So as you may have heard by now, cartoonist Jack Davis passed away this week at the age of 91. Davis was a cartooning giant. Part of the original EC Comics stable of Horror artists, Davis went on to master Western, War, and Humor art as well, becoming one of the backbones of Mad Magazine and moving on to be one of the most sought-after cartoonists in the world. Jack Davis art graced major magazines, paperback novels, album covers, movie posters, and a multitude of advertisements. Somewhere in there, he even found time to become a beloved sports cartoonist, as well. If you were alive anytime from the 1960s to the 1980s, you are almost certain to have seen a piece of Davis art on something. He was everywhere.
And to think it all started with the Cryptkeeper.
A little different from the live-action puppet they made for the Tales From the Crypt TV show, but that guy was based on this guy. And I love ’em both. Davis drew tons of horror art over the years, starting at EC Comics, and later being hired in to design the host for Warren Magazines’ first horror series, the eponymous Uncle Creepy:
Less fun-loving than the Cryptkeeper, that guy. More likely to touch you in places you’d rather he not. Hrm.
Davis kept up the horror work throughout his career, being called upon to draw album covers for Zacherley the Cool Ghoul, doing up a nice Dracula for a 1980s Slim Jims ad…
…and even doing character designs for the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animation film Mad Monster Party. Davis also drew a poster for that film, a detail of which you can see below:
That’s just the dork stuff, though. He also did some stunning illustrations for the EC war comics…
…and provided what might be the most dynamic Mad cover ever:
Davis eventually became best-known, though, for his caricatures. As early as 1963, he did the poster for the film It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World…
…which of course Mad couldn’t resist parodying…
In the 1970s, this gift for caricature saw Davis getting gigs with major magazines, gently sending up The Godfather for TV Guide…
…and somewhat less gently taking on the Watergate scandal for Time:
Then there’s his dynamic boxing art:
Davis also had a long-standing fascination with the Old West. I ran across dozens of western drawings in my research for this piece, some serious, many not at all. Davis’ humor had a good-natured cynicism to it, and he applied that to the West as much as anything else. The most famous example is probably this juxtaposition of movie cowboys and real cowboys. (And I highly encourage you, even more than usual, to embiggen this picture. I left it extra-big and extra-high-res, just so you can appreciate the fine line-work that went into it. So make with the clicky!):
Then there’s this wonderfully atmospheric, wonderfully ugly take on the traditional Old West gunfight. Davis illustrations often tell a story, and this one tells a doozy (I’m particularly fond on the kid in the bottom left corner).
I’ve also run across a series of illustrations of life in the American frontier, done in a more controlled, realistic style. I think these were done for a children’s book (though I haven’t been able to find the title), and some of it’s just downright beautiful illustration:
Even as late as 2003, Davis was still plugging away. He did a series of samples for a Western newspaper comic strip that never saw print. I’m a little stunned that this exists. I mean, a daily comic strip is an awful lot of work, and Davis took up the challenge at the age of 78. Mind-boggling. He didn’t skimp on the detail, either. Look at all that line-work. And, good lord, check out the bricks in that last panel! I know he was putting his best foot forward here, in hopes of the strip getting picked up. But, DAMN.
I’ll leave you with another Davis oddity, a piece that, if the story I read about it is to be believed, he wasn’t paid for and never intended to publish. It’s just a little sketch (an incredibly detailed sketch) he did as a thank-you note for a subscription he was given to Humbug magazine. It’s become one of my favorite Davis pieces, just a beautiful example of all the things that make me love his work. So I hope you enjoy it.