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Volume 5817

And His Tarzan Connection

As a kid growing up on a Canadian Prairies farm in the '50s I was addicted to the media of the day: Movies ~ TV/Radio ~ Music ~ Records ~ Comics ~ Magazines ~ MAD ~ Books, All-things Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc. A common threat that seemed to run through all of these obsessions was the art of Jack Davis.

I was introduced to his work through the early Mad and EC comics and later magazines. The popular culture of the day was bombarded with his artistic interpretations: satire magazines, strips, movie posters and ads (It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Bananas, Bad News Bears, American Graffiti, Animal House, The Russians Are Coming, The Party, etc.), magazine covers (countless covers for TIME and TV Guide), record jackets (Guess Who, Johnny Cash, Homer and Jethro, Cowsills, Bob and Ray, Savoy Brown, Grand Ole Opry Stars, etc.), cartoons, the Harvey Kurtzman projects (Mad, Humbug, Help, Trump), book covers, ads for every product under the sun, etc. 

Davis was the most-in-demand and highest paid commercial artist of the day. As a Burroughs fan I was always delighted to see his Tarzan parodies.

Jack Davis, Part of Mad Magazine’s Usual Gang of Idiots, Dies at 91 ~ July 28, 2016
Jack Davis, an illustrator who poked fun at celebrities and politicians in Mad magazine for decades and whose work appeared on the covers of Time and TV Guide, died on Wednesday in St. Simons Island, Ga. He was 91. The cause was complications of a stroke, his son, Jack Davis III, said.

Mr. Davis was a prolific artist, drawing posters for movies like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “The Long Goodbye,” as well as record album covers. “There wasn’t anything Jack couldn’t do,” Mad’s editor, John Ficarra, said in a statement on the magazine’s website. “Front covers, caricatures, sports scenes, monsters — his comedic range was just incredible.”

He got his start in 1950 selling drawings to EC Comics, which published horror fiction titles like “Tales From the Crypt.” Two years later, amid an outcry over the potentially harmful effects of violent comics on children, the company started what became Mad magazine, edited by Harvey Kurtzman. Mr. Davis was a member of the “Usual Gang of Idiots,” the nickname for the crew that put out the magazine. “There is not a humorous illustrator in the past 50 years who hasn’t been influenced by him,” the magazine’s current art director, Sam Viviano, said in its statement.

Gary Groth, president of Fantagraphics Books, publisher of “Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture — A Career Retrospective,” said Mr. Davis was known for his speed. ”When he was drawing comics stories for EC Comics,’’ Mr. Groth wrote in an email, “he would draw a story in a week that would take other artists two or three weeks.” He added that Mr. Davis’s drawings “were often samples of controlled chaos — multiple, sometimes dozens, of figures, all of which were miraculously distinguished from one another.’’

Jack Burton Davis Jr. was born in Atlanta on Dec. 2, 1924, the only child of Callie Davis, a schoolteacher, and Jack Davis, a salesman. After high school, he joined the Navy, serving in Guam, where he drew a comic called Boondocker for The Navy Times. He returned to his home state and enrolled in the University of Georgia, where he drew for the student newspaper. Before long, his teachers were encouraging him to go to New York to pursue his art career. He moved north and enrolled in classes at the Art Students League.

His early work was dark, craggy, and high contrast, while most illustrators at the time used more realistic and flattering styles, said Chris Garvin, the director of the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art. “He really looks like a painter in the way he uses a marker,” Mr. Garvin said. “That is something new for illustration at that time.” His work softened later on. He became known for drawing all sorts of characters with oversized heads and feet, and skinny legs between.

He established himself as a versatile artist known for producing distinctive work quickly. He soon expanded into movie posters, advertising, album covers and other promotional materials. “I remember going into New York and seeing big, three-story posters, and he’d say, ‘I did that!’ ” Mr. Davis’s son recalled. “There was a time when every single day, you could go to the supermarket or train station, and you could see his work. Those were the glory years.”

Mr. Davis and his wife, Dena, returned to Georgia from New York in the 1990s, settling on St. Simons Island in a house that their son, an architect, designed. The National Cartoonists Society honored him with a lifetime achievement award in 1996, and he was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2005. In addition to his son and his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Katie Lloyd, and two grandchildren.

MAD 161

September 1973

Reprinted from ERB Eclectica v.2015.01
Legendary Mad Magazine Illustrator 
Jack Davis Calls It Quits at 90
Jack Davis, the legendary Mad magazine illustrator and movie poster artist, is finally hanging up his pencils. It’s not that the iconic 90-year-old cartoonist can’t draw anymore—he just can’t meet his own standards. “I’m not satisfied with the work,” Davis says by phone from his rural Georgia home. “I can still draw, but I just can’t draw like I used to.”

