Hah! Noon by Jack Davis
'Hah! Noon!' (From Mad #9, 1954).

Jack Davis was one of the main artists for Mad Magazine. He was one of the pioneers during the first four years, when the magazine was still under editorship of Harvey Kurtzman. Davis was one of the few to remain part of "the usual gang of idiots" long after Al Feldstein and William M. Gaines had pushed Mad into a different direction. He drew various parody comics and illustrated articles. Davis was the first artist to ever illustrate Mad's long-running series 'Scenes We'd Like To See' (1955). The tireless artist designed several of Mad's fake advertisements, as well as their real-life ads to promote subscriptions. Apart from Mad, Davis also contributed to EC's horror, war and suspense comic books. Together with Mad writer Nick Meglin he created the sports gag comic 'Super Fan' (1970-1974). Davis is renowned for his wild, energetic and chaotic style, which influenced numerous creators of humor comics. His drawings explode with movement, making him perfect for depictions of swarming crowds. He excelled in amusing depictions of sports games, grotesque people and monsters. While not a household name among the general public, his instantly recognizable art still adorned many advertisements, film posters, trading cards, board games, album and magazine covers. In this sense he was arguably one the most visible comic artists in the United States. When he passed away he was the last surviving pioneer artist of both E.C. and Mad's early years. 

Early life 
He was born in 1924 as John Burton Davis, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia. His first work was published in 1943, in the readers section of the 32th issue of Tip Top Comics, when Davis was twelve years old. Davis ranked Honoré Daumier, Heinrich Kley, Walt Disney, E.C. Segar, Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, Harold Foster, Iggy Frost, George Baker, Bill Mauldin and Hank Ketcham among his main graphic influences. Later in life he also expressed admiration for Gary Larson, Bill Watterson, Dik BrowneJeff MacNelly and Pat Oliphant. When Hal Foster made his first Sunday page of 'Prince Valiant', Davis sent him a letter and received the original artwork in return. 

In 1941 the United States entered World War II and Davis joined the U.S. Navy. During his military training he drew the one-panel gag cartoon 'Seaman Swabby', a bumbling, big-nosed sailor inspired by George Baker's similar military comic strip 'Sad Sack'. Davis spent his military service in Guam, Micronesia, fighting the Japanese army. He still found time to draw 'Seaman Swabby', but now under a different title: 'Boondocker'. The first entry was published on 2 December 1945. Davis drew a new panel every week during the entire nine months he was stationed there.

After his military service Davis studied art under Lamar Dodd at the University of Georgia. He published in the school paper The Red and the Black, where he rebooted and retitled 'Boondocker' again. This time the character became a student, 'Georgiae', who'd just left the army. Together with some fellow students Davis founded a humor magazine called Bullsheet.  Since Bullsheet wasn't sold on campus, it allowed for more risqué comedy. Davis made some cartoony depictions of bulldogs around this time, which were adapted as mascots for the American football team, associated with the University of Georgia. Unfortunately Davis never graduated.

Two-Fisted Tales by Jack Davis
'Two-Fisted Tales' #25.

Early comics career
In 1947 Davis found a summer job as assistant to Ed Dodd's newspaper comic 'Mark Trail' in The New York Post. Dodd encouraged him to take some additional drawing lessons at the Art Students League in New York City. Despite not knowing anybody there, Davis moved to the city. In New York he illustrated an instruction manual for Coca Cola, which was his first well-paid assignment. He also briefly inked Mike Roy's 'The Saint' for The Herald Tribune and drew some comics for the western comic magazine Lucky Star. 

The Vault of Horror #30 by Jack Davis
The Vault of Horror #30

EC Comics
In 1951 Davis walked into a newspaper stand and noticed a copy of EC Comics. As he picked up the issue, he noticed their company address inside. Rather than read or buy the issue, he quickly scribbled down the address on a piece of paper, while the store owner wasn't looking. Back home he applied for a job and was instantly hired, despite not knowing what kind of comics EC produced. At the time the company built up a reputation for thrilling, controversial suspense, horror and war comics. Davis' first commission was illustrating a story by editor Al Feldstein. To Feldstein's surprise the young recruit completed everything in one night and turned it in the next day! From that moment on he became E.C.'s most reliable and efficient artist. He worked on all their horror and suspense titles, including The Vault of Horror, Tales From The Crypt, Haunt Of Fear, Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories and Incredible Science Fiction. Davis was a huge fan of B-horror movies and loved drawing monsters and witches. He was a master in drawing grotesque people, with heads and limbs out of proportion with the rest of the body. These kind of exaggerations also made him a natural for EC Comics' humoristic magazines, such as Mad Magazine and Panic. Especially when witch hunts against "dangerous comics" resulted in E.C. being forced to discontinue all their "violent" comic titles, under pressure of the Comics Code

Foul Play, by Jack Davis (1953)
'Foul Play!', one of the all-time classic EC horror stories (The Haunt of Fear #19).

