Archive for the ‘Will Elder’ Category

Harvey Kurtzman knew funny. As a cartoonist he keenly deployed slapstick, parody and satire in ways that were not only hilarious, but groundbreaking as well. In addition, he was a gifted ringleader, someone who could harness the best talent from the grindhouse that was the comics industry at the time. With fellow artists, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Al Jaffe, Wally Wood and Arnold Roth. Kurtzman created some of the most innovative humor magazines of the last century: Mad, Humbug, Trump and Help! These artists were his bullpen, the cartoonists he went to again and again for various assignments over many years. Although, all of the latter magazines failed (except, of course, Mad) they were bold experiments indeed, their influence still felt today. Would there be a National Lampoon without Help!? Probably not.

Kurtzman also help “discover” countless other talented individuals, many of whom worked with him on his numerous publications over the years; Robert Crumb, Terry Gilliam and Gloria Steinem to name a few. Before they made a name for themselves they all worked under the tutelage of Kurtzman’s expert editorship. And there were still others, comedians and the like, who starred in his series of Fumentti stories for Help!; Woody Allen, John Cleese, Jackie Gleason and Henny Youngman.

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The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics (Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle, Abrams ComicArts, $40) 

In his introduction to this groundbreaking book, comedian/writer Harry Shearer declares: “Without Harvey Kurtzman, there would have been no Saturday Night Live. What a horrible thing to say about him, but it’s true. . . . OK, this might be better. Without Harvey Kurtzman, there would have been no Simpsons.”

All hyperbole aside, there is much truth in this statement, and, like many other influential artists, Harvey Kurtzman seldom receives the credit he is due for shaping much of what we know as satire in postwar America. As the creator of MAD magazine, Kurtzman had many roles: artist, editor, writer, and ringleader. He nurtured the burgeoning underground comics movement, and his paperback comic novel, The Jungle Book, may have well been the first graphic novel, appearing years before Will Eisner’s Contract with God, which is usually considered the original graphic novel. He gave Gloria Steinem her first job in publishing. He brought John Cleese and Terry Gilliam together and was responsible for publishing some of Robert Crumb’s earliest work. And without Kurtzman’s other, more adult magazines, Humbug, Trump and Help, there very well might not have been a National Lampoon or Spy.

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is the first large-scale retrospective of Harvey Kurtzman’s work, written by Denis Kitchen, a legend in underground comics in his own right, and scholar Paul Buhle. It traverses his stunning career, outlining how much of an impact his life and work had not only in the comics industry, but on pop culture itself. The book itself is a striking example high production aesthetic, an amazing compendium of Kurtzman’s personal drawings, comic strips, layouts and comic “essays” he did for magazines like Esquire.

Chapters cover the major parts of his life, pre and post MAD, giving just as much credence and attention to those periods as the MAD years. And what the book does remarkably well is show what an amazing cartoonist he was in his own right, standing toe to toe with the other amazing roster of artists that surrounded him. Will Elder, Jack Davis and Wally Wood were amazing draftsman’s to be sure, but it was Kurtzman’s ability to capture a mood, or a sense of movement, of weight in just a few strokes of the pen or pencil that is evident in every drawing presented in the book. Animator John K has often sited Kurtzman’s drawing skills on his blog, dissecting not only Kurtzman’s use of the Line of Action but his canny ability to layout a page, giving story and art equal time in terms of overall impact.

The book pays a greahelp_cover_25t deal of attention to Harvey Kurtzman’s process, which could be fairly intricate (often times Kurtzman would write and layout pages, much to the chagrin of some artists who were working for him). Many of his initial thumbnails and final layouts of pages are presented, along with the finished product.  

There is a long chapter covering much of Kurtzman’s earliest work for EC, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. The book reprints in full (one of several complete reprintings) the classic story “Corpse on the Imjin!” which not only displays Kurtzman’s uniquely human storytelling, but his amazing artistic skills. Much more stylized than any other artists on the EC war comics roster, his illustrations were boldly inked, and superbly designed, the impact much greater then a hyper-realistic interpretation.

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman reprints many comics from various projects, often times in their entirety. There is the famous “Superduperman” from MAD, illustrated by Wally Wood, a never before seen proof of a 3-D  spoof comic, and probably, most striking of all, a section that reprints a page from a little Annie Fannie story, complete with preproductions all of the vellum overlays (using actual vellum) that Kurtzman produced for his partner—the amazing Will Elder—to work from. These reprints are often the highlights of the book, as they are sometimes the original proofs, accompanied by the original layouts and contextualized with detailed background on how each was designed and developed.


The Trump, Humbug and Help, years are also covered in depth, with many of the covers reprinted as well as often time hilarious promotional photos of the people involved in their creation.

Long on amazing art, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is sometimes lacking in it’s overview of the man himself. A few years back Fantagrpahics released a fanatastic book as part of their library series, Harvey Kurtzman: TCJ Library Vol. 7  in which every major interview that appeared in the Comics Journal—along with other famous interviews in other magazines—were reprinted in their entirety. The interviews often time give a bit more depth and background than The Art of Harvey Kurtzman provides. And like The Art of, Harvey Kurtzman: TCJ Library Vol. 7 , includes a wealth of stunning visual material, some of which is not covered in The Art of.

In many ways The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics  is almost years too late. The fact that it took this long for an edition like this to emerge,  is just another example of an artist only receiving credit for their groundbreaking achievements after they are dead. On the other hand, it is wonderful that there is finally a book like this that catalogues all of Harvey Kurtzman’s amazing achievements, hopefully inspiring a new generation of cartoonists who many have never even heard his name before.


