Friday, April 23, 2010

The Mad, Mad, Mad Mad, Album Cover Art of Jack Davis

Below, from the book "The Art of Jack Davis", the legendary cartoonist's first album cover , from 1957.

(You can view a scan of the actual album cover here)

AoJD author, Hank Harrison wrote, "With his first black and white album cover... Davis started an avalanche of top quality album art which no single artist has been able to match."

Harrison lists nearly a hundred albums featuring Jack Davis art - and that's not including movie soundtracks like the example below.

(click the image to go to a larger, right-reading scan)
Davis is quotes as saying, "I remember when I picked up my first album cover for RCA. [They] paid about $300 per cover. I enjoyed doing them all."

This quote gives us a potential clue to what labels typically paid per cover at that time. If $300 was typical, it shows us the dilemma faced by many of the top name magazine illustrators of the day. Though hardly a pauper's wage, $300 must have seemed pretty spare when compared to the $1,000 to $2,000 many of the artists we've looked at this week were used to getting from their editorial and advertising clients.

Even paperback covers would have been substantially more lucrative. When I spoke to Mitchell Hooks about his career illustrating paperbacks he told me the publishers had been paying around $300 when he first entered the field in the early '50s... but through the efforts of the Graphic Artists Guild the price was pushed up to around $800 per cover within a few years. Harry Borgman remembered getting about $900 per cover in the mid-'60s to early '70s.

Jack Davis 3
Of course money isn't everything - and we're fortunate Jack Davis enjoyed doing album covers to the extent that his output was so prolific. Today, thanks to album art enthusiasts on Flickr, many of these obscure old covers are being scanned and archived for the benefit of all.

I'm very grateful to Glen Mullaly for allowing me to include the scan directly above from his Vintage Vinyl set. Be sure to check it out for many rare treats, including some beautiful Jim Flora covers and another Jack Davis piece.

Also thanks to Flickr member anyjazz65 for the Mad, Mad, etc. scan. His Record Jackets set has more mid-century visual delights in it than you can shake a stick at. I encourage you to peruse it.

And of course, if you're enjoying this series, please visit my own Illustrated Album Covers set for many more examples by a wide variety of artists.


  1. Jack Davis' style is immediately recognizable (no matter the medium) and instantly likeable. I can remember standing outside the movie theatre staring at the Bad News Bears movie poster. I love Jacks "feet" and I love his busy crowd and group scenes.

    "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" album cover, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" poster and cover art...and of course all his work in Mad magazine and earlier EC Comics. Always a joy to see and an inspiration.

  2. I think Jack Davis was in a league of his own. He could do whacky cartoon drawings or could take it almost to a total literal approach, and anything in between. I would put Sandy Kossin in that category as well. It requires amazing versatility and a keen sense of humor. I don't know what Jack Davis's background was, but he somehow learned to draw with amazing confidence and conviction. I suspect he was in great demand throughout his career. His direct solid technique appears just as fresh and attention grabbing today, as it did when they were first reproduced. Not many illustrators had all those gears they could switch to, and he seemed to do it effortlessly. I have admired his work since I first saw it in the 1960's.

    Tom Watson

  3. I remember the first time I heard Jonathan and Darlene; 'laughed my butt off..

  4. I'm left speechless...

  5. Anonymous2:45 PM

    Has anyone ever made extremely difficult and complex layouts look as effortless as Jack Davis does? And they're so funny too, of course. PLUS he could apparently dash these things off in a few hours. I don't know whether to be inspired or just depressed!

    From EC Horror Comics, through MAD and into the high-paying world of Madison Avenue, Jack Davis is in a league of his own.

    A few years ago my sister-in-law, who lives in Atlanta, mentioned she'd found out one of her friends had an old uncle (or father-in-law, maybe) who used to be a comic book artists and she wondered if I'd ever heard of him. When she said "Jack Davis", I fell over of course! I guess she told him about my reaction and, a few weeks later, a nice little signed sketch showed up in the mail! To this day, it's one of my most prized possessions.

    Hats off to one of the true masters . . . and a really nice guy.

    Huw Evans
    EYECATCHER Graphics

  6. great post, Lief. Davis is one of my biggest inspirations and influences, and i love to see people spreading the word. he also did some great stuff for Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, and Spike Jones. Essential records for music appreciation and art fiends alike!

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  8. Holly Cow - thats amazing! thanks so much for this post, I've never seen his stuff before - the man sure knows how to collage ^_^

  9. How did those Jack Davis covers escape me??? With the exception of the famous "Mad, Mad World" art, I've never seen those album covers!!! I ate, drank and breathed Davis throughout my childhood! He, Kirby and Crumb were the three childhood biggies for me and my art.

    What more can I say but thanks Leif.

    By the way, it's still my lifetime gream to find a print of that "life-size" Frankenstein poster they used to advertise in old monster magazines. Anyone own one? A masterpiece.

  10. Les;

    As always, thanks for your enthusiastic comments! I share your affection for Jack Davis' work - HUGELY inspiring for me as well. And if you ever find one of those life-size Frankies I'll arm wrestly you for it. ;^)

  11. Wonderful images from Jack Davis-- thanks for posting... I have the Spike Jones "Thank You, Music Lovers" on my wall-

  12. I just turned up a new one for my collection yesterday: A Homer and Jethro "Life Can Be Miserable" LP.
    That's number 23.

  13. Rogerdodger1:57 PM

    Jack Davis is still producing record sleeves and making news at age 89. He recently drew the cover for indie band Sex Clark Five. It is Jack all the way and beautiful work for an artist of any age. Knowing Jack's reputation he probably knocked out the monster garage band in an hour.