“There wasn’t anything Jack couldn’t do,” current MAD editor John Ficarra said in a statement. “Front covers, caricatures, sports scenes, monsters — his comedic range was just incredible. His ability to put energy and motion into his drawings, his use of cross-hatching and brush work, and his bold use of color made him truly one of the greats.”
John Burton “Jack” Davis, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1924. He served three years in the Navy before getting his big break as an artist, illustrating a training manual for Coca-Cola. In the 1950s, everything changed for Davis when he began working freelance for EC Comics. At EC, he drew horror comic books such as “Tales From The Crypt,” “Two-Fisted Tales,” and “The Vault of Horror.” Davis’ biggest contribution at EC’s horror stable was his redesign of the infamous Crypt Keeper from a simplistic style to the craggy, hairy, bare-footed version the character is known for.
Even if you don’t know his name, If you grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, you definitely know his work. His characters had a distinctive style with oversized heads, skinny legs, and huge feet that became iconic in the era, and influenced humor illustration for the last 50 years.
When EC Comics launched its humor title “MAD” in 1952, Davis was one of its founding cartoonists. He remained with “MAD” until a brief hiatus in the early sixties to illustrate children’s books and edit his own humor title “Yak Yak.” He returned to “MAD” in the mid-’60s, and remained with the magazine for decades.
Davis’ work went way beyond comic books. In 1965, Davis began illustrating advertisements and covers for “TV Guide” and “Time.” He drew posters for movies such as “American Graffiti,” “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” He designed characters for animation, including “Mad Monster Party” and “The Jackson 5ive.” He designed album covers, including one for Johnny Cash.
Davis was highly regarded in the industry; in 1996, he received the National Cartoonists Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2000, he won the Society’s Reuben Award. In 2003, Davis was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, and he was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2005.
“More than any one piece, it was Jack’s immediately recognizable style that revolutionized comic illustration,” “Mad” art director, Sam Viviano said in a statement. “There is not a humorous illustrator in the past 50 years who hasn’t been influenced by him.”
News of his death quickly spread to Twitter, where celebrities are speaking out about the loss:
RIP Jack Davis, the Maddest of the MAD artists. pic.twitter.com/rNl3ZytCF2
– Joe Dante (@joe_dante) July 27, 2016
One of my heroes! Jack Davis. https://t.co/eIB25s0gfG Famed cartoonist Jack Davis, noted for UGA Bulldog drawings, dead at 91
– Peter Lord (@PeteLordAardman) July 27, 2016
– Clay Kaytis (@ClayKaytis) July 27, 2016
Davis is survived by his wife, Dena, a daughter and a son.
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