Davis has probably spent more time in America’s living rooms than anyone. Mad was a million-seller when Davis was on the mag, and when he was doing TV Guide covers in the 1970s, the publication boasted a circulation of over 20 million. Yet, Davis is largely unaware of his massive cultural significance. “I never really thought about that, but I guess I’m very blessed,” he says. “I’ve been very lucky.”

But his luck paled in comparison to his skill. Davis started his career in 1936, when he was only 12; he won $1 as part of a national art contest and saw his work published in Tip Top Comics #9. While still a teen, his cartoons were published in The Yellow Jacket, a humor magazine at Georgia Tech University, where his uncle was a professor. After a stint in the military, Davis caught on with EC Comics in 1950, where he was part of the artistic wave that revolutionized comics with titles like Tales from the Crypt, Two-Fisted Tales, and Mad.

Whereas Norman Rockwell’s images represented Americana of the 1940s and ’50s with his Boy Scouts and pigtailed girls, Davis’ work epitomized the ’60s and ’70s—the smirking, sardonic face of the emerging counterculture. By the time the Beats and the Hippies (who came of age reading Davis cartoons) took over, he was doing movie posters for Woody Allen’s Bananas, The Long Goodbye, American Graffiti, and others.

“Jack Davis is probably the most versatile artist ever to work the worlds of comic books, illustration, or movie poster art,” Scott Dunbier, a former art dealer and current director of special projects at comic book publisher IDW. “He can work in a humorous style or deadly serious style, historical or modern, anything. His work transcends that of almost any other cartoonist.”

IDW recently published Jack Davis’ EC Stories Artist’s Edition, reprinting some of Davis’ classic stories taken from the original art. Other pieces from the archives may emerge, but Davis is done producing new work. “I’m just gonna sit on the porch and watch the river go by,” Davis says. “And maybe go fishing once in a while.” 

From MAD #26

Find the Tarzan Connection

Tarzan Parody by Jack Davis ~ MAD #206 ~ April 1979

From YakYak Magazine

JACK DAVIS INTERVIEW ~ December 13, 2011
His name may not be spoken in the same breath as Harvey Kurtzman’s or Wally Wood’s, but few artists made as profound an impact in as many corners of the EC comics empire as Jack Davis. His supple style lent itself as well to the gritty battlefield stories of Two-Fisted Tales as to the gleeful grotesques of Tales From The Crypt, and when Kurtzman convinced EC head William Gaines to let him head the company’s new humor magazine, Davis left a formidable stamp on Mad as well. Unlike many of his peers, though, Davis spun off his comic-book work into a highly successful illustration career, doing covers for Time and TV Guide as well as iconic movie posters for the likes of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which, according to Fantagraphics’ new career-spanning collection Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture, netted him an annual salary that at its height stretched into seven figures. Now in his late 80s, Davis has naturally slowed down in recent years, but the book has provided the occasion for a well-earned victory lap, which brought him to New York’s Society Of Illustrators for a talk with The A.V. Club.

The A.V. Club: There’s a point where you go from looking at drawings and enjoying them to doing your own and realizing it’s something you enjoy. When did you first get interested in drawing? 

Jack Davis: I’ve said this many a time; I’ll tell it again. When I was going to kindergarten, and that’s a very young age, my mother used to walk me to school. I would go up past a chain gang—that was the old days when the prisoners wore stripes and everything—and I saw that. I would go to kindergarten, and they’d put a piece of construction paper in front of me, and crayons, and I did, probably, a stick figure, but I put stripes on him. And from that, they thought I had talent. My mother thought I was great. And from then, I’ve always drawn. Drawn pictures. I love to draw cartoons. 

AVC: What artists were important to you growing up?

JD: Growing up, of course, Walt Disney. Donald Duck—the big feet—and Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. And Harold Foster, who drew Prince Valiant, and he also drew Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ bit. And Alex Raymond, who drew Flash Gordon and drew Secret Agent X-9 and Jungle Jim all at the same time. How he did that, I don’t know. I used to get, when I was small, about 12 years old, the Sunday paper. And the page was full of nothing but artwork. George McManus was on the front page, Maggie and Jiggs [of Bringing Up Father]. Beautiful stuff. Very tight, very funny, very illustrated. And then you’d turn the page, and there would be Alex Raymond, the top would be Jungle Jim, and then it would be Flash Gordon. And the third page, again, was Harold Foster, with all of the knights and everything. When I was, I guess, about 12 or 15 years old, I wrote Harold Foster a fan letter—they knocked me out, his Sunday pages—and he sent me a Sunday page of Prince Valiant making a saddle for a horse, and the bridle. From that day on, the horses that I drew, the cowboys and stuff like that, had to come from Harold Foster. And also a big impression was Fred Harman, who drew Red Ryder. He drew great guns and holsters that really had a hard grip on it. So, that’s about it. 

