Jack Davis was one of the main artists for Mad Magazine from its start in 1952, and the final remaining artists of the classic EC Comics line-up. He was born as John Burton Davis, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia in 1924. His first work was published in the reader's section of Tip Top Comics when Davis was twelve years old. He was in the Navy from 1945 to 1947, and cooperated on the Navy News, for which he created the character Boondocker.
After the second World War, he attended the University of Georgia, where he studied at art school under Lamar Dodd. He cooperated on the campus magazine Bullsheet, and became especially know for his drawings of comical caricatures of Bulldogs, that served as mascots for the university's football teams for decades to come. He joined EC Comics in 1951, after finishing his additional studies at the New York's Art Students League and having assisted artists like Ed Dodd and Mike Roy on the comic strips 'Mark Trail' and 'The Saint', respectively.
Because Davis was quick and efficient, Feldstein and Kurtzman could always depend on him, making him the most versatile artist of the EC crew. Davis worked for all the EC horror and suspense comic books, including The Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear, Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, and Incredible Science Fiction. He loved horror B-movies and felt completely at ease designing monsters and witches. He was a master in drawing grotesque people, whose heads and limbs always seem a bit out of proportion with the rest of their body. This made Davis, when most of the EC titles folded in 1955 due to the Comics Code, a perfect addition to the company's more humorous magazines MAD and Panic. In the very first issue of Mad (1952), Davis already parodied EC's own horror comics. By the time the next issue came out his artwork graced the cover.
In 1957 Davis left MAD to support his colleague Harvey Kurtzman in his attempts to launch similar satirical magazines, such as Trump, Humbug and Help. He additionally did some comics work for Atlas Comics (1958-1963), as well as the men's magazine Playboy, for which he worked on 'Little Annie Fanny' stories. He also worked as an illustrator for magazines like Cracked, Loco and Crazy.
In 1965 Davis rejoined MAD and would stay there for more than 30 years. He made numerous gag comics, illustrations and spoofs of TV series, such as 'The Lone Ranger' (1953, scripted by Harvey Kurtzman), 'What's My Line?' (1954, scripted by Harvey Kurtzman), 'Gunsmoke' (1955, scripted by Harvey Kurtzman), 'Hogan's Heroes' (1965, scripted by Larry Siegel), 'Sesame Street' (1971, scripted by Dick DeBartolo), 'Cannon' (1973, with Dick DeBartolo), 'Trapper John M.D.' (1981, scripted by Stan Hart), 'M.A.S.H.' (1981, scripted by Arnie Kogen) and 'Rescue 911' (1991, with Dick DeBartolo). Like many other 'Mad' artists Davis also drew film parodies, such as 'High Noon' (1952, scripted by Kurtzman), 'A Fistful of Dollars' (1964, scripted by Lou Silverstone), 'Dr. Zhivago' (1965, scripted by DeBartolo), 'The Bad News Bears' (1976, scripted by Stan Hart), 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981, scripted by Dick Debartolo en Frank Jacobs), 'E.T.' (1982, scripted by Stan Hart), 'Scarface' (1983, scripted by Larry Siegel) and - for the special occasion of its 300th issue in 1991 - 'Gone With The Wind' (1937, scripted by Stan Hart). In 1979 he also provided the artwork for both the Mad Magazine Board Game and Card Game.
A trademark of Davis' style is the use of crosshatching and water colors, usually grey when published in the black-and-white pages of MAD. He drew grimy, disheveled caricatures and was a master in depicting mayhem, chaos and trashy environments. His clown-foot characters always seem to be nervous, hasty and unable to remain in the panels they were drawn in. With his instantly humorous style and passion for horror and sports games Davis was a natural for illustrating bubble gum cards, display advertising, movie posters and album covers. Among his most notable film posters are those for 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' (1963), 'Bananas' (1971), 'The Long Goodbye' (1973) and 'American Graffiti' (1973). He designed covers for comedy records by Spike Jones, Bob & Ray, 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). Jim Woodring claimed that Davis' design of the record 'Dracula's Greatest Hits' (1964) by Gene Moss was an early graphic inspiration.
Davis was also requested to do covers and illustrations for TV Guide, Time and Esquire and provided character designs for the animation company Rankin-Bass, particularly the cult film 'Mad Monster Party' (1967) - which was 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 continued to do some comics in the horror genre for the magazines of Warren Publishing in the 1970s. The National Cartoonists' Society gave him both the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, as well as the Reuben Award for Best Cartoonist of the Year in 2000. 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'. Davis died on 27 July 2016 in Athens, Georgia, at the age of 91.
Jack Davis' zany and nervous drawing style was an inspiration for many artists, including Morris, Terry Gilliam, Art Spiegelman, Ever Meulen, Peter Bagge, Jim Woodring, Darwyn Cooke, Phil Hester, François Walthéry and Rick Meyerowitz (whose poster for the film 'Animal House' (1978) is often mistaken for Jack Davis' art).