Monday, August 1, 2016

Mad about Jack Davis

Several years ago, I was vacationing in the beautiful, quaint Georgia seaside village of St. Simons Island.

I walked into a pub and saw, adorning the walls throughout the establishment, original works of art – many of them playfully depicting University of Georgia football players and their mascot, the bulldog – by nationally renowned Mad Magazine/film poster/Time magazine/TV Guide/Madison Avenue/et al. caricaturist Jack Davis. 

Both stunned by the serendipity of having discovered this treasure trove of wonderful pieces and perplexed by the realization that they were casually on display at some “random” watering hole, I asked the bartender, “What gives – how did this bar come into acquiring these original works by one of the country’s great, influential, leading caricature artists?”

Nonchalantly, he answered, “because he gave them to us.”

“And why would he do that?” I queried cynically.

“Because he lives here,” was the succinct answer.

Welcome to the August edition of Not Your Usual Caricature Artist with Caricatures by Joel.

Jack Davis, the jowly Southern gentleman who first staked a place six decades ago in the firmament of caricaturists heaven, was summoned finally to that more universally acknowledged celestial abode last week when he died at the age of 91.

Here’s how The New York Times profiled him:

Davis and Mort Drucker were – are – my favorite caricature artists, both customarily found in Mad Magazine. Drucker probably comes first; frankly, I found him to be the better of the two at capturing likenesses. But Davis had the “looser” style, more cartoon-y, more wildly exaggerated and therefore, to my sensibilities, warmer and funnier. And, you can always tell a Davis drawing by the inordinately large shoes his characters wear!

I have often answered to anyone who asks, that my greatest influences in caricature art are those two icons. They knew anatomy, they knew shading, they knew foreshortening, they knew color, they knew pencil, they knew ink, they knew paint. I wish I knew one-third of what they knew (Drucker is still with us, at 87).

Mad’s online site issued this statement:

It is with great sadness that we note the passing…of long-time legendary MAD artist Jack Davis.

Jack was one of the founding members of MAD Magazine’s “Usual Gang of Idiots.” An enormously gifted and versatile artist, Davis’ work appeared in the very first issue of MAD and virtually every issue over the next four decades.

“There wasn’t anything Jack couldn’t do,” said MAD editor John Ficarra. “Front covers, caricatures, sports scenes, monsters — his comedic range was just incredible. His ability to put energy and motion into his drawings, his use of cross-hatching and brush work, and his bold use of color made him truly one of the greats.”

“More than any one piece, it was Jack’s immediately recognizable style that revolutionized comic illustration,” said MAD art director, Sam Viviano. “There is not a humorous illustrator in the past 50 years who hasn’t been influenced by him.”

“Jack will always be remembered for his charming modesty and southern gentleman manner — which completely belied his rascally sense of humor and wry wit,” said Ficarra.

Everyone at MAD and DC Entertainment send their heartfelt condolences to Jack’s wife, Dena, and the entire Davis family.

Jack Davis was born the same year as my Dad and, so, I see him also as representing my Dad’s era – the ground-breaking comic book days of the ‘50s and the heady, creative Madison Avenue days of the ‘60s.  Bygone eras that conjure sweet nostalgic memories for me.

Clearly, I am no Jack Davis.

However, perhaps in these "live" sketches that I've done at various events, you'll see some of his influence in my approach. And if you do, I'm flattered...

See you again the first Tuesday of next month for another mad excursion into the world of Not Your Usual Caricature Artist.