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Kurtzman and Elder Little Annie Fanny

Will Elder, one of the original MAD artists along with creator Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis and Al Jaffe, died yesterday at the age of 86. MAD made a huge impact on me from a young age, as it has done with most cartoonists, I’m sure, and Will Elder was a big part of making that impact happen. Like all of the original MAD artists, Elder was an amazing draftsman, who could seemingly do anything and everything, and although his style was not as distinctive as that of Kurtzman and Davis, his artisitic range was far beyond both of the latter artists. Elder’s satiric instincts were impeccable and he produced some of MAD’s best satires and parodies.

Below is more info about Will Elder as it appeared on the Comics Journal blog.


          Recent Memories of Will

Will moved into a nursing home in September of 2005 after the love of his life, Jean, passed away. He had been battling Parkinson’s disease for a number of years and had stopped drawing late in ‘05. He was still a powerful source of uncontrolled laughter for his family and the nurses caring for him. He loved to watch old movies and the Yankees but was mostly concerned with the well-being of his family — Nancy, his daughter; her husband, me (Gary); and Will’s grandchildren Jesse and Lara; and Will’s son Martin. Will was known as a crazy artist who created some of the funniest cartooning of the twentieth century, but he was humble and quiet with his family — but also hysterically funny. He saw humor in almost everything and could diffuse a tense situation with a crack that would send the room into gales of laughter. There was a time recently when an old acquaintance wanted to come by and visit. We knew Will did not really want to see him but the person persisted and we relented. We told Will that this person might show up and he got very, very quiet. We asked, “Will? What are you doing?” He replied, “I’m praying.” “Praying?” we asked dubiously, because Will was not really a praying man. “Yes,” he replied, “Praying he doesn’t show up.” Needless to say we guffawed our way home that day.

A Few Personal Observations About my Father-in-Law

Willie just overdid everything naturally, in his work and in his life: In his work with “chicken fat” and in his personal life with love. He gave of himself in everyway you might imagine when it came to his family. He taught me how to install a hardwood floor. He showed my kids every Marx Brothers movie and every monster movie and every classic movie he knew. He was very musical. He played the mandolin when he was younger. He could dance but he would rarely do it seriously because he felt silly dancing. But even dancing as a comic you could see the raw talent of this guy. He was a natural engineer. He built extremely detailed model homes for a time. He finished his basement better than any contractor could ever imagine. He was gifted and he was something that we rarely see any more: he was humble. He always let others bask in the glory of his work without ever grabbing the spotlight for himself. Will was always: Selfless. Funny. Beautiful. Funny. Humble. Funny. Serious. Funny. Hard working. Funny. Talented. And funny.

Thanks to Will’s Fans

Will Elder has passed away. Many of you have written over the years to say what an influence his work was. You have showered him with loveand appreciation for the laughs he selflessly offered with no expectation of even the slightest reward. He did it because that is who he was — a selfless, giving human being with a wise, old, and hysterically funny soul. Many of you wrote and asked for an original and he always complied when he could. He gave you a signed original because he felt that if you took the time to write and express your love of his work then you certainly deserved, what he would call, a little sketch. I’ve seen what some of those little sketches go for on ebayand I would say that Willie always gavemore than he had to. He taught, he lived life to the fullest and he will be sorely missed by all who knew him as well as all those who knew him only through his work. He was almost as appreciative of your love of his work as you were and are of his work.

I just got off the phone with a cousin of ours and she said it better than I could ever hope to, she said, “Will and Jean were just pure love. No matter how much you gave them you never felt that you gave enough because you always got so much more in return.” She hit the nail on the head, or, as Willie would say, “AND HOW!” I could go on and on and on… but I think you get the idea.

On behalf of Will’s entire family THANK YOU.

– Gary VandenBergh

Will ElderWill Elder

Still more on Elder: Let me first point you to Will Elder’s Wikipedia page, which has a rather good biography of the artist, as well as his Lambiek page and of course Elder’s homepage, where you can see a videoin which Harvey Kurtzman, Al Jaffee, Terry Gilliam and Jerry Garcia discuss Elder and his work. Scott Edelman has the official press release from DC Comics, current owners of Mad Magazine. Here are news reports from the New York Observer’s Matt Haber and French-language site ActuaBD (Google translation), and here are tributes and remembrances from Tom Richmond, Mark Evanier, Will Pfeifer and Evan Dorkin.

Incidentally: During Will Elder’s run on the ill-fated Help! Magazine — one of three such publications upon which Elder collaborated with Mad founder Harvey Kurtzman following the latter’s exodus from the magazine that made him famous — a story starring Kurtzman and Elder’s naïve leading man Goodman Beaver attracted the ire of Archie Comics for taking their signature characters and grafting Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy” onto them. That story was “Goodman Goes Playboy,” and it resulted in waves of lawyers raining upon the strip’s creators, ultimately leading to Kurtzman and Elder handing the copyright to the story over to Archie and signing an agreement promising never to reproduce it again.

Some 40 years or so later, Gary Groth or someone close to him discovered that Archie had forgotten to renew the copyright to the strip, and that it had fallen into the public domain. Armed with a copy of Myron Fass’ underground zine Portzebie Illustrated, which contained a copy of the strip, we reproduced it in The Comics Journal #262 — and here it is again, Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s “Goodman Goes Playboy,” available either as a PDF file (5.9MB) or, if you’d prefer to use your comics-reader software to read it, as a Zip file(also 5.9MB). Next Friday, we’ll present a copy of Gary Groth’s 2003 interview with Elder for TCJ #254 here on the website, so there’s more Elder on the way, don’t you worry.

Kurtzman and Elder Little Annie Fanny


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