Interview with Daniel Shelton – Creator of all Quebec MAD Covers

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Daniel Shelton – Most important artist of the French Canadian MAD series

Daniel was without doubt the most important artist of the French Canadian MAD magazine series. He was responsible for all 12 covers and his artwork can also be found in the satire magazine ‘Croc’.

Quebec MAD #6 with original artwork
Quebec MAD #6 with original artwork

Can you please tell me something about you and your artist career?

I have been an illustrator and comic strip artist for the past thirty years. I have worked in a variety of styles and for a wide range of clients over these many years. Although I now mostly devote my time to my daily comic strip BEN, my work has been published in several magazines, books and advertisings . I have been doing BEN for 18 years now and it is published across Canada in both French and English. Twelve  BEN collection books have also been published so far.

How is the popularity of the MAD magazine in the French speaking part of Canada?

MAD is a well-known magazine and brand here in its original english/american version. Growing up in a bilingual household, I was made aware of it very early on and was immediately hooked. The appeal was that it was something you were NOT supposed to read :) . The french version did not last very long so it never did get a chance to gain the same following. I think if it had been given more time, it may have survived much longer. There is a good appetite here for humour in general, whether in magazines or on t.v. and it just needed for an audience to discover it in french. The conditions for its survival were unfortunately not very conducive to its succeeding.

I’m pretty sure the US MAD was available almost everywhere in the French speaking part of Canada. So, what was the initial idea behind the Quebec MAD edition?

You are right, the original version could be found everywhere. But just as t.v. shows or movies are translated for the majority french speaking population, so was the magazine. The publisher of a popular humour magazine here called CROC licensed the rights to a french version of MAD. Being that its readership was mostly adult,  and using already existing resources,  CROC wanted to reach another segment of potential readers through MAD.

French Canadian Satire Magazine 'Croc'
French Canadian Satire Magazine ‘Croc’

What kind of comic was the Croc magazine? Was is comparable to the MAD magazine or something different?

The content was definitely aimed at an older audience than that of MADs and its content did not feature as much illustration work or comics. It contained a lot of text/articles and photos.

You drew all covers of the Quebec MAD magazine (12 issues). Did you have any other tasks at the Quebec MAD magazine?

I was the cover artist. Although I did other work for CROC, as well as for another magazine by the same publisher (ANORMAL), my contribution to MAD was limited to only the covers. I actually did 13, the last one never seeing print. A fellow cartoonist by the name of Serge Gaboury did a few pages per issue, but most of the content was translated MAD material.

Many MAD collectors really like the artwork of the Quebec MAD covers. How did you plan the covers? Any guidelines to follow or the realization of your own ideas?

I really enjoyed doing those covers as it had special meaning to me because I was such  a big fan of the original magazine growing up. Here I was, drawing Alfred E. Newman after all!  Although some of the covers were suggested concepts, most of the cover ideas were mine. I had plenty of creative freedom. I would come up with 2 or 3 small thumbnail ideas and run them by the publisher. He’d pick one which I would do up in a tight sketch form. I used a lot of reference in the process and took  polaroid pictures or otherwise to achieve the semi-realistic style associated with the usual MAD covers. Once the final sketch was approved, I would transfer it to an illustration board and render the colours with acrylic paint. 

How many people were creating the Quebec MAD? Did you just translate the US humour or tried to adapt this type of humour for the French Canadian readers?

Most of the content was reprinted and translated material from the original MAD. So not too many people were involved. I believe only two artists contributed original work to this version, including myself. The translation were assigned to writers from CROC I believe. And most things that are translated here are adapted to include local references, expressions and culture.

The Quebec MAD was a very short-lived MAD edition. Why did it stop publishing after only 12 issues?

It came down to money. The faith of the Quebec MAD is linked to that of CROC, its parent magazine. At that time, CROC’s readership was progressively getting smaller. In response to this, the publisher took a risk and launched MAD in french as well as another  humour magazine aimed at a younger audience. The financial stress was too much and all three magazines folded within a couple of years of each other. Especially sad, because CROC had been around for over twenty years and helped to launch and sustain the careers of many artists and writers here in Quebec.

This could be interesting for the hardcore MAD collector: Is it for sure that only 12 Quebec issues were published? No additional specials, books or other merchandise?

That’s right, twelve published issues. But I still have the original 13th cover. It’s actually one of my favourites.

Cover artwork by Daniel Shelton for the unpublished Quebec MAD #13
Cover artwork by Daniel Shelton for the unpublished Quebec MAD #13

Did you meet any of the Usual Gang of Idiots?

On one of my trips to New York, I made an appointment to meet the managing editor of the magazine at that time t show him my work. I went up to the MAD office and stayed for about an hour. At one point, Angelo Torres stopped in so I did meet him. Apart from that, I still have a Don Martin sketch which he sent to me when I was about twelve. I worshipped Don’s work and wrote him a letter to let him know . He sent back this wonderful little sketch of two birds playing charades. Almost forty years later, I still don’t know what the heck these two birds are saying to each other!

A big thank you to Daniel Shelton for this interview!

 

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