Harvey Kurtzman is one of the leading artists in American satirical and adult comics. As the founding father of magazines like MAD and Help!, and the co-creator of 'Little Annie Fanny' in Playboy, he has been of great importance for the genre and American comics in general. He attended the School of Music and Art in New York, where he met Harry Chester and Bill Elder. After winning a contest, he saw his first work published in the comic book Tip Top Comics in 1939.
Three years later, he became apprentice artist for Louis Ferstadt. He contributed to companies like Ace, Quality and Aviation. Among his earliest features were 'Mago and The Unknown Soldier', 'Black Venus', 'Black Bull', and 'Flat Fook Burns'. For the comic books of the Timely group, he produced a large amount of filler gag pages under the title 'Hey Look!' between 1946 and 1949. He also worked on a syndicated strip called 'The Silver Linings' for the New York Herald Syndicate. Around this time, he began a studio together with Bill Elder, his artistic companion during most of his career.
In 1949, Kurtzman joined the E.C. Comics crew and worked on the New Trend horror and science fiction stories before becoming editor of the war title 'Two Fisted Tales' in 1950, followed a year later by 'Frontline Combat'.
The Vault of Horror #12
Kurtzman edited and scripted gutsy, realistic war comics with a moral, in cooperation with artists like Wallace Wood, John Severin, Jack Davis and Bill Elder. In addition to EC, he created the western parody 'Pot-Shot Pete' for Billy the Kid Adventure Magazine, as well as 'Genius' in the Al Capp's Li'l Abner periodical. The latter was revived as 'Sheldon' in Kurtzman Komix, published by Kitchen Sink in 1976.
In 1952, he became the driving force behind EC's MAD, the groundbreaking satirical magazine that parodied most American series of the time. Kurtzman remained in charge when the comic book was turned into an adult magazine in 1954. MAD became a publishing sensation, and one of the biggest successes in the history of comics. Kurtzman was the editor, and he contributed art, wrote scripts, designed page layouts, and gathered around him some of the finest cartoonists ever. However, Mad was owned by William Gaines, the publisher of E.C. Comics, and after an acrimonious tussle, Kurtzman parted with Gaines and EC in 1956.
Frontline Combat #4
He then launched some short-lived magazines, such as Trump (in cooperation with Playboy's Hugh Hefner) and Humbug. He also collected some of his unpublished work in the pocket 'Jungle Book', with Ballantine Books in 1959. Kurtzman also published in non-comic magazines, like Madison Avenue Magazine and Esquire.
Little Annie Fanny, by Harvey Kurtzman
In 1960, he joined Warren Publishing and launched Help!, another satrical magazine that ran until 1965. Often in collaboration with Elder, he re-introduced characters like 'Goodman Beaver' and published work by underground artists like Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, but also Terry Gilliam and Woody Allen. Also with Elder, he created 'Little Annie Fanny' for Playboy, which ran from 1962 to 1988.
Little Annie Fanny, by Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Elder
In 1973, he became a teacher at the New York School of Visual Arts, and during the following year, he produced some short stories for the French market, published in L'Écho des Savanes. Between 1980 and 1985, he created 'Betsy's Buddies', a series co-created with his former student Sarah Downs. In 1985, published two issues of the satirical magazine Nuts and returned to the pages of MAD until 1988. In the 1990s, he published books like 'Harvey Kurtzman Strange Adventures' and 'From Aarg to Zap' and was involved in a relaunch of Two-Fisted Tales by Dark Horse Comics, shortly before his death in 1993.
Harvey Kurtzman has been an inspiration to artists from the US, but also from Europe. Artists whose work is indebted to Kurtzman are Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Arnold Roth, Al Jaffee, Terry Gilliam, Art Spiegelman, André Franquin, Marcel Gotlib, Georges Wolinski, René Goscinny and Morris, while Kurtzman's MAD has paved the way for French humor magazines like Fluide Glacial, Hara-Kiri and Charlie-Hebdo.
Weird Science #14