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 Ten : Education

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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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 beforeĀ 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 Nine

Early Influences

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It was somewhere around the age of 17 or 18 that I picked up my first issue of “Heavy Metal” at a Lansing comic book store. I had been reading comics off and on since my early obsession with Mad Magazine, but I had never really been much of a fan of the traditional superhero comics put out by Marvel and DC. My first purchase of an issue of HM, would have involved a bit of subterfuge on my part, as the frequent appearance of naked ladies and a casual attitude towards sex and violence that was depicted in this magazine was certainly something my parents would not have approved of.

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I was almost immediately drawn towards one particular artist, a frenchman who went by the name of “Moebius” (Jean Giraud). The line work, composition and colors really grabbed me, and for several years I was shamelessly aping his style in my own work (especially in college, and for years afterwards). I was an avid collector of HM for about 4 years, and a subscriber for a time, but eventually the overall tone of the magazine started to seem rather juvenile and gratuitous to me, and my interest waned. However, I have retained my love and respect for Moebius’s work, and still seek it out to marvel over right up to the present day.

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My Life in Pictures Part Eight

Early Influences


The first ‘old master’ who ever caught my eye was Rembrandt. Probably somewhere around the age of 12 or 13 I found a book of his paintings at the library, and was impressed by his use of color and lighting, especially with some of the dramatic chiaroscuro techniques (which I would later learn in college was the name for it) involving lots of golds and yellows (like the example above). I also found his frequent self portraits, done at different periods of his life very interesting.
His was also the first artwork I was to see ‘up close’ at the Detroit Institute of Art, probably around the age of 14 or 15 on a school trip, and I used my ‘souvenir money’ to purchase a small book of reproductions in the museum gift shop.
I was slightly disappointed in the originals after seeing several of them reproduced in art books, and I’ve often found myself with this feeling whenever I ‘make a pilgrimage’ to see some famous piece of art. Somehow I prefer the printed versions. Probably the ‘inner illustrator’ in me only feels comfortable seeing work as the end product of the repro process.

Then, when I got to art school, and took my first ‘art history’ classes, I was really looking forward to getting to the ‘Dutch masters’ so I could learn all about my hero Rembrandt, but by that time the infatuation was starting to fade, and I was discovering all sorts of new and interesting artists to emulate and admire. But you never quite forget that first love.

To be continued.

My Life in Pictures Part Seven

Early Influences

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One early influence on my drawing style, were several reprints of Thomas Nast’s early cartoons for the Harper’s Weekly Magazine, which I discovered on one of my trips to the library. I can see where I got a lot of my early fascination with caricatures, and dense cross-hatching techniques.

I was also struck early on by Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for the ‘Alice’ books. Similar dense crosshatching, and use of caricature methods, but with a better sense of black/white balance. Interestingly, Tenniel was also primarily an editorial cartoonist, who did a lot of work for ‘Punch’ magazine, and who snuck a lot of political likenesses into the ‘Alice’ illustrations. I remember copying this illustration for an art class assignment in high school, and it was very helpful in dissecting the way the picture was put together.

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Another editorial cartoonist who I was fascinated with from an early age (and my admiration continues to the present day) is Pat Oliphant. I first came across his cartoons as syndicated reprints in the Flint Journal back in the early 70s, probably around the time of the Watergate scandals. His work has only gotten better over the years, and I had the good fortune recently of attending a showing of his original work (and sculptures!). Seeing them at the original size was an eye opening experience. A lot of his beautiful line work is diminished on the newspaper page, and I was really impressed with the drawings for their own sake (the acerbic wit goes without saying – and I found myself laughing out loud several times while browsing the displays, even though I had seen many of these before).

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To be continued . . .