Adding the Luscious Curves: Interview with Playboy Cartoonist Doug Sneyd

GameStop, Inc.

I see a lot of art at conventions, everything from fanart to high quality thumbnails to fantastic original works.  Many of the styles start to blur together after viewing all in one place.  It’s also helped me develop my personal tastes and how to appreciate talent.  I visited one convention after a long night of reading shonen manga.  If you are familiar with that genre, then you’re well aware of the spikes, edgy lines, and action panels.  It was too much for my cynical mind to take, but that evaporated when I wandered by Doug Sneyd’s booth and saw a gorgeous Wonder Woman with curves.  I couldn’t pass by without talking to him, so this is our conversation.1-P1030084

WG: How did you get started in art and what mediums did you first experiment with?

DS: I supposed my first serious effort was made when I enrolled in the Famous Artist  correspondence course.  My parents had seven kids, so they couldn’t afford to send me to art school.  The correspondence course taught me many things about art and I completed three-fourths of it when I decided to quit, hit the road, and sell murals as a freelance artist.  Around that time I was in high school and I had bought a Norman Rockwell book.  It described in great detail how he created a Saturday Evening Post cover.  I followed the instructions and painted a curling scene (a sport popular in Canada) on a large canvas.  I took it to MacClean’s Magazine believing they would want it for a cover.  The editor liked it, but he wanted me to do something more appropriate for the magazine.  I painted a group of poor people from the Ozarks and he loved it, but the deadline was too close for me and I messed it up.

After that, I painted murals in pubs, factories, and restaurants.  Eventually when I got tired of that I moved to Montreal and met the artist Franklin Arbuckle.  He helped set me up with a job at the art studio Rapid Grip, Batten.  It was the largest studio in North America with fifty artists and I was there as a “go boy” doing some illustrations for a year and a half.  I then moved to Toronto and got a job at the small Mercer Studio.  We mostly did work for the big department stores, doing watercolor-wash drawings of products.  I hated it, but it helped me later in life with my work in Playboy.

WG: You must have had some inborn talent to have made it this far.

DS: That’s a basic ingredient in this industry.  If you don’t have the talent, focus on something else, like accounting.

WG: Charles Schulz did a correspondence course as well.  Being in the same trade, did you two ever cross paths?

DS: Yes, back in 1972 I was in Montreal to judge an exhibit of cartoons.  Sparky (Schulz’s nickname), a few guys from Europe, and me were judges.  For three days we went over these cartoons and selected what we thought was the winner.  My late wife Shirley spent a lot of time with the Schulz family during our stay in Montreal.  Later, we visited them in Santa Rosa, California after they had just built their new home.  I remember asking him what instructions he gave the architect and Sparky replied, “I just told him to make me a nice house.”  That was typical of him.

WG: What happened to you after you started working at Mercer Studios?

DS: While I was still at Mercer, I was only making $50/week, then I got an offer from a textbook company to be paid $50/illustration.  That was all I needed to quit my job, get married, and become a freelance artist.  Since then, I’ve worked with every major textbook publisher in Canada.  It was very lucrative and I was even on retainer for one publisher.

WG: What did you decide to do next in your career?

DS: In the early sixties, I was called by Martin Goodman, the managing editor of the Toronto Star, to draw five cartoons a week for him on the world news page.  Goodman was competing with the Toronto Telegraph and they had a cartoon on the front that was one column wide.  He had me draw two columns for this new feature.  I did it for ten years, but it was tough because I never considered myself a cartoonist and coming up with a gag five days a week is difficult.  Even harder was that I had to create about a dozen cartoons with only five of them being approved.

I was also drawing double page spreads for the Toronto Star Weekly.  That’s when I started using the aniline dyes for my illustrations.  1-P1030297

WG:  How did your style change during all this time?  Did you ever have to adapt your work to suit the client?

DS:  Now that you mention it, there was a time I was speaking with W.J. Gates and he told me one of their top illustrators had died in a car crash.  He had been working on two textbooks of top author works.  Gates wanted me to finish what the artist had started.  It was a challenge, because he was a much looser illustrator bordering on fine art.  They gave me all of his original art to refer to and it was a good learning tool for me to make my own style looser.

WG: How did you land the Playboy gig?

DS: I’ve been telling you a bunch of stories that explain how my art has evolved and where my art career has led me.  Let me tell you this last one about when I was working on a periodical for Weekend Magazine.  They would give me assignments where I would go to neat places to take pictures, such as going to the beach, a day in the life of Mennonites, or a fraternity toga party.  They’d do small pieces with my pictures.

Armed with this experience, I approached Playboy.  Back then you could still directly get in contact with people, so I got through to the art director.  He liked my stuff and he told that he didn’t want to use me as an illustrator, but as a cartoonist.  I said that wasn’t my cup of tea, but when the art director told me what they paid I’ve been drinking it ever since.  I’ve been with them for fifty years, since 1964.  They’ve been very good to me and I’m happy to work with them.

WG: Hugh Hefner comes off as a really nice guy in interviews.  Is that his real personality?

DS: That’s how he is.  He’s a real nice guy.  We were at the mansion two springs ago and had a real nice dinner with Heff, his daughter, and several other guests, including playmates and bunnies.  After dinner we watched a movie and had a picture taken.  Would you mind if I digress a bit and tell you another interesting story?

