Jack Davis, along with Will Elder and Wally Wood, formed a triumvirate of great comics artists who worked with demented genius comic writer Harvey Kurtzman to create some of the funniest and best drawn humor comics ever created, the Mad comic books from the middle of the last century.
If you have never seen reprints of the Mad comics from the ’50s and your picture of Mad is from the current day magazine, you have no idea what you’re missing. In reaching for a comparison I was tempted to say that it’s like comparing the warmed over yogurt of the past decade’s Saturday Night Live shows to the comic brilliance of that show’s hilarious and ground breaking first three seasons, but a more apt comparison might be the unmatched comic genius of Ernie Kovacs, whose surreal and incredibly imaginative skit comedy established a standard for television comedy that has never been matched.
Similarly, the genius of the original mad comics has never been matched, although it has been the inspiration for subsequent generations of irreverent, “thumbed nose in the face of society” comics like the underground comix of the sixties, independents of the ’80s and many of the more adventurous web comics of the 90’s and beyond.
Davis, although not possessed of Wood’s level of draftsmanship or Elder’s manic sense of comic detail and command of facial expression, was the one who stretched the limits of comic drawing to a previously unknown degree. His outlandishly loopy characters, drawn with a flurry of energetic lines, projected an incredible sense of comic movement and riotous glee in their impossible contortions.
In addition to his terrific Mad work, which kept up into the comic’s transition into a black and white magazine (the first few years of which maintained a high level of the original quality), Davis worked with Kurtzman subsequently in his other humor magazines, Help, Trump and Humbug and assisted Kurtzman and Elder on Playboy’s Little Annie Fannie (see my post on Elder). Davis became known for his wonderfully fun portrayals of monsters and did work for all of E.C’s horror comics, as well as humorous monsters for posters and trading cards. There is a web archive of his monster trading card series You’ll Die Laughing.
Davis also did work for Mad imitators like Cracked, Crazy and Panic, as well as creating artwork (usually with caricatures) for movie posters and magazines like TV Guide, Time and Esquire as well as a roster of advertising clients.
Davis received the National Cartoonist’s Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, their Ruben Award for Best Cartoonist of the Year in 2000, and was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame (The Eisner Award) in 2003 and The Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2005.
Art of Jack Davis is out of print, but you can still find it used. You can also find his horror comics work in reprints of the EC Comics like The EC Archives: Shock Suspenstories Volume 1 (and similar titles) and his wonderful Mad stuff in Mad About the Fifties, along with brilliant work by Wood and Elder.
Portflio on ispot
Monster cards and bio
Illustrated bio on Planet Cartoonist
Illustrated bio on Comiclopedia
Bio on Toonpedia
Illustrated bio on Crazy Camp Songs
Page on Monster Kid Magazine
Bio on Wikipedia
Interviewed by Jim Woodring in The Comics Journal
Spotlight on Rankin Bass
12 Replies to “Jack Davis”
Thanks for the link to the monster trading cards. Wonderful stuff.
Wow ur writtings r sure interestin n informative …ive always been a mad comics fan , ….but never really found out abut the artists behind them :)
Yahhhh!…He’s a very influential guy. I learned everything about funny visual gags from him, and Drucker…heck and a lot of the Mad guys really. Jaffee, Feldstein, Berg, Martin, Woodrbridge…etc.
I HAVE RECENTLY PURCHASED 4 PAINTINGS BY JACK DAVIS. EACH OF A DIFFERENT CIVIL WAR GENERAL. THEY APPEAR TO BE WATERCOLOR, AND HIS SIGNATURE SEEMS TO MATCH OTHER WORKS OF ART. I HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO FIND ANY INFO ON THESE PICTURES. DO YOU KNOW IF THIS IS HIS WORK?
My comment is in reaction to question #4. I live in Georgia and know quite a bit of history surrounding Jack Davis’ artwork. He did do 4 watercolor and ink paintings of individual civil war generals. If you google “Jack Davis civil war general paintings” under the image search you will find the paintings posted. I was excited to see your post because these are some of the most early examples that are known for Jack Davis. The paintings were done as a teenager using watercolor and pond water due to the lack of clean water at his home. I would advise you to take great care of the paintings as they are early work of a great American cartooning pioneer.
In response to 4 and 5, I also have 4 original Jack Davis illustrations of civil was Generals. JEB Stewart, John Bell Hood, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
I took these to an art appraisor in Atlanta about 5 years ago and had them authenticated as original work by Mr. Davis.
I would be very happy to communicate with anyone who has others or knows more of the background of these works.
We have 8 civil war general paintings in mostly black and white with a little color. They were left in this house when we bought it in 1991 from a ship captain Named Captain Charles Glenwright. These works of art are signed and are the same signature of the Jack Davis that did cartoons. The Generals also have the same feet caracteristics that he shows in his cartoon characters. Can someone tell us about these?
Regarding the Davis Civil War Generals,
Jack Davis has done 3 different sets of Civil War Generals. The best-known is the 1960 set produced by Raleigh Fabrics. They offered 8 Confederate and 4 Union Generals. The black linework was silkscreened on watercolor paper, and Raleigh Fabrics employees watercolored them following Davis’instructions. They were sold mail-order through ads in House Beautiful and Southern Living. According to Travers Green, head of Raleigh Fabrics, they sold well. Raleigh also offered wallpaper and fabric with the same artwork. Very rare.
The posters sometimes show up on eBay. Value depends on condition.
Thank you for years of excellant art and characatures.
I have a framed Davis print, “Some Georgia Militia Boys” that has been a treasured item since my childhood. Thanks for the great work!
Looking for info on my Jack Davis General sketches I have four
I have a framed Grant print. Still have no clue as to the value of this. Any ideas?
I have one of Jack Davis drawing picture and I do not know the value of it I do not see it on the YouTube and I look through all his drawing and I still don’t see that one it’s a nurse is a whole lot of nurses trying to give this patient who’s laying in the bed a shot and Medicine in the other doctor and a nurse trying to figure out what’s going on
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