'Unabridged Sports Clichés' (Mad, issue #499, 2009).

Paul Coker, Jr., usually shortened to Paul Coker, was an American comic artist. He was one of the veteran "usual gang of idiots" at Mad Magazine, being a mainstay in their pages from 1961 up until 2018. Coker was easily recognizable by his loose, scratchy drawing style. He co-created recurring features like 'A Mad Peak/Peek Through the Microscope' (1961-1962, 1964, 1966), 'The Sights and Sounds of the U.S.A.' (1964-1965), 'Mad Beastlies' (1964-1965), 'Only a Republican/Democrat Could Possibly Believe...' (1995/2000/2004) and his most famous series 'Horrifying Clichés' (1964-2012). Outside Mad, Coker also drew the short-lived daily gag comics, 'Lancelot' (scripted by Frank Ridgeway, 1970-1971) and 'Horace and Buggy' (scripted by Duck Edwing, 1971). The artist additionally designed various characters for the animation company Rankin/Bass Productions.


Greeting card by Paul Coker. 

Early life and career
Paul Coker was born in 1929 in Lawrence, Kansas. He was about twelve when he published his first cartoon in the cartoon contest feature of the magazine The Open Road for Boys. He majored in drawing and painting at the University of Kansas. While he made illustrated contributions for the student paper he preferred drawing advertisements, since these at least were better paid. Coker started off as an designer of greeting cards for Hallmark in the 1950s and 1960s, often in collaboration with writer Phil Hahn. He worked for Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Pageant, Look, McCall's and in 1957 became an editorial cartoonist for the New York Enquirer. Coker also contributed to Hugh Hefner's Playboy, where he created both erotic cartoons as well as parodies of other comics, like Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts'.


Paul Coker's 'Peanuts' parody.

Help!
January 1961 turned out to be the turning point in Coker's career. That month he debuted in Harvey Kurtzman's Help! as well as Kurtzman's former magazine Mad. Coker's first story for Help!, printed in issue #6 (January 1961), was an illustrated account of his trip to Havana, Cuba, titled  'Inside Coker, Inside Cuba'. Contrary to what one might assume from an eyewitness report to Castro's Cuba published in a U.S. satirical magazine, the tone wasn't overly political. Coker's comic reads more like a vacation report, with a strong focus on local attractive women. Only a few scenes directly reference the dictatorship, namely a brief discussion of the current political situation and an even briefer mention of the local "ubitiquitous police force". A far more critical graphic report is 'Backstage on Broadway' (Help!, issue #7, February 1961), in which Coker satirizes the backstage preparations for the Broadway musical 'Gypsy', starring Ethel Merman. 

Inside Coker, Inside Cuba
'Inside Coker, Inside Cuba'.

Mad Magazine
In January 1961 Coker first popped up in the magazine he's most associated with: Mad. He debuted in issue #60. Coker often collaborated with scriptwriter Phil Hahn, who previously wrote the greeting card messages when Coker was an illustrator for Hallmark. Coker would become a regular contributor to Mad for the next half century. He illustrated numerous articles by scriptwriters like Frank Jacobs, Larry Siegel, Arnie Kogen, Harry Purvis, Ronald Axe, Sol Weinstein, Stan Hart, George Hart, Chris Hart, Donald D. Shandler, Duck Edwing, Jack Hanrahan, E. Nelson Bridwell, May Sakami, George Woodbridge, Dick DeBartolo, William Garvin, Dean Norman, Neal Barbera, Frank Ridgeway, Jack Kent, E. Nelson Bridwell, Earle Doud, Al Jaffee, Jack Rickard, Don Martin, Tom Koch, Gloria L. Rich, Sy Reit, Lou Silverstone, Ronnie Nathan, Paul Peter Porges, Sergio Aragonés, M.S. Pinkham, Don Epstein, Max Brandel, Barbara Nell King, Don Reilly, Marilyn d'Amico, Marilyn Ippolito, Ed Danko, Dennis Snee, Tommy Moore, Barry Liebmann, John Ficarrra, Mark Dressler, Charlie Kadau, Joe Raiola, Elizabeth Swain, Desmond Devlin, Lawrence Bush, Mike Snider, John Prete, Christopher Allen, Floyd Kemske, Dan Birtcher, William T. Raschendorfer, Vincent Deporter, Russ Cooper and Frank Santopadre.

Mad film parodies
Like many of his colleagues at Mad, Coker occasionally drew comic strip parodies of Hollywood movies. Based on scripts by Dick DeBartolo, he spoofed such films like 'Arachnaphobia' (issue #301, March 1991), 'Star Trek V' and 'Star Trek VI' (issue #83, September 1992), 'Star Trek: First Contact' (issue #352, December 1996) and 'Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World' (issue #361, September 1997). Together with Stan Hart, he lampooned the comedy 'Casper' (issue #340, October 1995), while in collaboration with Arnie Kogen he spoofed the disaster movie 'Twister' (issue #349, September 1996).