WG: Sure!1-P1030298

DS: One day I was reading the Global Mail when I saw an exhibition for artists, writers, and cartoonists at the local library.  This surprised me, so I called the organizer and asked why I hadn’t been included  The organizer didn’t know I lived in Canada, he invited me, and gave me the best table in the house without charging me.

On the second day, a guy who had made his own movie called Sweet Karma came up to me and saw my Playboy banner.  He called his girlfriend, Shera, who starred in the movie to come over and introduce herself to me.  At these events, I draw portraits of people for a fee and I was asked to draw Shera.  A few minutes into the drawing, I realized she was a ten.  I had never drawn a ten before.  She was absolutely beautiful.

In my entire career, I’ve never referred any women to Playboy, but I knew she was perfect for the magazine.  When I told Shera that she could model for Playboy, she asked me how to do that.  I told her I would call the Playboy Mansion with my recommendation.  She sent me some pictures to forward on and Hef was interested in seeing them.  I got a call later saying she had visited the mansion, was going to be Ms. November, and she was later invited to live at the mansion.

When we went to visit, she met us there and we had a good time.

WG: What’s the Playboy Mansion like?1-P1010411

DS: It’s a beautiful building on spectacular grounds with lush landscaping.  They also have animals there-peacocks.  It’s the perfect place for Hef.  It’s located in Los Angeles in the Holmby Hills. The entire area is very private and has a regal quality.

WG: What is your reaction when someone refers to your art as pornography?

DS: I don’t like the term pornography.  I see my work as simply as poking fun at sex.  I invest a lot of work and time to produce high quality pieces.  When someone does decide to refer to my work as pornography, I point them towards my new book, nominated for an Eisner in 2012.  I’m quick to point out that my significant other, Heidi, wrote the chapter about hookers and that along with a foreword by Hugh Hefner the introduction was written by our friend Lynn Johnston of For Better or For Worse.

I’ve also never understood that point of view of being afraid of human bodies and sex.  If women want to be part of Playboy and pose in the nude, it’s their decision.  North Americans are uptight about nudity and it’s wrong.  There’s nothing more beautiful than a female body as far as I’m concerned.  This argument is nothing new, though, artists have been dealing with it since they took up a paintbrush.

WG: Would you please tell me more about your newspaper work?

DS: I was syndicated by a number of syndicates, including the Toronto Star.  I did editorial cartoons and other pieces.  At one point, I had my own creation called Scoops and took it on the road under the banner Sneyd Syndicate Inc.  I traveled to ninety cities in sixty days to meet with editors about my comic strip.  I sold it to 73% of them.  It ran for a number of years, but it was a real challenge doing the running and the billing for the strip.

WG: Would you explain to me how you come up with a cartoon for Playboy?1-P1030042

DS: It starts with the caption.  I get notified by the mansion that they want some cartoons, so I work with my team of writers to get ideas.  I used to write my own captions, but I learned earlier on that’s it’s hard to think up the gags.  It’s easier if someone else writes the gags and I spend my time on the art.  The mansion will sometimes tell me what the cartoons will be for, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving.  After my writers send me their captions, I select the ones I like and I think Hef will like. He approves everything that goes in the magazine, always has.  I sketch the drawings in rough form, then I send them to the mansion for review.  They’re returned to me later with “Okay, Hef” written on them.  After I get the approval from Hef, I’ll draw three or four roughs often cutting and pasting them on top of each other so they end up being made of many layers.  These are called overlays. The final piece will be rendered in aniline dyes.

WG: What exactly are aniline dyes?

DS: I adopted aniline dyes after working on the unfinished textbooks.  The previous artist, Oscar Cahen, who passed away in the car crash, had used them.  They’re an unforgiving medium, but they produce the most translucent and beautiful colors.  I don’t know many artists who use them.

WG: How do you select the captions you wish to illustrate?

DS: I look for captions that are zingers.  Gags that you can describe to people and they’ll crack up.

WG: What do you think makes Playboy the Rolls Royce of men’s magazines?

DS: Wonderful editing and art directing since day one.  They also have wonderful stories and, of course, great cartoons.

WG: How would you describe your style?1-P1030040

DS: I think I’m out on a limb when it comes to my own style.  I take influences from many people, but not one in particular.  Smelby is one of my gods and we were friends.  I worship all the artists in Playboy: Roy Raymonde, Erich Sokol, Eldon Dedini, and Rowland B. Wilson!  Wilson’s stuff was to die for.  It was a real treat to see all this stuff.  I try to be true to my own style.

WG: Mind if I compliment you a bit?

DS:  It won’t hurt my feelings.

WG: What I like about your art is that it is completely original in a modern day sense.  Many artists these days are inspired by Japanese anime and manga.  While I enjoy that style, I get tired of seeing it over and over.  Seeing your art, gives me a fresh perspective on art appreciation and it also reflects the best qualities of the mid-twentieth century.  I also enjoy seeing more realistic women with curves.

DS: We go to a lot of comic conventions and know that a lot of artists make a decent living drawing muscular women.  Fans love it and the artists who turn it out are brilliant.  My girls are the more Daisy May, Marilyn Monroe, and girl-next-door archetype.  It works for my fans and the collectors.

WG: I have only one last question to ask you, do you have anything to declare?

DS: Which way to the border?  Also, it’s been a great life and I hope it will be so for you.

 

 

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One Response

  1. Jason January 24, 2018 Reply

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