AVC: You mentioned guns and horses. Were Westerns something that you— 

JD: I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy. I haven’t done it. [Laughs.] But I enjoyed the good Western movies. All of ’em.

AVC: It’s interesting to hear you talk about turning the page and seeing all these different styles, because you yourself have drawn in so many different genres, both at EC and, as the book makes clear, throughout your career.

JD: Well, I’ve turned out a lot of junk. [Laughs.] I mean, I’ve turned it out just like a machine. Evidently, it’s kind of caught on. The Mad group and the whole thing. So I’m very proud. This book is great. 

AVC: One of the things that you see in the books is a transition from a more realistic to a more cartoony style.

JD: I think if you turn out as much work as I have turned out, you improve. And Harvey Kurtzman has been a big teacher to me through the years. He was a great, great man. When I first came to New York, he and his wife kind of took me in under their wings and fed me. I’m from the South, I didn’t fit in much, but with him, I would fit in. 

AVC: The EC titles, and especially Mad, had such a New York sensibility, specifically a kind of urban Jewish sensibility, which was very much not your background.

JD: I know, but that doesn’t make any difference. I like to see people happy. In my book you can probably read about it, but the only playmate I had in the summer time was a black boy, my age, and we got along great. He was a buddy; he was a friend. He and I used to wrestle and fight and do whatever.

AVC: Especially as far as humor is concerned, though, it’s a fairly specific perspective. Did you feel a kinship with that? 

JD: Well, Harvey was just a great teacher. He taught me to simplify things; he was a great simplifier, God rest him. I wish he could’ve gone on further, because he was way ahead of his time. Way ahead. He could write stories, he could be humorous, and his illustrations are beautiful. They’re modern, and they are not my style, but they’re his, and I loved his work and I loved him. He was a good man. He was a good teacher.

AVC: His layouts for the EC stories have been published on their own, which make it clear that he did much more than just hand you a script, or even a panel-by-panel breakdown.

JD: Oh, he would do illustrations before you did the artwork. A while back, I got a thing from a friend of mine in Belgium who sent me a book to sign of Harvey and Willy Elder’s [Little] Annie Fanny. It was awful. I mean, beautifully done, but I just don’t go in for that bit. Again, I’m an old stodge. But it was grotesque, and he wanted me to sign it. And I said, “No, I’m not gonna sign it, ’cause I didn’t have any artwork in it.” I was flabbergasted. My wife wouldn’t even read it. I said, “You gotta see this,” and she said, “No, I don’t want to.” But I can’t imagine it coming from Harvey and Willy Elder, who were straight arrows from way back. 

AVC: Little Annie Fanny was very much tailored for the pages of Playboy.

JD: Hugh [Hefner] wanted what he wanted and he got what they produced, the two of them.

AVC: You’ve talked about often being more comfortable working on assignment rather than generating things on your own.

JD: I like an assignment because I’m not a writer or creator, but I can take a story and illustrate it because my mind is kind of bent that way.

AVC: In terms of working with Kurtzman, how much of a lasting influence did working from his layouts have, specifically on your artwork?

JD: It helped. With Harvey, especially. I keep bringing him back up, but Harvey would do rough sketches on tracing paper. He would practically act out everything to you. You’d get carried away with it, say, “I want to go home. I want to illustrate!” So I did it. He was very talented.

AVC: You talk in the book about how much you disliked doing the Tales From The Crypt stories, especially gory ones like “Foul Play,” which was one of Frederic Wertham’s key examples in Seduction Of The Innocent and helped lead to the creation of the Comics Code Authority.

JD: Oh God, I’m telling you. Well I’ve told everybody before, Gary [Groth] and all them. I have a hang-up. I love horror. I love ghost stories, but when it comes to illustrating it for thousands and thousands of young people to see it, I don’t go along with it. I think that happened, and I didn’t know it was happening at the time. I just knew that I would go in and I’d get a check and pick up a script and go home and do it. I sat in a little room and did this horrible baseball story, and it made the Senate [hearings] and everywhere. People liked it but I didn’t. I said, “I can’t do that.” To this day I love all the people at Mad, but Mad had changed. It’s not like it used to be. It has some very good artists but their philosophy is not mine.

AVC: It’s interesting that you could be, by all accounts, so good at something you didn’t like doing. 

JD: Well, I am shocked and amazed that so much has been carried on about me. [Laughs.] But I have spent many a years drawing. I’ve drawn and drawn and I’ve been lucky enough and I’ve been blessed to have stuff with Time magazine and TV Guide and that’s quite an achievement, I think. I came along at a good time. I don’t think there was much competition. You had Johnny Severin, you had Willy Elder, Wally Wood. Everybody had their style, and we kept at it. I had my own style and Harvey wrote and he practically illustrated everything in Mad in the beginning. I don’t know, I’ve done everything that anybody can do, I think.

