Mort Drucker is most famous as one of Mad Magazine's "usual gang of idiots." He mostly illustrated their film and TV parodies, which allowed him to show off his immense talent for caricaturing. Together with Al Jaffee he is one of the magazine's oldest contributors, having joined the staff in 1956 and drawing his last comic for them in 2011. With a career spanning 60 years, he drew over 500 titles and that's just for Mad alone.
Drucker was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1929. He never went to art school and is a complete autodidact in terms of drawing. He learned his craft from studying great masters such as Norman Rockwell, E.C. Segar, Albert Dorne, Harold Foster, Robert Fawcett, Al Hirschfeld, Ronald Searle and Charles M. Schulz, whom he regarded as his prime graphic influences. Drucker's grandfather was a friend of Will Eisner's grandfather. Thus the two future comics legends got to meet one another as a child. Eisner also guided Drucker to his first job as a comics artist, assisting Bert Whitman on the newspaper strip 'Debbie Dean' in 1947. He then joined the staff of National Periodical Publications (DC Comics), where he worked as a retoucher. About 1950, he began freelancing for comic books. All throughout the decade he contributed to mystery, war and science fiction titles, published by both DC and Stan Lee's Atlas line. He also drew for Dell ('Luke Short', 'Steve Donovan', 'Western Marshall'), ACG ('Lovelorn'), St. John ('Abbott and Costello Comics') and Better Publications. Originally Drucker worked predominantly in black-and-white because he never owned crayons as a child. When Time Magazine asked him to design a cover, he was so nervous that he asked Frank Frazetta for some professional advice. The final result came out so good that he felt more at ease making colour drawings afterwards.
In 1956 Drucker joined Mad Magazine. The comics magazine just entered a new era. Original founder Harvey Kurtzman had left and Al Feldstein and William M. Gaines became the new chief editors. Drucker made his debut in issue #32 (April 1957). His earliest work were basic parodies. He mostly illustrated articles written by professional comedians Sid Caesar and Bob & Ray. It wasn't until he drew a comic book parody of the TV series 'Perry Mason' in issue #48 (July 1959) and the film 'The King and I' in issue #61 (March 1961) that he, in his own words, "realized his destiny". Films and TV shows had been spoofed before in Mad, namely by Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis and Will Elder. But it was Drucker who really put his stamp on it. He made it both his trademark, as well as one of the magazine's major selling points.
Among the many film classics Drucker lampooned are 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1964, with Larry Siegel, Stan Hart and Frank Jacobs), 'Easy Rider' (1970, with Larry Siegel), 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' (1970, with Arnie Kogen), 'Dirty Harry' (1972, with Arnie Kogen), 'The Godfather' (1972, with Larry Siegel), the entire 'Planet of the Apes' (1973) and 'James Bond' (1974) franchise up to that point (both with Arnie Kogen), 'The Exorcist' (1974, with Larry Siegel), 'Jaws' (1976, with Larry Siegel), 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' (1976, with Dick Debartolo), 'Rocky' (1977, with Stan Hart), 'An Officer And A Gentleman' (1983, with Larry Siegel), 'Rambo' (1985, with Dick DeBartolo), 'Casablanca' (1991, with Arnie Kogen for Mad's 300th issue), 'Jurassic Park' (with Dick DeBartolo, 1993) and the first 'Harry Potter' movie (with Desmond Devlin, 2001). TV shows pastiched by him are 'Dr. Kildare' (1962, with Lou Silverstone), 'The Fugitive' (1964, with Stan Hart), 'Batman"'(1966, with Lou Silverstone), 'Star Trek' (1967, with Dick Debartolo), 'Dallas' (1981, with Lou Silverstone), 'The A-Team' (1983, with Stan Hart), 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' (1991, with Stan Hart), 'Seinfeld' (1994, with Stan Hart), 'NYPD Blue' (1994, with Stan Hart) 'Friends' (with Josh Gordon, 1995), 'The Sopranos' (2000, with Arnie Kogen), 'Sex & The City' (2001, with Josh Gordon), and 'Prison Break' (2006, with Dick DeBartolo), among others.
Drucker made so many film- and TV parodies for Mad that some people incorrectly assume he made each and every one of them. This is not the case. Artists like Will Elder, Jack Davis, John Severin, Bernard Krigstein, Don Martin, Paul Coker, Harry North, Jack Rickard, George Woodbridge, Al Jaffee, Bob Clarke, Bruce Stark, Tom Bunk, Drew Friedman, Walt F. Rosenberg, Timothy Shamey, Bill Wray, Ray Alma, Grey Blackwell, Gary Hallgren, Anton Emdin and especially Wally Wood, Angelo Torres, Sam Viviano, Hermann Meija and Tom Richmond have also taken this task upon them. But Drucker is without contest the most iconic and recognizable. Nick Meglin famously said: "Drucker is able to caricature somebody from the back and you'd still be able to recognize him." While his caricatures exaggarate people's faces, he always kept an eye on their anatomic proportions. Drucker studied hands, wrinkles, costumes and people's body language in order to understand how humans are "constructed". He strove for capturing the essence of their personalities; not just how they looked, but also how they moved and talked. This was also necessary because he had to portray them as characters in comic strip narratives. They had to be shown from different viewpoints and angles, but also taking on many different expressions. Above all, he wanted to make his characters look appealing, no matter how ugly or despicable they were in real life.