Mad TV parodies
In comparison, Coker didn't parody TV shows that much for Mad. He and scriptwriter Dick DeBartolo tackled the sitcoms 'Frasier' (issue #329, July 1994) and 'Sabrina: Teenage Witch' (issue #381, May 1999), while Josh Gordon and him ridiculed another sitcom, 'Caroline In The City' (issue #345, May 1996).


'Flakier' (Mad #329, July 1994, parodying the TV sitcom 'Frasier'.)

Mad advertisements
Oddly enough, Coker never illustrated any of Mad's covers. But he was their official advertisement illustrator. He designed many ads to promote readers' subscriptions. They usually showed someone trying to commit suicide in an absurd fashion, while the banner asked: "Why kill yourself? Just because you missed the latest issue of Mad?" The rest of the ad then explained how readers could get a monthly or yearly subscription. Coker drew his first ad in this vein for issue #85 (April 1964) and his final one for the 208th issue (July 1979). From 1973 on many gags were thought up by Duck Edwing. Another typical subscription ad featured someone receiving an issue in an unusual place, accompanied by the slogan: "Why not have the next issue sent directly to your home?" (issue #122, October 1968).

Mad paperbacks
From 1968 on, Coker also designed the covers of many of Mad's paperbacks, all published by Warner. He livened up the pages of 'Mad. For Better or For Verse' (1968), scripted by Frank Jacobs. With Stan Hart as scriptwriter, Coker illustrated the covers of 'The Mad Book of Revenge' (1976), 'The Mad Guide to Careers' (1978), 'The Mad Survival Handbook' (1980) and 'Mad's Fast Look at Fast Living' (1982), while John Ficarra wrote 'The Mad Book of Fears and Phobias' (1985). Coker also wrote and illustrated one Mad paperback all by himself: 'The Mad Pet Book. Care & Etiquette & Advice & Other Nonsense' (Warner, 1983). This parody of an instruction guide on how to choose a pet and teach it manners is written from the perspective of a pet, teaching readers on how to train "the pet owner" into being "your slave". 

The Sights and Sounds of the U.S.A.
Within Mad, Coker is best known for several recurring features. From issue #88 (July 1964) onwards, Frank Jacobs and Larry Siegel wrote 'The Sights and Sounds of the U.S.A.' Each episode offered a sardonic look at various American locations, including New York City, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami Beach, Ft. Worth and a general small town. It gave Coker the opportunity to draw recognizable, detailed, but not so flattering hotspots in American cities and towns. The final episode was published in issue #95 (June 1965).


'A Mad Peak Through the Microscope' , written by Phil Hahn (Mad #61, March 1961).

A Mad Peek/Peak Through the Microscope 
Another recurring feature drawn by Coker was 'A Mad Peak Through the Microscope' (sometimes spelled as 'Peek'). Written by Phil Hahn, it was first featured in Mad issue #61 (March 1961). The series featured germs, bacteria, microbes and diseases in satirical situations. The next two episodes were also written by Hahn, but drawn by Bob Clarke instead. They appeared in issue #70 (April 1962) and issue #89 (September 1964). The final episode, printed in issue #104 (July 1966), was drawn by Coker again. 

Mad Beastlies
In Mad issue #85 (March 1964) Hahn and Coker launched the series 'Mad Beastlies', in which words and expressions with an animal name in them are given a literal interpretation. For instance, a "dogma" is depicted as a dog dressed as a mother, while a "navigator" is an alligator in navy uniform. Four episodes in total were published. The first three ran in Mad between issue #85, #86 and #87 (March, April and June 1964), with the final one appearing in issue #100 (January 1966). 

Horrifying Clichés
Having proven his skill in drawing wacky creatures, Coker and scriptwriter Phil Hahn teamed up again in Mad issue #103 (June 1966) to launch their best known series, 'Horrifying Clichés'. Similar to their 'Mad Beastlies' series, it features literal visualisations of popular idioms, proverbs and expressions, but represented by goofy-looking monsters. Among the most memorable examples are "letting out an insane cackle", "drowning your sorrows" and "hammering out a compromise". The series was popular and kept running for decades. Apart from Hahn, writers like Jack Hanrahan, E. Nelson Bridwell, George Woodbridge, May Sakami, Neal Barbara, Barbara Nell King, Frank Jacobs and Nick Meglin also came up with ideas. The final installment was published in issue #518 (December 2012).


'Horrifying Clichés'.

Only a Republican/ Democrat Could Possibly Believe...
Later in his career, Coker became the artist of yet another recurring series in Mad Magazine. In the mid-1990s he and scriptwriter Russ Cooper lauched 'Only A Republican/ Democrat Could Possibly Believe...'. As the differences between the U.S. Democratic and U.S. Republican Party became more polarizing, it was only more tempting to poke fun at them. Each episode offers a satirical look at the often contradictive beliefs and opinions of both parties. Sometimes their stance on similar divisive issues is directly contrasted and ridiculed. The first installment ran in Mad issue #335 (May 1995). Two extra episodes followed, namely issue #391 (March 2000) and the final one in #444 (August 2004). 