Mad Magazine
In October 1952 EC Comics brought out the first issue of Mad Magazine, with Harvey Kurtzman as chief editor and main comic scriptwriter. Mad specialized in zany, humor comics, most of which delved into satire and/or parody.  Davis was present from issue #1 on, parodying the kind of horror comics EC was notorious for. He showed additional self-mockery when he and Kurtzman spoofed Ed Dodd's 'Mark Trail' (issue #12, June 1954), the very series Davis once worked on as an assistant. In issue #2 (December 1952), Davis designed his first cover. Like all artists during Mad's pioneer years, he illustrated stories by Harvey Kurtzman. Among them were parodies of 'The Lone Ranger' (issue #3, January 1953, and issue #8, December 1953), 'Casey at the Bat' (issue #6, August 1953), 'High Noon' (issue #9, 1954), 'The Barefoot Contessa' (issue #23, May 1955), 'Vera Cruz' (issue #24, July 1955), 'The Dave Garroway Show' (issue #26, November 1955) and 'Gunsmoke' (issue #30, December 1956). A classic spoof is 'Kane Keen! - Private Eye' (issue #5, June 1953), which ridicules two radio detective series at the same time, namely 'Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons' and  'Martin Kane, Private Eye'. Equally notable is their take on Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland'  (issue #18, December 1954), in which Davis imitated John Tenniel's classic illustrations. Their most audacious parody attacked the quiz show 'What's My Line?' (issue #17, November 1954), with a daring satire of Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunts.

Davis was the first artist to illustrate one of Mad's longest-running features, namely 'Scenes We'd Like To See'. The first episode, written by Kurtzman, appeared in issue #23 (May 1955). Each gag shows a typical situation from a famous fairy tale, comic strip, film, novel or TV show, but with a funny twist. Apart from comics, Davis was frequently commissioned to parody real-life advertisements. He was also the first Mad artist to draw ads which promoted subscriptions to Mad Magazine.

Leaving Mad (1957-1965)
In 1956 Kurtzman left Mad Magazine out of creative differences. Davis supported Kurtzman by also leaving Mad (although some of his material still appeared in its pages in 1958). He drew comics for Kurtzman's new, but short-lived magazines Trump (1957), Humbug (1957-1958) and Help! (1960-1965). Between 1958 and 1963 Davis also worked for Atlas Comics and ghosted a few episodes of Kurtzman and Will Elder's erotic series 'Little Annie Fanny' in Hugh Hefner's Playboy. His drawings were found in several humor magazines which imitated Mad, such as Cracked, Slick, Loco and Crazy. He even tried to to launch an Mad rip-off of his own, Yak Yak (Dell Comics, 1961), which only lasted two issues. 

Return to Mad (1965-1997)
In 1965 Davis returned to Mad, where he would stay for most of his career. He was one of the few Mad artists who returned after briefly leaving the magazine. Davis was also one of the few pioneers during Mad's first four years (1952-1956) to remain part of the "usual gang of idiots" afterwards. Most other pioneers never or only occasionally published in Mad again afterwards. Davis illustrated TV parodies, such as 'Hogan's Heroes' (scripted by Larry Siegel, issue #108, January 1967), 'Sesame Street' (written by Dick DeBartolo, issue #146, October 1971), 'Cannon' (with Dick DeBartolo, issue #160, July 1973), 'Trapper John M.D.' (scripted by Stan Hart, issue #221, March 1981), 'M.A.S.H.' (written by Arnie Kogen, issue #234, October 1982) and 'Rescue 911' (1991, with Dick DeBartolo). Naturally he also worked on film parodies, among them: 'Dr. Zhivago' (written by DeBartolo, issue #113, September 1967), 'A Fistful of Dollars' (with Lou Silverstone, Mad Special #4, Fall 1971), 'The Bad News Bears' (scripted by Stan Hart, issue #188, January 1977), 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (written by Debartolo and Frank Jacobs, issue #228, January 1982), 'E.T.' (scripted by Stan Hart, issue #236, January 1983), 'Scarface' (with Larry Siegel, issue #248, July 1984) and - for its 300th issue in January 1991 - 'Gone With The Wind' (with Stan Hart). His spoof of 'The Bad News Bears' again proved that he wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself: Davis had designed the poster for that film.

Davis was usually the go-to guy whenever cowboys or sports had to be depicted. Apart from comics, he designed several advertisements for Mad Magazine, particularly their subscription ads. He livened up the cover of various Mad paperbacks, such as 'It's A World, World, World, World Mad' (1965), 'A Mad Look At Old Movies' (1966), 'The Return Of A Mad Look At Old Movies' (1970), 'The Mad Jock Book' (1983) and 'A Mad Guide To Parents, Teachers and Other Enemies' (1985). In 1979 he provided artwork to the Mad Magazine Board Game and Card Game. In true Mad fashion, the winner of these two games is actually the loser (or vice versa). Davis was a mainstay in Mad's pages until 1997. 

Kane Keen!, by Jack Davis 1953
'Kane Keen! - Private Eye!' (Mad Magazine, issue #5, June 1953).

