A while back, Will Finn, in his excellent blog small room wrote about the decline in drawing quality of Chuck Jones’ later work for the animation art market. He offers an interesting theory that perhaps Jones’ strength lay in his depiction of personality in motion, and when he chose to focus on static images for the limited edition cel market, his work lost its energy. The fickle nature of the creative spirit is better discussed by artists than by archivists, so I’m not going to add to what Will has said. But I’m going to offer an example from the comic world of a similar nature… Jack Davis.
Please note that I’m focusing on Davis at his peak in this post. When Davis was “on” no one could top him for draftsmanship, composition or energy. If you are interested in looking into how his work occasionally runs hot and cold, see David Apatoff’s insightful article, Counting To Nine.
Jack Davis was a cartoonist from a very early age. His first published work appeared in Tip Top Comics in 1936. He was twelve years old at the time. In 1949, he packed up and moved from Atlanta to New York City, where he was hired by EC Comics to draw for The Vault of Horror and Two-Fisted Tales. At EC, Davis met Harvey Kurtzman, who liked his work and used him in Mad magazine. Kurtzman and Davis also worked together on Little Annie Fanny in Playboy.
Davis went on to become one of the most sought-after illustrators and caricaturists in America. His caricatures of public figures appeared on the covers of Time magazine and TV Guide, as well as record covers, movie posters and bubble gum cards. Davis is currently one of the best-known and recognizable cartoonists in the world.
Here is an early Davis story from Mad magazine that shows his immense talents at their absolute best. Every panel of this comic is drop-dead brilliant!
Mad Magazine 1953
Many thanks to the talented cartoonist, Amir Avni for contributing the copy of "Son of Mad" from which this great story was scanned. Also thanks to the stalwart archive supporter Eric Graf for lending us record covers from his extensive collection to digitize.
This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Magazine Cartoons.
Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture: A Career Retrospective is a gigantic career-spanning retrospective, between whose hard covers resides the greatest collection— in terms of both quantity and quality— of Jack Davis’ work ever assembled! It includes work from every stage of his long and varied career. Much of the material has been scanned directly from original art, showing the painterly brush strokes and pen work. Many illustrations are accompanied by preliminary drawings that demonstrate the evolution of Davis’ drawing process. Recommended!