Jack Davis 1924-2016

Early Influences, tribute

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Jack Davis this week. Along with Mort Drucker, he was one of my earliest art influences, mostly from the pages of Mad Magazine in the late sixties and early seventies. Only recently had I begun to discover and appreciate his work with the early EC horror and war comics, and the wonderful work he did for movie posters in the seventies, numerous covers for TV Guide and Time magazine, and some truly spectacular album cover designs for various artists in the sixties and seventies. I’ve gathered here a small tribute with some of my favorite Jack Davis images.




My Life in Pictures Part Fourteen – Norman Rockwell

Early Influences

normanrockwell1All the time I was growing up, whenever anyone would talk about ‘famous illustrators’, there really was only one name that would pop up. Norman Rockwell was the one illustrator that most people could name, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know of his work. I’d seen his artwork on back issues of the Saturday Evening Post, framed prints, reprinted on phone book covers, you really had to have lived a hermetic lifestyle to have avoided seeing Norman Rockwell’s art at some point. I was introduced to his ‘collected work’ by an artistic friend of mine when I was still in grade school, and I marveled at the attention to detail, but by the time I got to college, his work had generally fallen out of favor, and thought of as ‘old fashioned’ and ‘cliche-ridden’ and portraying a bygone America that may well have never actually existed.

normanrockwell2I have, however, always remained a huge fan of his work, and there are several of his pieces which I still find absolutely stunning in their beauty and composition. I had the good fortune of attending a showing of his original art in Nashville a few years back (would have been around 2015 or so), and once again found myself just awed by his masterful brushwork and attention to detail. The piece below of the boys at the ‘old swimming hole’ was one of the originals I got to see, and I swear I must’ve stood staring at the wet hair on the central boy for a good 15 minutes. Long before I even knew what an ‘illustrator’ was, or before I would eventually become one of its ranks, Norman Rockwell was, and will always be the gold standard.

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My Life in Pictures Part Thirteen – The Funny Pages

Early Influences

Krazy3Another of my early influences were the newspaper comics. However, by the time I was reading them, which would have been somewhere between 8 and 10 years old (1970-72), the newspaper comic strip was well past its prime. The size allotted for daily strips had shrunk to nearly half the size that they once inhabited, and the the sunday strips were a mere shadow of their once glorious past. I discovered older comic strips in ‘nostalgia magazines’ and in comic strip collections in the library, and marveled over the artwork that made the daily paper I was reading look pale in comparison.

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My first love, as far as newspaper comics went, was, of course, Peanuts by Charles Shultz. I tended to gravitate towards the earlier strips from around the late fifties and early sixties that were collected in paperback anthologies, rather than the current crop that appeared in the daily paper at the time. Snoopy had just begun his elaborate fantasy life, and, in effect, had hijacked the strip from the Charlie Brown/Lucy/Linus crowd (who I found much more interesting, with their discussions of topics like depression and loneliness and angst).

charliebrown1However, from an illustration standpoint, the Peanuts world was less than fascinating. A product of its times, and perfectly fitted towards the shrinking available space, with its simple iconic characters and minimal detail. I had some other favorite strips that I found less interesting to read, but more intriguing to look at for their drawing skills. Alley Oop was one that appeared in our local newspaper that really captured my imagination (and my fascination with dinosaurs didn’t hurt).

alleyoop1Another strip from our local paper that frequently inspired me was Prince Valiant. Usually only one or two panels and confined to the Sunday paper, but oh what beautiful artwork.

princevaliantEventually, through my reading on comics history in the library, I discovered Krazy Kat and the world of George Herriman. I was enthralled by his endless variations on the simple theme of a brick throwing mouse and the love triangle between Ignatz the mouse, Officer Pupp and Krazy Kat (who could either be a girl or boy depending on the daily whim of the cartoonist), and the crazy shifting backgrounds, and the wonderful wordplay and panel design. I don’t think any cartoonist has come close to Herriman in terms of creating ‘art’ out of the daily comic strip.

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Krazy4Of course these strips were all WAY before my time, and even today they seem more innovative and original than anything that has been created since.

Krazy1The daily newspaper comic has greatly diminished in the passing years to the point where I rarely, if ever, bother reading the sunday comics section. A few other great strips, however, demand an honorable mention; Pogo by Walt Kelly,  Bloom County by Berkely Breathed, Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Cul De Sac and Richard’s Poor Almanac by Richard Thompson and Mutts by Patrick McDonnell.

