One of America's all-time great cartoonists has left us at the age of 91. Jack Davis made his initial fame in EC Comics like Tales from the Crypt and MAD but went on to become one of the most visible (and imitated) creators of advertising, movie posters and record album covers ever.
His ability to make anything funnier when he drew it and his keen eye for caricatures could be seen darn near everywhere in this country for well more than half a century.
Jack Davis was born in Atlanta, Georgia on December 2, 1924. His first drawing in print was a small sketch that ran in Tip Top Comics in the thirties. It was on a page that printed reader contributions and he was not the only soon-to-be-famous cartoonist who first saw a drawing of his published there. So did Mort (Beetle Bailey) Walker and Davis's soon-to-be collaborator/employer, Harvey Kurtzman.
Davis attended the University of Georgia and his work on the campus newspaper (and an independent humor publication) got him an intern job at the Atlanta Journal which in turn led to assistant work on the newspaper strip, Mark Trail and later on The Saint.
In 1950, he began freelancing for EC Comics, the historic horror, crime, sci-fi, humour and war comics publisher. His work was featured in issues of Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear,Frontline Combat,Two-Fisted Tales, The Vault of Horror, Piracy, Incredible Science Fiction, Crime Suspenstories, Shock Suspenstories, and Terror Illustrated.
Among Davis’ contributions to EC was a character redesign for the Cryptkeeper, the iconic host of Tales from the Crypt. He also illustrated the story “Foul Play,” which was cited in Dr. Frederic Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent. Davis could do any of those but it was the funny stuff he did for MAD that really set him apart from the pack.
When MAD's first editor Harvey Kurtzman left, Davis followed him to other humor periodicals (Trump, Humbug, and Help!) but returned to MAD in the mid-sixties. By then, he also had a steady flow of work for movie posters, record album covers, magazine covers (including Time) and other commercial venues.
His poster for the 1963 movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World wasn't his first film job but it was the one that everyone noticed. Thereafter, a hefty percentage of folks marketing comedy films — especially those with large casts of well-known comedians — turned to Davis for their key art.
Just as there are performers who have made good careers impersonating Elvis Presley or The Beatles, there are artists whose livelihoods have involved outputting commercial art more or less in the Jack Davis style.
He also worked for Rankin-Baas Productions, contributing character designs for Mad Monster Party, The King Kong Show, The Coneheads, and The Jackson 5ive.
Davis has been recognized as one of the greats of the comics industry. He received the National Cartoonists Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and received their Reuben Award in 2000.
In 2003, he was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame.