IT'S STILL A MAD, MAD WORLD
When Apichai Bhakdibutr came to Germany in 1976, he wanted to become a carpenter and probably never thought about drawing covers for a satirical comic magazine! Well, it's still a mad, mad world out there and sometimes life finds its ways.
Apichai started to visit an art school in Stuttgart and began to draw. After one of his sketches ended up on the desk of the editor of MAD magazine in Frankfurt, he was granted the opportunity to draw for the German edition of the magazine.Â By 1980, the aspiring Thai artist developed his own, recognizable, style and was assigned to draw the cover pages for MAD Germany!
After our last years "it's still a Mad, Mad world" exhibition,
we are now excited to bring to you an exclusive interview with the artist Apichai Bhakdibutr.
Woof Pack : How did you come to study in Germany?
Apichai : I went to study at Freie Kunstschule Stuttgart. It was very difficult to get into state schools, so I went for a private school. I liked going to the drawing room where models came for figure drawing. Those who like to draw figures, like to draw people. I think nude is the basic form of all things. A person’s body has both curves and angles and others, so drawing the body is like training for drawing different shapes and lines.
Woof Pack : How was Germany at the time?
Apichai : It was 1976, so around 30 years after World War 2. At the time, Germany was strong in all sectors. The economy was strong. Export was growing. For us, just imagine our home in 1976, Bangkok was still quite flat. There’s the Dusit Thani Building, which was the tallest. Otherwise, there’s nothing else. Very flat. So, going over there was exciting and eye-opening, everything was booming.
Woof Pack: How did you come to work for MAD?
Apichai : A friend of mine was working with MAD in Germany. He thought, well, this guy can draw small pictures, look like they would make for good cartoons, it started from there. He sent my works to the editor, and I got started by drawing adaptations from materials from America. I adapted them to fit the German style. One drawing at a time. One box at a time. One page at a time. Until I got my own column.
Woof Pack : What is MAD Magazine?
Apichai : MAD teaches people to think with a twist. To think the opposite. To question life. For young people to question what they see. But the jokes come from ideas that are quite clean, there’s no cursing and no sexual obscenity. Young people who like to read MAD grow up to be thinkers, creatives and one thing that is evident is that they are anti-drinking, crimes, drinking, gambling, smoking, drinking alcohol. If you observe carefully, these things aren’t banned from seeing or from showing in the magazine, like the censorships that we have in our country. no alcohol, no smoking. But they have a way of saying these things are not good.
Woof Pack : What are your work process and technique?
Apichai : Everything starts with a blank sheet of paper. It begins with sketching. That is, it starts like a company, or a movie. Doing MAD was like, by the time it got published, the process took around two months. It took time for the writer to come up with a script. Some script writers we never even met. They would tell the editor, then the editor would pass it on to the creative director. He would then think, the story should be like this, the script should be about the family this script ought to be about two teenagers, then he would make a rough sketch and send to me. I would then make a sketch that reflected the story as much as possible and send it back to them. Sending it through email, but by post.
Woof Pack: What is the layout?
Apichai : If we sketch on paper, it has to be bigger than the magazine. About twice the size, something like that, to make it easier to work with. The bigger the layout the more details we can focus on. Then when they take the sketch to make a copy for the plate, or to do a mock-up, they would size it down. The sharpness and colors would then come out better.
Woof Pack: What did you do when you first got back to Thailand?
Apichai : When I got back…so…I could draw, yes? Then someone recommended for me to get with an advertising agency. Back then, it just started to boom. In trend. Very popular. At first, I became a visualizer, it’s like a creative. When there’s an idea for an ad, when you got to pitch it to the client, you got to tell a story, like, think of a movie, the story is told scene by scene, right? Like a cartoon. But when it’s a storyboard about why dry hair doesn’t look good, a friend recommending a certain shampoo brand, we have to draw it up to tell the story. It’s different from today. Today they would use photoshop, there’s very little sketching. Then they would go straight to pictures of real people.
So, at the time, I sketched for work, at the agency, as a creative, and until I became a creative director. When I had my peaked fun, I then wanted to do something outdoor, more action, so I became a commercial director. I did that for over 20 years, and was still abled to draw, because whenever I had an idea, I would draw…sketch.
Woof Pack : Do you still draw?
Apichai : Well, I like sketching pictures. Everywhere I go, there’s always paper, pen and a small box of watercolors. I want to draw…it’s more like a record of things. It’s not like fine art or something very abstract. I just like to record things.