My Life in Pictures Part Eleven : Education and First Jobs

Early Influences

Durand High School 1976-1980

In high school, I was one of two or three of the “school artists”, and was frequently singled out to contribute cartoons to the school newspaper, or drawings for the yearbook, or extra-curricular posters for certain teachers, or program covers for special events or posters for dances. I, however, had more of an interest in music at that age, and never got around to actually taking an ‘Art Class’ until my senior year. It was in this class that I first tried my hand at oil painting. This painting was sold after the spring art show, but through a twist of fate, it ended up in the hands of the mother of a close friend sometime in the late 90s, and I was able to take a photo of it for my records. It was based off of a photograph that I had found on ‘pit bull fighting’ in an old issue of National Geographic. This is the oldest surviving sample of my artwork in my possession.

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Counter Printers and Graphics – Summer 1979

My first job, was in a small print shop in Flint, Michigan. I was hired on to do paste-ups and learned to use the stat camera and to make metal printing plates. I was also doing runs to a typesetting shop to pick up ‘chunk type’ and picking up lunch for the office workers. On the rare occasion, they put me to work drawing pictures. After only working a couple months there, the place had a robbery/arson over the weekend and the shop was burnt out. I was out of a job after a couple weeks of salvage/clean up.

Kendall College of Art and Design 1980-1982

I applied to, and was accepted to the Kendall College of Art and Design in the fall term of 1980. I wasn’t prepared for searching for colleges and only applied to the one school (because I knew a friend who had went, was the extent of my research). I did quite well in the first year, throwing myself into the role of ‘art student’ with a zeal that was quite unlike the lazy scholar who had coasted through high school only a year prior. I probably enjoyed the ‘Life Drawing’ class the most, and learned the most from it, from drawing techniques to anatomy and body structure (things which were only a mystery to me previously). My instructors tried to purge me of all the bad habits and shortcuts I had learned from my cartooning heroes, but some of them have still survived.

Unfortunately, no artwork has survived my college years (surprising, considering how much money I was spending on art materials, and time spent on classroom assignments), and by the time the second year rolled around, I was started to get disenchanted with the whole ‘artist’ scene. I was running low on funds, taking odd jobs to make ends meet, and letting my school work slide. I barely passed the final semesters, and when it came time to plan for a third year of college I threw in the towel, deciding that I was going to ‘try something else’ (what that would be, I had no idea).

Graphic Arts Workshop 1982-1989

It wasn’t long before I was working as a graphic designer at a local print franchise, and would spend most of the decade there.

One of my biggest regrets of my life, is that I didn’t either stick to school and get a degree, or at the very least, start freelance illustrating right then and there in 1982. I could have made all the horrible misteps and false starts with regard to drawing a decade earlier, and enjoyed a 40 year career at this point, instead of 30. (writing this in 2018) — However, I did learn some valuable lessons in the graphic arts workplace in the eighties. I learned to work with customers, I learned a lot about pre-press work, design and typography, I learned discipline and speed, and most of all, I learned not to run away from your talents, but to put them to work.

I started as the first employee for this graphic arts shop, which eventually grew to three locations, and I became a manager and eventually art director. I was being offered a partnership in a new ‘advertising agency’ venture, when I made the decision to drop it all and start freelancing in 1989.

My Life in Pictures Part Ten

Early Influences

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If I had to narrow down my influences to a single individual, it would have to be Mort Drucker. While there were several artists who worked for Mad Magazine that caught my eye, from Jack Davis, Will Elder, Wally Wood, to even Don Martin, but none could hold a candle, to my eyes, to the wonderful caricature work of Mad’s premiere Movie Satirist. I still marvel, today, at how he was able to create such beautiful work within the constraints of those unwieldily speech balloon labyrinths, mixing high and lowbrow comics stylings, the attention to detail to crowded scenes, the folds in clothing, the structure of hands and feet, and the balance between blacks, grey and white spaces. I learned to draw by pouring over these movie spoofs, over and over again. They still inspire to this very day.

DHmBn3uV0AAWL-JI had the good fortune recently (writing this in 2018) to see an art exhibit of original Mad Magazine illustrations, and I of course was most excited about seeing Mort Drucker’s work in person. I was struck by his ‘grey tone’ techniques, sometimes using watercolor washes, sometimes zip-a-tone screens and sometimes laying white paint directly on the screens to achieve highlights. But it was the line work which has always impressed me. Those little squiggles for shading that my college art professors tried in vain to get me to abandon (still use them).

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