Jack Davis: 1924-2016
July 27, 2016
The NCS is saddened to learn of the passing of the great Jack Davis at the age of 91.
Jack was one of our most illustrious and revered colleagues, but most importantly, he was our friend.
For over seventy years, Jack has taken one blank piece of paper after another and made them priceless. His endless imagination flowed generously from his brush into pools of wit and whimsy, cascading unceasingly over books, movie posters, postage stamps, record albums, children’s books, trading cards, advertisements, comic books, magazines, and even animation.
One of Jack’s earlier successes came in the 1950s drawing for William Gaines’ EC Comics where he stood out from the crowd drawing many monster comics such as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. This put Jack in a good position to become one of the “Usual Gang of Idiots,” the nickname for the people who worked on MAD, a new humor magazine Gaines began to publish in 1952. Jack started strong with MAD by illustrating the lead story in the first issue, and the lead story and cover for the second issue which featured a baseball player leaping into the stands to catch a ball while a monster reaches up to catch the ballplayer.
Jack found continued success with publications that reached millions of homes by having created almost two dozen covers for TV Guide, and over 30 covers for TIME Magazine where he was able to poke fun at politicians and other well-knowns with equal aplomb. Jack’s work was never derogatory towards his subjects, many of them happy to have been the focus of his talents such as when, in 2006, both former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford penned written tributes to Jack at a banquet in his honor in Los Angeles hosted by the Comic Art Professional Society. Gerald Ford wrote, “Your work has been at the forefront of your profession for many decades both entertaining and enriching Americans of all generations. In particular, your work with political themes has been of personal interest to me, having been the subject of several of your wonderful illustrations for TIME Magazine.”
Jack also became popular with the advertising crowd creating dozens of posters for major motion pictures such as Woody Allen’s Bananas, Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, and his well known image for 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He also illustrated countless record album covers for artists such as Johnny Cash, Tito Puente, The Cowsills, Spike Jones, “Weird” Al Yankovic, Jonathan Winters, Homer & Jethro, Ben Colder, and Bob & Ray. He even created the famous bugs for Raid bug spray.
Cartoonists far and wide admired Jack’s work very much. He was a master draftsman with a natural skill using ink and brush enviable to all, was a wizard of watercolor, and was so incredibly prolific in creating consistently great work. His ability to caricature was such that it was exaggerated, yet retained a believability that so perfectly could capture the nuanced expression and body language of his subjects. His character designs had such appeal that children and adults both were drawn to them. It was clear in Jack’s work that not only could he bring joy and smiles to the viewers’ faces, but he was having a ball creating it all, and he did so with complete Southern gentleman grace and charm.
Among Jack’s many accolades from his colleagues include being inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2003, the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2005, and from the National Cartoonists Society he received the Advertising Illustration Silver Reuben in 1980, the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, and in 2000 Jack was given the Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year, the NCS’ highest honor.
We extend our sympathies to Jack’s wife, Dena, his daughter Katie Loyd, son Jack Davis III, and his grandchildren.