'Lancelot'.

Lancelot 
Paul Coker also had a career outside Mad. 'Lancelot' (Newspaper Enterprise Association, 1970-1972), scripted by Frank "Penn" Ridgeway, was an attempt at a gag-a-day newspaper comic. It featured the antics of a lazy husband, who lets his wife do all the hard work.

Horace and Buggy
Duck Edwing wrote the gags for Coker's newspaper gag-a-day comic 'Horace and Buggy' (McNaught Syndicate, 1971). It featured humorous situations starring insects, but never caught on. After six months the series was cancelled. 'Horace and Buggy' should not be confused with the 'Woody Woodpecker' character Dr. Horace N. Buggy. 


From: 'The Seducer's Cookbook'.

Rankin/Bass
Coker played a significant part in the success of the stop-motion animation company Rankin/Bass. Their founder, Arthur Rankin Jr., hired him in 1966 on the basis of his work for Hallmark and Mad, particularly the holiday-themed illustrations. Soon Coker became character, background and production designer for Rankin/Bass' animated films and TV specials. His first project was the feature film 'The Wacky World of Mother Goose' (1967), based on classic English nursery rhymes and fairy tales by Charles Perrault. Coker  designed Frosty the Snowman, a character who would become the mascot of Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. 

Coker worked on their Christmas TV specials 'Frosty the Snowman' (1969), 'Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town' (1970), 'The Year Without a Santa Claus' (1974), 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' (1974), 'Frosty's Winter Wonderland' (1976), 'Rudolph's Shiny New Year' (1976), 'Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey' (1977), 'The Stingiest Man in Town' (1978), 'Jack Frost' (1979), 'Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas In July' (1979), 'Pinocchio's Christmas' (1980), 'The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold' (1981), 'Santa, Baby' (2001) and the Easter specials 'Here Comes Peter Cottontail' (1971), 'The First Easter Rabbit' (1976) and 'The Easter Bunny Is Comin' To Town' (1977).

Among his non-holiday related TV specials were 'Cricket on the Hearth' (1967), 'The Enchanted World of Danny Kaye: The Emperor's New Clothes' (1972), 'Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters' (1972), 'The Red Baron' (1970) and the animated TV series 'The Reluctant Dragon & Mr. Toad Show' (1970). Coker was also responsible for the design of Rankin/Bass' advertisements, film posters and the covers of their soundtrack albums. Another Mad regular who worked for this studio was Jack Davis.

Cartoon Network
In the early 2000s Coker returned to animation when he designed characters and props for the episode 'Parents/ Embarrassment' of Greg Miller's animated TV series 'Whatever Happened to Robot Jones?' (2002-2003) on Cartoon Network.

Horrifying Clichés, by Paul Coker Jr.
'Ignoring a Snide Remark’ (colourized version), from 'Horrifying Clichés’, Written by Phil Hahn, George Woodbridge and May Sakami. Mad issue #113 (September 1967).

Graphic contributions
Coker illustrated greeting cards for Hallmark. He designed advertisements for Travelogue Magazine and the appliance company York Machinery & Supply. He livened up the pages of Mimi Sheraton's 'The Seducer's Cookbook' (Random House, 1962), which explained how food and etiquette can ignite passion between couples. Another book illustrated by him was Fred Beck's '89 Years In A Sand Trap' (Hill & Wang, New York, 1965), a humorous look at golf.

Recognition
In 2015 Paul Coker received the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award.


From: '89 Years In A Sand Trap'.

Death, Legacy and influence
Paul Coker passed away at age 93 on 23 July 2022. He was a strong graphic influence on artists like Peter Bagge, John Kricfalusi, Didier Comès, Tad Carpenter, Chris Sharp, Bill Watterson, Peter Kuper, Scott Nickel, George Kochell, Lance Hansen, Danny Hellman, Bob Englehart and David Apatoff. The radio amateur magazine 73 Magazine spoofed Mad in a special issue published in April 1967. Coker's 'Horrifying Clichés' feature was lampooned by Wayne Pierce. In issue #147 of National Lampoon (November 1971) the magazine ridiculed Mad in a special. Once again 'Horrifying Clichés' was satirized, but this time in a more perfect stylistic parody, created by Ralph Reese.

In an interview with Nick Gazin for www.vice.com, Peter Bagge described Coker's work as "a fine blend between cute and garish." Basketball star Bill Russell wrote in his autobiography 'Second Wind. The Memoires of an Opinionated Man' (1986) that he considered being satirized in the article 'Mad's Poll-Taker of the Year' in Mad issue #173 (March 1975), written by Lou Silverstone and illustrated by Paul Coker, "one of the greatest compliments he ever received." 


Self-portrait from 2010.

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