Dyna Moe, the illustrator behind the popular Mad Men Yourself app, speaks to Rachel Syme about drinking with Jon Hamm and other on-set secrets. Plus: a gallery of Mad Menned celebrities.
As AMC’s surprise hit show Mad Men launches its anticipated third season—and yes, it is still a surprise that a network known mostly for airing black-and-white movie reruns five years ago is now sweeping the Original Drama Emmys—the legions of Don Draper devotees with cable are finally getting what they’ve dreamed about all summer. And then there are the viewers who will be turning in for the first time—perhaps they were swayed by the posters or trailers, perhaps they’ve decided to give into the watercooler mob, or perhaps—and most likely—they learned about the show through the clever marketing app called Mad Men Yourself.
VIEW OUR GALLERY OF MAD MEN-ED CELEBRITIES
The network introduced the addictive online game last month—users can create vintage-looking cartoon avatars of themselves from dozens of templates, like paper dolls out of ‘60s New York. The craze for “Mad Menning” is now thoroughly established—Twitter icons and Facebook portraits have been switched to the drawings (and often back again, now that the trend has reached a tenuous critical mass). The fact that the show’s title has become an online meme—not to mention a new verb—is a testament to AMC’s marketing team.
But it is also a testament to Dyna Moe, the illustrator behind the Mad Men avatars. Moe’s drawings recall the kitschy advertisements of the late 1950s, the type of bold, mid-century graphic design that informs much of the show’s visual language. But even better than Moe’s spot-on drawings is the story behind them; the illustrator is now completely entrenched in the Mad Men universe, to the point where she will appear on the show as a secretary later this season. And all because of a few sketches jotted off during a particularly mind-numbing day at her advertising desk job.
Jon Hamm is “unexpectedly fratty. He’s kind of a dude. He wears a baseball cap all the time off set, buying people Jäger shots.”
Moe looks like a grown-up (and real-life) version of MTV’s Daria: cat-eye glasses, Mod Squad shift dress, heavy combat boots. She seems less like a Mad Men-era scholar and more like a student of ‘90s riot-grrrl rock, a fact she points out over diner coffee. “It’s funny because everyone thinks I’m this super fan,” Moe says. “But I’m really not. I love the show, I think it’s beautiful, but if Mad Men went off the air, I’d recover. And honestly, if I had to choose between never seeing another Mad Men or Law & Order, it would be really tough. Actual fanatics make me very nervous.”
It’s easy to see how one might mistake Moe for a Mad Men obsessive—before Mad Men Yourself, Moe gained Web notoriety for posting on Flickr her own illustrations inspired by episodes from the first two seasons. But the comedian (Moe has been performing and directing at the Upright Citizens Brigade for more than a decade), who never had any formal illustration training, came by Mad Men more organically than pure fandom. “I am friendly with Rich Sommer who plays Harry Crane on the show,” she says. “He knows I draw, so one day he asked me if I could make a Mad Men Christmas card for the cast during the first season. I was so bored at my day job that I spent months perfecting it.”
From there, Moe gained a following among the Mad Men crew, and was soon asked to illustrate a recipe book as a gift for the cast. Though that project fell through, Moe started posting up the work she’d done to Flickr—vibrant drawings of Joan with the office copier, or Don and Roger drinking martinis—and soon she was getting 80,000 views per day. “After that, I met [creator] Matthew Weiner,” Moe says, “And he was so exuberant. He had me make a Mad Men calendar, and I got to party with the cast when Jon Hamm hosted SNL. We ended up at the after-afterparty getting super blitzed at 7 a.m. and Hamm started yelling obscenity-filled career advice at me. Stuff like, ‘Get a f--king lawyer and cover your ass.’ And all I could think was, Don Draper is yelling at me at a filthy bar at dawn.”
“And all I could think was, Don Draper is yelling at me at a filthy bar at dawn.”
For the record, Moe says, out of his suave Madison Avenue costumes, Jon Hamm is “unexpectedly fratty. He’s kind of a dude. He wears a baseball cap all the time off-set, buying people Jäger shots.” And as for Moe’s friend Sommer and the other male castmates, Moe says: “The thing that’s so adorable is the younger guys on the show, it's their first major gig and they are just turning 30. They actually do hang out together all the time and play pool. Rich’s best friend on and off the show is Michael Gladis, who plays Paul.”
Moe admits that she never saw illustrating as a full-time career (she’s still writing and directing comedy sketches and videos), but she does have plenty of work lined up for AMC. After Mad Men Yourself, Moe is working on a set of Mad Men color-forms that will be given out as viewer prizes (she also hopes they will be mass-produced for purchase). She is also drawing a new cartoon every week inspired by each episode, which fans can then caption for said prizes. And this winter, Moe will fly to L.A. to “appear as an extra on the show, probably as a secretary.”
“I’m just glad and surprised that Mad Men Yourself has caught on this way,” Moe says. “Because it really has nothing to do with the show itself. Mad Men as a show is very serious, almost to the point of being dour, and then there are these whimsical avatars promoting it. I hope people who haven’t seen the show aren’t just tuning in expecting to see happy cartoons.”
Rachel Syme is culture editor of The Daily Beast.