The Art of The Real Tom Sawyer

Jun 24, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Lorie Lewis Ham, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Lorie Lewis Ham

This week I am thrilled to be interviewing the wonderful Thomas B. Sawyer about his new book The Art of The Real Tom Sawyer. Many mystery fans know Tom from his work on Murder She Wrote and his mystery novels, but did you know he was also an artist/illustrator? He even worked with Stan Lee! I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

KRL: When did you first know you wanted to be an illustrator?

Tom: By age 12 I had decided I wanted to write and draw a syndicated daily comic strip. My hero/model was Milton Caniff, who famously did a strip called Terru and the Pirates.

KRL: What was your first job in this field?

Tom: I never had a “job.” Went to NY at age 20 – one had to go there – all of the publishing was done there. Everyone freelanced. I began drawing comic books and doing backgrounds for Leonard Starr.


Thomas B. Sawyer

KRL: Did you mostly work in comic books, or did you do other art?

Tom: Mostly comic books at first, then graduating into advertising illustration, which paid way more, the requirement being that you had to be able to draw pretty girls and handsome guys.

KRL: Can you share with us one of the highlights of your career as an illustrator?

Tom: I don’t want to give away too much, but just something to entice people to pick up the book! Early on, the superheroes were just getting started. The artists derided them, referring to them as “underwear characters.”

I approached Stan Lee with my samples, and he said: “I love your stuff, Tom. I’ll put you right to work.”

I said: “Just one thing, Stan. I don’t want to do your underwear characters. I want to do you romance books so I can learn to draw pretty girls and good-looking guys and get the hell out of this business and into something that pays!” He laughed and handed me a comic book script. Within two years I was doing advertising, which paid ten-to-one hundred times what comic books paid.

KRL: What do you think people would be the most surprised about you working on?

Tom: The sheer exposure of my work. It appeared everywhere. Magazines, newspapers, billboards, TV, refrigerator magnets, etc. I was arguably one of the best-known artists of my era, though few knew my name because I rarely signed my artwork.

KRL: What was the hardest thing about being an illustrator?

Tom: For me it was pretty easy. My biggest frustration was my fellow artists’ acceptance of whatever fees they were offered, with no side benefits. Eventually, after unsuccessfully attempting to convince the Cartoonists and the Society of Illustrators to form a union, I resigned from both.

KRL: How did the industry change from when you began to when you stopped?

Tom: Photography pretty much replaced illustration in the 1960s and 70s.

KRL: Why and when did you stop?

Tom: I realized I was as good – and successful – at it as I would ever be, I was no longer interested in doing a comic strip, and the thought of another 30 years doing the same thing would bore the hell out of me. I started making films and decided to move to Hollywood.

KRL: Did you go directly from there to writing for TV?

Tom: I began as a director, but people in Hollywood recognized that I could write, and helped me get started. It was a fun several decades.

KRL: How did the new book, The Art of The Real Tom Sawyer come to be?

Tom: Leif Peng, a Canadian art professor and fan approached me and asked if I’d be interested. Of course, I was knocked out that anyone might be interested, and he, with designer Ana-Marija Vlahovic, produced this beautiful book.

KRL: Anything else you want to share?

Tom: Within a few years in CA, I was able to change careers. I haven’t drawn pictures since. I’ve enjoyed a very fortunate life.

Editor’s Note: I highly recommend The Art of The Real Tom Sawyer!

You can use this link to purchase the book. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the Amazon link. You can also click here to purchase the book.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and a contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet. Lorie’s latest mystery novel, One of Us, is set in the Tower District of Fresno and the world of community theatre!<

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


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