Jack Davis (Dec 2, 1924 – July 27, 2016) was an American cartoonist and illustrator, known for his advertising art, magazine covers, film posters, record album art and numerous comic book stories.
Davis was one of the founding cartoonists for Mad in 1952. His caricatures of cartoons are characterized by extremely distorted anatomy, including big heads, skinny legs and extremely large feet.
Aside from Mad magazine, Davis drew posters for many movies and in 1989 designed a stamp for the US Postal Service, sneakily breaking the rule banning the portrayal of living people by including a self-portrait.
He received the National Cartoonists Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and the Reuben Award in 2000 and was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2003.
His career started, after rejections from several comic book publishers, when he began freelancing for William Gaines‘ EC Comics in 1950, contributing to Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, The Vault of Horror, Piracy, Incredible Science Fiction, Crime Suspenstories, Shock Suspenstories and Terror Illustrated.
In 2011, Davis told the Wall Street Journal about his early career and his breakthrough with EC:
- “I was about ready to give up, go home to Georgia and be either a forest ranger or a farmer. But I went down to Canal Street and Lafayette, up in an old rickety elevator and through a glass door to Entertaining Comics where Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines were putting out horror [comic] books. They looked at my work and it was horrible and they gave me a job right away!”
- “Every time you went in to see Bill Gaines, he would write you a check when you brought in a story. You didn’t have to put in a bill or anything. I was very, very hungry and I was thinking about getting married. So I kept the road pretty hot between home and Canal Street. I would go in for that almighty check, go home and do the work, bring it in and get another check and pick up another story.”
Davis was particularly noted for his depiction of the Crypt-Keeper in the horror comics, revamping the character’s appearance from the more simplistic Al Feldstein version to a tougher, craggier, mangier man with hairy warts, salivating mouth and oversized hands and feet, who usually didn’t wear shoes. Among the classic horror tales he illustrated were “Foul Play” which was cited in Doctor Fredric Wertham‘s infamously inaccurate book Seduction of the Innocent for its depiction of “a comic book baseball game”. Others, like “Tain’t The Meat, It’s The Humanity”, “Death Of Some Salesman”, “Fare Tonight Followed By Increasing Clottiness”, “Tight Grip” and “Lower Berth” were Crypt-Keeper classics. Davis also contributed to Creepy magazine, designing their first cover.
We are grateful to Catalogue of Curiosities for many of the images above.