Jack Davis was a founding member of the “Usual gang of idiots” who created, illustrated and wrote Mad Magazine for the first few decades of the magazine’s life. His cartoon work was a part of the special magic that captivated kids of a certain age and inclination.
When you were 15 years old or so, in the mid-1960s, Mad Magazine was an absolute revelation. Yes, it was often sophmoric, but remember that kids that age are sophomoric. More importantly, it was irreverent, sacriligious, sarcastic and deeply cynical. If often displayed an absolute gift for popping pomposity bubbles. The magazine reveled in puncturing balloons. Davis was a key part of what made Mad so compelling to a young, developing cynic like WC.
Unlike the simple drawings of, say, the late Don Martin, Davis’s art was highly detailed. Here’s his last magazine cover:
The cover nails MTV’s fad for “unplugged” music, Howard Stern and ties the other “articles” (“We Flush”) in the issue, all with Alfred E. Neumann carrying the message. If you’re a 15-year old high school kid, what’s not to like?
Davis, born in 1924 and a Navy veteran, may be best known for his work for Mad, but he was incredibly prolific. His work appears on the cover of Time Magazine, TV Guide, movie posters and even, Bog help us all, a Cowsills album cover.
Davis received the National Cartoonist Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, the NCA’s Reuben Award in 2000 and was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2003.
“Jack Davis was a seminal figure in illustration of the last century,” said Chris Garvin, director of the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the university. “His work was both timely and timeless. It perfectly expressed the era in which he worked.”
And, WC would add, shaped the critical thinking of a whole generation of teenage misfits.
R.I.P. Jack Davis, 1924-2016.