by Art Chantry ( email@example.com)
jack davis is likely the most ubiquitous, most published and most familiar cartoonist/illustrator of the last half century. i think everybody knows his work. they may not always know his name, but we’ve all seen his work our ENTIRE lives. we all literally grew up with his work.
starting as a cartoonist for his military newspaper in WW2 and continuing into the world of early horror comic books (as well as many other genres) immediately after the war. davis also was one of the few comic book artists of that era to pursue professional illustration work as well to supplement his meagre income. he became one of the stars of EC horror comics, for instance. so much so, that when the congress committee (the kefauver committee) went after the evils of comic books and instituted a restrictive censorship code, it was a jack davis comic story form EC that they used as evidence (“foul play”). being a friendly gentle man, that experience left a rather nasty distaste in his mouth and he backed away from comic projects with horror and gore themes after that.
instead, davis launched into the newest EC replacement comic/magazine called MAD. through MAD, davis immediately became a popular favorite and did countless covers and strips and gag panels et al. – even up to this day. but, he didn’t restrict his work to just MAD. he would pick up cartoon and illustration work wherever he could. before long, he was doing spot illos and cover illustrations and product packaging work for just about every magazine/industry/company/ad agency you can imagine (and then some). his work was everywhere and even to this day, his work is so ubiquitous that we hardly notice him any more. he’s become such a standard bearer of the comics/illustration/advertising world that he’s as normal as apple pie and therefore his sheer greatness is often overlooked. looking through old files reveals jack’s work popping up in chemical company ads, furniture ads, television adverts, newspapers, trading cards, record covers, books, company reports, just about anything you can think of.
i once read an interview with the people who put out Time magazine. they all credit jack davis with being the most-used cover illustrator in the history of that publication. his trick (his secret, his moneymaker) was that he was a crazy fast ‘quick draw’. if Time magazine (the weekly newsmagazine) had some fast-breaking important story happening during deadline, and they NEEDED to get it on the cover, they’d call up jack davis. he’d bop right over and check out the story and then DRAW A COVER IMAGE ON THE SPOT. he’d hand it over and, once passing inspection (and it ALWAYS did. nobody ever remembers him having to draw anything twice), they run it over to the pressroom for publishing. he was johnny-on-the-spot and always great. amazing.
jack is by all accounts a genial, funny fellow. very tall, he seems to have that odd fearless comfort zone seemingly due to his sheer size. now that he’s an older man, he has that wise quality we import to white hair and elder statesman stature. but, when i say ‘wise’, perhaps i really mean “wiseass”. he’s JACK DAVIS fer chrissakes!
i got the chance recently to look at a press proof of a new fantagraphics (coffee-table size) tome about the extended work of jack davis (thanks, larry!). it’s a treasure. it’ll be hitting the stores and outlets in the next month or so, if its not already out there. fantagraphics bookstore in georgetown (in seattle) will be hosting a release party in the next few weeks. rumor has it that the legend himself, mr. jack davis, will be attending. see ya there!
AC:jack davis is universally beloved. hard to say that about cartoonists, ya know? there’s always SOME detractor out there. but, not jack davis.