Lay-out was just as important. Drucker strove for mimicking the overall atmosphere of the original. He imitated the cinematic style by composing his panels in a similar way. He picked out just the right poses and camera view points. As a result, both the characters as well as the comic strip panels resemble a genuine movie or TV adaptation, making the spoof elements all the funnier. In the early decades Drucker had to acquire most of his documentation personally. He cut out photographs from magazines, newspapers or promotional stills, because Hollywood and TV studios refused to send him images. Many were distrustful of Mad and didn't like the fact that their pictures and series were ridiculed. From the late 1960s on, when the first generation of Mad readers had grown up, it became easier to find old fans willing to grant him the desired documentation.
Drucker recalled a time when LucasFilm tried to sue him for parodying 'The Empire Strikes Back' (1980), particularly because his spoof spoiled many key plot elements . As a counter-attack he mailed them a copy of a letter George Lucas sent him, in which the director thanked him for his amusing spoof and added a request to obtain the original document. Lucas even wrote: "Special Oscars should be awarded to Drucker and DeBartolo, the George Bernard Shaw and Leonardo da Vinci of comic satire. Their sequel to my sequel was sheer galactic madness. (...) Keep up the good Farce!"
Other celebrities who bought original artwork were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who purchased his comic strip parody of their movie 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' (1966). In 1987 Drucker spoofed the TV series 'L.A. Law' and drew a cover depicting all the characters. The cast liked it so much that they sent back a photograph where they mimicked the poses their caricatural selves took on that cover. Film critic Roger Ebert claimed he "learned his profession from reading Mad's film parodies, which taught him all the clichés and formulas underneath the pictures." As such, he was honored to write the foreword to Drucker's compilation book 'Mad About The Movies' (1998).
Apart from MAD, Drucker also kept drawing for DC's 'War Stories', 'Sgt. Rock', 'The Adventures of Martin & Lewis' (1952-1957, based on the popular film duo) and 'The Adventures of Bob Hope' (1959-1963), based on the famous film comedian. Between 1984 and 1986, he made the syndicated daily gag strip 'Benchley' in cooperation with Jerry Dumas, which spoofed president Reagan through his supposed assistant Benchley. Drucker has illustrated children's books, as well as the covers of the political satires 'John F. Kennedy Coloring Book' (with Paul Laikin, 1961), 'The Ollie North Coloring Book' (with David Duncan, 1987) and 'Farewell Tribute to Ronald Reagan Coloring Book' (with Lee J. Ames, 1988). Another project was the horror comic 'Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror' (edited by Russ Jones, 1966). Drucker designed the album cover of 'The Bears' (1988) by The Bears and the back cover of 'State of Euphoria' (1988) by Anthrax. Naturally it was only a tiny step for him to design film posters too, including the one for George Lucas' 'American Graffiti' (1973). Lucas later said that Drucker was his "first and only choice" to illustrate that poster. Not afraid to bite the hand that fed him Drucker also drew Mad's parody of that film, under the name: 'American Confetti' (issue 166, 1974).
Mort Drucker received many accolades over the years. In 1987 he obtained the Reuben Award. In 1995 the Art Institute of Boston gave him the honorary title "doctor of fine arts". His covers for Time Magazine have been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution. In 2015 he received the National Cartoonists' Society's Medal of Honor. His work has been compiled in 'Draw 50 Famous Caricatures' (with Lee J. Ames, 1990) and 'Mad's Greatest Artists: Mort Drucker' (2012). The latter features written essays about Drucker's art, written by film directors like J.J. Abrams, Frank Darabont, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and actors like Michael J. Fox, who once in an interview with Larry King said that he knew he had "made it" when "Drucker drew his face". Dante compared Drucker to Al Hirschfeld as "the master American caricaturist", while Abrams confessed that he tried to imitate Drucker's caricatures and even signature when he was still at school. Spielberg praised Drucker for making him "aware of the culture of our generation": "(...) Mort's irreverent and historical caricatures have never been nor will they ever be equaled. He poked fun at all my favorite movies when I was a teenager and when I was a filmmaker, he started going to town on the ones I was making and I loved every frame of his." Lucas hailed Drucker as "the artist that defines MAD for me".
His work was an influence on John Kricfalusi, Rick Tulka, John Reiner, Angelo Torres, Sam Viviano, Bruce Stark, Jason Seiler, Jim McDermott and Peter Selgin. Charles M. Schulz once claimed that Drucker "draws everything the way we would all like to draw".