Super Fan
Between 1970 and 1974 Davis drew a sports comic named 'Super Fan', scripted by Nick Meglin, which appeared in the monthly American football magazine Pro Quarterback. It tells the story of Y.A. Schmickle, a geeky boy who becomes a champion thanks to a magic spell. The comic satirizes much of early 1970s culture and society, while many well known American football players of the day have a cameo. When the comic strip was published in paperback format, legendary sports journalist Howard Cosell wrote the foreword.

Work in the 1970s
In the 1970s Davis drew horror comics for Warren Publishing's magazines Creepy and Eerie. He also livened up covers and illustrations for TV Guide, Time and Esquire.

Animation designs
Davis provided character designs for the animation company Rankin-Bass, particularly the cult film 'Mad Monster Party' (1967) - scripted by Harvey Kurtzman - as well as the TV cartoon series 'The King Kong Show' (1966-1969), 'The Jackson Five' (1970-1971) and 'Coneheads' (1981). 

Davis' style is instantly recognizable. He used crosshatching and water colors. In Mad's black-and-white pages he worked with grey paints. Davis was often commissioned to draw huge crowds of people swarming about. He was at his best when he could draw senes of chaos, mayhem and trashy environments. In general his drawings have tremendous energy and vitality. His grimy, disheveled, clown foot characters are barely able to stay in their panels. They are always nervous and/or in a hurry. Given that Davis was a fast artist himself, it may have been a reflection of his own fights against deadlines.  His quick and efficient work tempo was the stuff of legends. People said that he was able to whip out excellent drawings while sitting in waiting rooms. Another claim was that he used ordinary children's watercolor sets to make paintings. Interviewed by Jim Woodring for the Comics Journal in 2000, Davis confirmed he once used lake water to make a watercolor painting during a camp trip. His only complaint was that it had mud it. He also told Woodring that he once used a few sips of bourbon as water paint.

Crapper John MD by Jack Davis
'Crapper John M.D.' (Mad #221, 1981)

Graphic contributions
Jack Davis designed posters for comedy films like 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' (1963), Woody Allen's 'Bananas' (1971) and 'The Bad News Bears' (1976), but also serious pictures such as 'The Long Goodbye' (1973) and 'American Graffiti' (1973). He livened up the album covers for comedy records by Spike Jones, Bob & Ray, Gene Moss, Jonathan Winters, John Zacherle and Weird "Al" Yankovic, as well as record sleeves of more serious artists, such as Harry Arnold & His Orchestra's 'The Jazztone Mystery Band' (1957) and Johnny Cash's 'Everybody Loves A Nut' (1966). Davis also illustrated the cover of Frank Jacobs' book 'Mad Zaps the Human Race' (1984). 

In 1985 Jack Davis received an Inkpot Award. The National Cartoonists' Society gave him both the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award (1996) and Reuben Award for Best Cartoonist of the Year (2000). In 2003 he was inducted in the Eisner Award Hall of Fame, followed by the Ghastly Award Hall of Fame (2014) a decade later. Davis was posthumously bestowed with the Stacey Aragon Special Recognition Award (2019) during the Inkwell Awards and a Harvey Kurtzman Hall of Fame Award (2019). 

On 16 December 2014, at the age of 90, Jack Davis announced his retirement from drawing, because he 'couldn't meet his own standards anymore'. He  died in 2016 from complications of a stroke in Athens, Georgia, at the age of 91. At the time of his death he was the oldest surviving E.C. Comics artist and Mad contributor from the pioneer years under Kurtzman's editorial command (1952-1956). His passing was commemorated on Twitter by Peter Lord (Aardman Animation) and Joe Dante (director of 'Gremlins'). 

Legacy and influence
Jack Davis' zany and nervous drawing style influenced many artists, including Morris, Terry Gilliam, Art Spiegelman, Theo van den BoogaardEver Meulen, Nikita MandrykaJean-Louis LejeunePeter Bagge, Jim Woodring (who claimed that Davis' record cover for 'Dracula's Greatest Hits' (1966) by Gene Moss was an early inspiration on his own graphic style), Bernie Wrightson, Darwyn Cooke, Phil Hester, Everett PeckFrançois Walthéry, Jean-Claude Mézières, GotlibEric HeuvelAdam Zyglis and Rick Meyerowitz (whose poster for the film 'Animal House' (1978) is often mistaken for Jack Davis' art). On the cover of Mad issue #339 (September 1995) Davis drew Mad's mascot Alfred E. Neuman plunging radio host Howard Stern out of a toilet. Stern was thrilled when he saw the cover and called it "my greatest career highlight", especially since he was a huge fan of Davis' work since childhood: "I think he was one of the greatest artists ever. I worshipped the guy when I was a kid." Stern invited Mad editors Nick Meglin and John Ficarra over on his show to express his gratitude. In an interview with CNN, conducted by Todd Leopold on 26 February 2009, Matt Groening said that both Jack Kirby and Jack Davis were heroes of his, whom he met personally: "They're definitely part of my pantheon of great artists."

Two-Fisted Tales cover by Jack Davis

Series and books by Jack Davis in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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