Friday, May 16, 2008

Elder no more.

This week, one of the world's funniest cartoonists died. Bill Elder was one of the great talents behind the old Mad comic book from the fifties. When the stories he and his friends Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis and Walace Wood did in those 23 wonderful issues of the first incarnation of America's greatest satirical export before the Daily Show were reprinted in pocket form in the early sixties, they inspired a whole new generation of cartoonists and humor writers, including myself.

I am not going to repeat the facts of Bill Elder's career or life here. Most of that information is known to those who visit this blog. And if not, you can find several biographies on the web. I also recommend Fantagraphics excellent Mad Playboy Of Art book. It gives an excellent overview of his career and shows lots of his lesser known work. I guess the print run of this book was quite big, because it has been remaindered here in Holland for $25. I have bought several as gifts to my friends and colleagues. I also recommend the upcoming reprint of Humbug by Fantagraphics, which contains some of Bill Elder (and Jack Davis') most visually stunning work. I hear a reprint of Help is also under way, which helps to make most of the work of these cartoon geniuses available.

Still, when most people remember Bill Elder, they either use material from the first issues of Mad or his painted strip for Playboy, Little Annie Fanny. I would like to honor him with two pieces from the first issues of the magazine Mad. After Mad was changed from a comic book to a magazine, Harvey Kurtzman and his crew only did a couple of issues before Kurtzman left and the magazine was re-invented under the guiding hand of Al Feldstein. These five issues are visually stunning as well as very very funny. Completely different from the later magazine Mad, they are among the least reprinted issues of Mad. Some of the material can be seen in books such as Mad in the Fifties, but on the whole they have been neglected by fans and critics.

So here are two of Bill Elder's pieces from this golden period. A two page article from Mad #25.

The second one is a splash page from a feature on The Seven Year Itch from Mad #26.

I hope most of you have never seen this before. Imagine having the original art for either of those on your wall...

For the true collector, I have one more rarity, that they probably won't have seen at all. In The Mad Playboy Of Art, some samples are shown of Bill Elder's efforts to get work published in The Saturday Evening Post. Just as Harvey Kurtzman tried for years to solicit articles for Playboy, which were always cancelled at the last moment, Bill Elder tried to use his painterly style to get work for the biggest and most important magazine fro cartoonists, the Saturday Evening Post. He tried cover and he probably tried cartoons, but he never sold anything. Or at least, that's what Bill Elder remembered. Looking for all the old cartoons I am using in this blog, I found a single Bill Elder illustration for one of the Post's regular features, which appeared in the March 28, 1959 issue. This probably was a way to introduce artists to to magazine, but Bill Elder never went beyond this point. Why exactly, I will never know.


Karswell said...

Nice tribute Ger!

Hex_Enduction_Hour said...

Indeed, love Elders work.
Never fails to bust my gut!

I had my son dying laughing at Elder's work in MAD.
The Night Before Christmas parody!