A NEAL ADAMS CHRONICLES birthday tribute to the late cartoonist, who was born 99 years ago, on Dec. 2, 1924…
By PETER STONE
Neal Adams Loved Jack Davis!
Neal Adams LOVED Jack Davis’ work. He loved his Mad Magazine work, his movie posters, his TV Guide and Time covers and pretty much anything Jack drew. If we’re being truly honest, I suspect Neal Adams was kind of jealous of Jack Davis and at his core, wanted to be just like Jack Davis.
Jack Davis was a brilliant artist. Beyond that, he was a brilliant cartoonist. An artist who could draw, but truly enjoyed cartooning and caricature. Davis was a master of it. Decades of commercial work, from print ads to creating animated bug characters for Raid, he honed his style to a point where there was absolutely no one better. Neal loved all of it. He emulated Davis, using Jack as reference for any job that required a caricature. For example, check out Neal’s Jimmy Carter caricature:
Around 1950, Davis was struggling to get work in New York, on the verge of returning to Georgia, and took a chance on a young comic company called Entertaining Comics on Lafayette and Spring streets in Manhattan. Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein hired him on the spot. Pretty soon he was an artistic staple of the publisher — better known as EC Comics. He drew Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, Piracy, Incredible Science Fiction, Crime Suspenstories, Shock Suspenstories, and Terror Illustrated.
His work for EC became legendary. He could pencil and ink three pages a day, possibly because he needed the money and wanted to get married. He contributed 30 stories out of the first 31 issues for Mad, providing parodies of famous fictional characters, with uncanny likenesses of the actors who played them. At the same time, he illustrated Harvey Kurtzman’s biting and realistic war stories. Both were done in a cartoony manner, but all of them were tremendously effective.
He parodied The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, High Noon, Alice in Wonderland, Casey at the Bat and even the TV show What’s My Line? Eventually, in 1956, Jack left Mad and went with Harvey Kurtzman to various other magazines like Trump, Help! and Humbug. In 1965, Jack returned to Mad, around the same time Neal was drawing Ben Casey and, soon enough, war comics and Deadman for DC Comics.
Neal had taken a different route, striving to be as realistic and dramatic as possible, but he respected what Jack Davis did as much as he respected anyone. Most of the time Jack’s work was over-the-top, high comedy, but you were never confused about what was going on or who the actors were. He did a large number of movie posters, all of them in his signature caricaturist style. Richard Amsel, one of the most recognizable movie poster artists (Raiders of the Lost Ark being one of his greatest), did two posters for Elliot Gould and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye movie.
When the movie tanked, the studio hired Davis to reinvent the film’s poster concept and make it comedic and wacky. It was re-released and became regarded as one of the best movies of 1973. Maybe it just had to be marketed in a different way.
Neal’s work on The Adventures of Jerry Lewis was exactly the kind of thing that Jack Davis might have done, but Neal was at DC Comics and wanted to do it. Davis was the obvious inspiration: likenesses, cartoony situations and sometimes monsters. Neal could do three pages a day as well because the backgrounds were not high-tech, Jack Kirby-esque crazy machinery. Neal was also motivated by his desire for quick money because he had a daughter and an infant son, Joel. Neal was planning on a big family and family requires money. How do you make more money as an artist? You pick up the fast work. Davis was a template for that kind of thing.
Both men achieved incredible success within their particular worlds. Neal sought out Davis art books and studied them — how he handled drawing movie stars, singers, sports stars, and so many others. If you ask me (and no one ever does), Neal truly loved drawing actors and situations in the Jack Davis style. Do I think he would have loved drawing the Time and TV Guide covers? Absolutely. Do I think he would have loved drawing humorous comics stories? You bet! (Jerry Lewis… until it got cancelled.) Jack Davis, in a weird way, was one of Neal’s idols.
Neal and Jack Davis were odd brothers in art. I have no idea if Jack Davis ever wanted to draw more realistically… but I know that Neal loved to draw in a cartoon style and would take any job that allowed him to do so.
Happy Birthday, Jack. You were one of the best!
— 13 SPLASH PAGES: A JACK DAVIS Birthday Celebration. Click here.
— DR. J, JACK DAVIS and the Greatest Basketball Comic Ever. Click here.
Peter Stone is a writer and son-in-law of the late Neal Adams. Be sure to check out the family’s twice-weekly online Facebook auctions, as well as the NealAdamsStore.com, and their Burbank, California, comics shop Crusty Bunkers Comics and Toys.