right moment to use it for something. When I decided to do the first book, I knew I wanted Berle on the cover, and I knew that would be the perfect face. But I wanted him to be pointing at the reader, almost DARING them to buy the book. I had seen Berle over the years on TV always getting up in people's faces and jabbing his finger at them! That's what I wanted to capture. So my challenge was transforming that little B+W photo into that large color image, and, of course, adding all the liver spots as well. You see the results.
Reynolds: I would agree that you are not a caricaturist in the classic sense, but you're not quite a portrait artist, either. "Satirist"? Or simply "cartoonist"? Does it matter? In the Old Jewish Comedians books, there's clearly an affection for your subjects that would seem to be at odds with with the goals of satire or caricature, but it also transcends traditional, photo-realistic portraiture. Even Crumb is a bit more rooted in naturalism in his portraits of blues musicians, I would say. Would you agree?
Friedman: I don't think it really does matter too much. I've tried not to be "labeled' as a cartoonist or illustrator. Probably something in between, but I'm not sure how to define it. With the portraits for OJC, I want them to work as humor but also get to people react (hopefully) emotionally, as I really have a lot of respect and even love for most of the subjects. I hope that comes through, even with the liver spots. My "style" or at least the portraits in the OJC books I suppose evolved over the last 2 decades, beginning with that intense "stipple" work, and gradually "mellowing" into the current work, if that makes sense. One thing for sure, my next project won't involve Jews or comedians. Time to move on.