Friday, September 02, 2011

Jack Davis: Half a Century of Making Us Happy

Between all the countless comics, bubblegum cards, board games, Sesame Street art and Mad magazine articles...


Its hard to imagine a kid born in the last half century who hasn't encountered Jack Davis' art and had a smile put on his face by his always delightful drawings.

Yesterday's series on Davis' Funny Valentines card art inspired my buddy Ken Steacy to send me scans of another Topps card series Davis drew way back in 1959.

The subject line on Ken's email:  "Jack Davis is the best cartoonist EVER"


Less well known is Davis' involvement in the world of animated tv commercials, which must have delighted quite a huge adult audience as well.

Bill Peckmann sent along this article from Squa Tront #7 that sheds light on this aspect of the artist's career.  It describes how many of the commercials Jack Davis worked on were only seen regionally and that it might come as a surprise that the artist had worked on over a dozen of them.


When Bill worked at Phil Kimmelman & Associates in New York in the early '70s, he had the thrill of working with Jack Davis on several of those commercials.


Bill writes, "Jack did this [logo treatment] for us in 1972 when Phil Kimmelman & Assoc. opened their doors."


Afte yesterday's post on Jack Davis' work for Topps Bubble Gum cards, Bill recalled, "I had the great pleasure of meeting [Topps owner] Woody Gelman years ago when Jack, Harvey [Kurtzman] and Arnold Roth used to come up to the studio.  Our studio was in midtown Manhattan and if the guys came into town for business meetings and wanted to kill time, use the men's room and chill, they were more than welcome to use our facilities..."


"... of course they had to put up with our fawning, grovelling and fainting."


Bill continues, "I had a blast in those days because I got to do the animation clean ups for Jack, Mort [Drucker], Rowland [Wilson], Bob Weber and Charles Saxon, to name a few. I was a legit forger. Heady days!"

And thanks to the amazing power of the Internet, we can bring back a taste of those heady days!  Here's a fantastic little six-and-a-half minute compilation of actual early '70s commercials featuring Jack Davis art and (at least in some cases) Bill Peckmann animation!

Reading all the comments and stories that were posted this week here on the TI blog, on Twitter, on Flickr, on G+ and via personal emails, it becomes quickly apparent how profoundly Jack Davis has affected so many of us for so many years; making us smile and laugh - and inspiring us with his countless drawings and seemingly tireless efforts.  Amazingly, Davis continues to do so even today, in his mid-80s.

Comic artist Tony Moore shares a wonderful story and some great Jack Davis art:

Tony writes, "When Rick Remender and I were putting our plans into motion for our Fear Agent launch at Dark Horse, we knew they wanted to do some cool variant covers, so we started kicking around some ideas. Getting some hot modern talent like Frank Cho involved was cool, but Rick and I really felt like getting the stamp from one of the real EC crew would make the whole thing for us. He wasn't particularly known for sci-fi, but my favorite was always Jack Davis. Rick liked the idea, and so rather than wait around for the publisher to handle it, I set out to make it happen. I knew roughly where he lived, and used one of those people-finding sites to track him down. After about an hour of pacing and working up the nerve, I called his house and talked to him for a bit, completely sweaty and mealy-mouthed, and he was relaxed and a complete gentleman, with a kindness that felt like I was talking to my own grandfather. He laughed a lot, joking with a slow Foghorn Leghorn drawl. He kindly put me in touch with his rep at the Gerald & Cullen Rapp agency, and I mailed him some books. A couple days later, he called me back very excited to work on the cover for us. I'd never felt so validated in all my life."

(Below, Jack Davis' Fear Agent cover sketch)


"I grew up reading MAD, and Davis was the first artist I knew by style and name. For my absolute favorite artist in their stable to give us the thumbs up, I didn't care if I never sold another book for the rest of my life.  I thought that was as high as a high point gets. Then when I was on the phone with him, he said, "God bless him, I just wish Harvey Kurtzman was around to see it." Tears literally began pouring down my face. I tried to play it cool on the phone and not choke up, but no interaction with another professional could ever hold a candle to how much that moment meant, and still means, to me."

