Monday, August 29, 2011

Jack Davis "Just-in-Time"

The April 1977 issue of American Artist magazine includes an article by Nick Meglin in which he describes exactly why legendary cartoonist Jack Davis will never yield the title of "fastest draw in the East or West" to any challenger.  To demonstrate this claim, Meglin provides a series of roughs Davis prepared for the October 1974 cover of Time magazine.


Meglin tells us that not only would Jack davis often be called later in the week, when Time's editors had for one reason or another decided to change track on a cover story, but even on this abbreviated schedule Davis would typically begin by providing the editors with as many as 15 rough concept sketches!


Davis would execute these concepts on a special pad Time provided to its cover artists (as you can see in these examples) pre-printed with a red border and black TIME logo at the same size as the actual magazine.


Davis08 Davis07

Once Davis received approval, the execution of the finished illustration would typically take him less than 24 hours.  He would then deliver the artwork in person to Time's downtown New York offices.  Remarkably, in the case of this particular cover, the concept was changed yet again, even after the artork had been completed -- and the amazing Jack Davis, "fastest draw in the East or West" began and finished another entirely new cover in just three hours in the client's office!


 * Many thanks to Bill Peckmann, who provided all of today's scans!


  1. Jack Davis is without a doubt one of the all-time greats. I recently had a chance to meet him and it was one of the highlights of my life as he is every bit as nice as he is talented. He's so incredibly good AND fast though it's almost hard to say whether his work is inspiring or whether it makes it seem like a slowpoke like me might as well just give up! (I'm trying to keep the more optimistic perspective though!)

    Anyhow, if anyone's interested, the story (and some photos) can be found here:

    Thanks for another great post, Leif!

    Huw Evans
    EYECATCHER Graphics & Design

  2. Love Jack Davis. To me he's the Rembrandt of cartoonist

  3. All this and The Return of a Mad Look at Old Movies too...

  4. Huw; what a great story - I enjoyed it tremendously. I could just imagine your ear-to-ear grin at meeting Jack. I myself had that honour about 3 years ago, at the Reubens weekend in New Orleans. Jack was just sitting there quietly by himself as the chaos of our NCS membership partied all around him. I thought, when will I ever have another chance like this? So I screwed up my courage and walked over, shook his hand and said something very much like you did. He was every bit the humble gentleman you describe. It was one of many highlights of my first ever Reubens weekend to meet one of my cartooning gods - and someone whose work I've loved, admired, learned so much from (and even imitated on occasion) for my entire life!

  5. Hi Leif,

    I enjoyed your Jack Davis story too! He's just a great talent and a great human being.


  6. Growing up in the 1970s, Jack Davis's art certainly inspired me to pursue the career of being a cartoonist in the print medium. Back then, Jack's art was everywhere: Time Magazine and TV Guide covers, LP record jackets, print ads, and of course his regular monthly gig in the pages of MAD. There's something so joyful in his cartoons, particularly the ones splashed with vibrant watercolour. I really miss this type of cartooning of that era, so organic and full of life. In contrast, all the computer rendered stuff today just leaves me cold, with its straight, rigid lines and geometric curves feeling so sterile to my eyes. Yep, when Jack Davis was at his peak, the commercial art world seemed to be a much friendlier place.

  7. I am from India, my life time dream is to meet jack from USA, Toppi from Italy...... I know Some Dreams can't come true.
    thanks for the post leif.

  8. Jack Davis and Sandy Kossin's humorous illos have been my favorites for that venue since the early days of my career. Leif, like you, I have imitated Davis on occasion, also. I think he is the perfect mix of realism and cartoon that really appeals to me. Obviously his draftsmanship was so developed that he was able to do an amazing volume of work in a short period of time.. and they were all consistent in quality. He sure had a lot of devoted fans and rightfully so.

    Tom Watson

  9. Pete; I completely agree... those were heady times for anyone passionate about cartooning - thanks largely to the presence of giants like Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Angelo Torres and the rest of the "usual gang of idiots" at Mad ( and John Severin at Cracked - wow! ) and in the broader cartooning and illustration community... Rowland Wilson and Tom Yohe of Schoolhouse Rock... John Huehnergarth and Gahan Wilson and so many others doing magazine work... good lord!

    Not at all like today where everything looks machined and polished to a high sheen. Ugh.

  10. I think Meglin wrote in his book "Humorous Illustration" (or something like that) how for some projects, Davis would get client approval on a faxed layout, call for a messenger to come in from NYC to deliver the job and then start on the final art.

    I lived in the same town as Jack Davis and would sometimes see art by him publicizing local events. I even got to caddy for him once!

  11. Wow, how cool is that?! That story about the messenger is almost beyond belief -- if it were about anyone other than JD that is! ;^)

  12. A very good artist with a distinctive use of color.But Mort Drucker was the better caricaturist, Davis's are more portraits with big hands and feet.