AVC: What are some of the favorite things that you’ve illustrated?

JD: Well, I think my high point is the Time magazine covers; the one I did of Ford rolling up his sleeves is about one of my best. And the one with Kissinger. My book has got them all in there, and I appreciate that. I’m very proud of that book. It tells about when I was young and what you’re asking me about. It’s in there.

AVC: How much direction did you get for something like the Time covers?

JD: Well mostly, I think with Time magazine, when I had an assignment to do the cover, I could get any type of a picture I wanted, whether it was a profile or a smile or anger, you couldn’t miss it. And I copied the photograph among the covers that I’d pick from, and I made up the rest, the body language and everything else. But that has to be a high point, and the movie posters. You’re on your own and there are editors to please, so you do what you can, and I’ve done what I could. I don’t know where it comes from or anything about it, but I think you have a natural talent for certain things. Some people have it for music or drawing. We’re sitting right now in a beautiful brownstone house that’s full of nothing but illustrations from great, great illustrators. I’m happy to be one of them. One of the high-water marks of my whole life is to be in the Hall Of Fame here at the Society Of Illustrators, along with all the old, old, old, old greats, and I’m going to be old, old, old, old pretty soon.

AVC: You’re famous for things like the poster for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, where there are hundreds of distinct figures.

JD: Well, those are just there to fill in. [Laughs.]

AVC: Do you do those one figure at a time?

JD: I usually did all the backgrounds with pen and ink, and the foreground would be in color with a brush, with a No. 3 Winsor & Newton brush, but the background, sometimes I would have a good ink pen and just doodle heads with different expressions.

AVC: And do one at a time?

JD: Yeah. It came from head. Just like Sergio Aragones, who could sit down and draw, draw, draw from his mind. Who can explain it? I can’t.

AVC: Did you come from an artistic background?

JD: My father used to draw a picture of an Indian with a war bonnet, a profile. It just knocked me out. So I would either copy that or draw that. My mother was a very good watercolorist, but she never kept it up. She was a teacher of retarded children, sometimes. It was a good life. I’ve been exposed to a lot of things. Sports and everything else.

AVC: Do you get a special pleasure out of drawing sports?

JD: I do. I have to draw. I’ve always said, “I can’t read or write, all I can do is draw.” And I draw, and I draw, and I draw. 

AVC: Do you still do that for fun?

JD: I still have a rep in New York, who once in a while gives me work. I used to get a lot of work, and they could do billing for me, and the pricing that I couldn’t do. I highly recommend a very good rep for some young artists, unless they can do it themselves, put a price on their own artwork or do the billing and all that. It’s pretty hard for an artist to do, I think. I can’t do it. I can’t even type.

AVC: When you’re not working on something, do you still draw?

JD: Oh, I’ll draw until I step into the coffin. [Laughs.] Horrible to say that creepy stuff.

AVC: I wanted to ask about Mad Monster Party as well.

JD: That was with Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass. They came along at a time when they were interested in my work, so they got me to do the cartooning for them, creating characters.

AVC: How long a process was that for you?

JD: It only lasted about a month, something like that. Paul Coker is a very good friend of mine and I admire his work, Frosty The Snowman and all that. It’s typical of Paul Coker stuff. I just hope he benefits from it. 

AVC: It must have been great for you, having liked ghost stories and monster movies, to get to make one.

JD: Yeah, well, Harvey Kurtzman wrote one about a monster party or monster rally, and I drew it. Paul Coker might have worked on some of it.

AVC: It wasn’t seen a lot at the time and disappeared for quite a while, but it’s come back on DVD.

JD: Right. Well it’s like, plant a seed. Things come back. I have done all this stuff a long, long time ago, and all of a sudden now, there’s this book on me. And it’s amazing. I sit there and I keep reading it over and over.

AVC: You mentioned “Foul Play” being brought up in Congress and being accused of ruining the youth of America.

JD: Yeah, and here I am sitting in a little bitty apartment with a railroad track close by and I’m causing all that trouble. I didn’t know it.

AVC: You must have heard from a lot of people.

JD: I didn’t hear from them. I’m sure Bill Gaines, the publisher, heard about it. He had to stand up before the Senate and all that.

AVC: I meant the other way around. Mad especially, the influence of that. It changed people’s lives.

JD: Oh all of that. Mad, the TV show, Mad Broadway show or whatever. I haven’t connected, I haven’t seen it. But it has started a lot of things. Back then, when we were doing Mad, that was Bob and Ray, and that kind of humor was beautiful and great. Now you don’t see it. It’s kind of nasty. Well, not nasty, but it’s a change in philosophy and humor. I always feel like you don’t need to have something nasty to make people laugh. You can shock them with ugly stuff, but a true entertainer has got to come from the heart, has got to make people laugh, and laugh at something good. 

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