(The finished Fear Agent cover art)

"He told me, "I'm 82. I just like to have fun with this stuff." As a cartoonist struggling with his identity, this hit me like a ton of bricks. I was weaned on cartoons, and I found myself constantly choking that out of my work, attempting to achieve a more "realistic" style. I don't know why I'd let myself buy into "cartooning" as a dirty word in comics. I realized you don't get to do what we do and see 82 unless you're having fun. So from that point on, I just owned it."

(The printed comic book cover)

"A couple years later, my wife commissioned him to paint our daughter for me as a Christmas present. I opened up the package and just started to weep. That's twice the man has made me cry, and so I'm pretty sure that by the code of southerners, I'm now obligated to challenge him to a duel."


Tony concludes, "I owe a lot to Jack Davis. More than I'll ever get the chance to let him know, I'm certain."

* Many thanks to Bill Peckmann, who 'instigated' this week's look at Jack Davis by providing a multitude of scans from his personal collection, and to all the other contributors and to the many members of the online community who shared and reshared these posts through Twitter, Facebook and Google+.


  1. What wonderful posts! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only guy who gets teary-eyed just being in Jack's presence!

    BTW, I did email him and let him know about the feature on him this week but haven't heard back yet. I hope he checks it out.

    Thanks again for this, Leif. Happy Labour Day one and all!

  2. A truly amazing post. I can forget how much Davis has actually influenced me. His work is so wonderful and such a part of my growing up that it's in my bood.

  3. Anonymous7:09 AM

    I am agree with Ken Stacy, in humor Jack Davis is the greatest artist I know. I wanted to recommend the Shop Talk with Eisner, Kurtzman and Davis, there he told things about his work and life, like the answer of Harold Foster to a young Davis with one Prince Valiant sunday page as present, an incredible present to a future master as him


  4. Thanks again, Leif, for posting all this great material on Jack Davis. So much of it I have never seen before and I continue to be amazed at how prolific he has been. Here's a link to another of his popular venues, some of his LP jacket art:

    I've got the Jerry Reed album pictured, as well as a later album cover Jack Davis did for Reed when he composed music for "Smokey and the Bandit 2". Actually, Jack Davis' cartoon art was a perfect match for his fellow Georgia boy, Jerry Reed's wild and crazy style of country music.

  5. Thanks Leif,for posting the cool Davis art.Jack's obviously a great ink cartoonist,but I love his watercolor and/or marker colored stuff.I remember his Mad cover with the Easy Rider parody,and the Time covers he did.

    And I love that monster trading card art you posted.He did the cover for the first issue of Warren's Creepy magazine,by the way.

    I also remember visiting my dentist years ago and seeing a Davis cartoon-poster of a wacky dentist(I think he had a pliers,a hack-saw,or a plunger in his hands) pinned to the wall.It made me think my dentist was a good sport.

  6. I visited with Mr. Davis when I finished art school. He was a gentleman then to give me so much of his time. When I'm rushed on a board, it always looks a little like Jack to me-especially the hands and feet- because he helped me to learn to draw.

    Thanks for the scans and the remembrances.

  7. I was the agent Tony Moore talked to when assigning the "Fear Agent" cover. I remember Tony being surprised that he was able to get Jack to do it. And Jack seemed excited about the job.

    He was great to represent over the years. Not only talented but a good guy too. I remember a few times where he'd randomly send the office a faxed drawing. Something he did to mess with us. A co-worker would see it and then walk around the office asking us "Are you working with Jack?". None of us were (for that particular drawing) so we were all confused. It was always a treat to see stuff like that.

    When we moved offices, and started getting everything in place, I immediately asked to have the Jack Davis original near my desk. Three watercolor pieces of cartoon sports figures (nobody specific). I used to see it every time I went to my desk.

    I hope he got to see the posts about him here at TI. I think he'd get a kick out of them.

  8. Anonymous3:34 PM

    thanks for a look at something I often take for granted

  9. Great post - That Fear Agent cover is amazing - I wish they'd do a book on him, Davis that is...+