It is Cult Faction’s sad duty to report that legendary artist Jack Davis passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 91 years old.
Davies became legendary in the 1950’s when he produced amazing horror titles at a time when there was a crusade against comics as they “pollued the young!” He later became even more famous thanks to his work on Mad Magazine which he helped create and establish.
“There wasn’t anything Jack couldn’t do,” said MAD editor John Ficarra. “Front covers, caricatures, sports scenes, monsters — his comedic range was just incredible. His ability to put energy and motion into his drawings, his use of cross-hatching and brush work, and his bold use of color made him truly one of the greats.”
The Atlanta product started his career incredibly early — even by the standards of the comic industry of 1936 — winning a cartoon contest in “Tip Top Comics” at the age of 12; by 1949 he was illustrating a Coca-Cola training manual, a job that gave him enough money to buy a car and drive to New York.
Attending the Art Students League of New York, Davis found work with the Herald Tribune Syndicate as an inker on Leslie Charteris’s The Saint comic strip, drawn by Mike Roy in 1949–50. His own humor strip, Beauregard, with gags in a Civil War setting, was carried briefly by the McClure Syndicate.
After rejections from several comic book publishers, 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.” [Edit: the actual cross street to Lafayette was Spring Street, not Canal.]
- Outside of the comic world, Davis came to the attention of TV Guide in 1965 when he illustrated an eight-page advertising supplement for NBC’s TV lineup, which featured icons such as Johnny Carson, Dean Martin and fictional characters such as Dr. Kildare, Napoleon Solo and Maxwell Smart.
- His first TV Guide cover for the magazine came in 1968, when he depicted a tribute to Andy Griffith, in which the actor was hoisted on the shoulders of his costars, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors. Davis recalls, “Every assignment was a thrill because TV Guide was the top magazine in the country. I couldn’t wait to get in my little MG and drive from New York out to the magazine’s offices in Radnor, Pennsylvania, to show the editors my latest design. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.”
- Davis would contribute 23 covers for TV Guide between 1968 and 1981. In 2013 the magazine honored him in a retrospective in which it recounted his history with the publication, and spotlighted some of his most memorable covers, including those depicting Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (March 28, 1970), Davis’ childhood hero Bob Hope for a cover on Hope’s history with the Oscars (April 10, 1971) and Bonanza (August 14, 1971). Years later, while watching a TV interview of Hope, Davis was gratified to notice that his Hope cover was displayed on the back wall of the comedian’s office; “it was one of the proudest moments of my life,” recalled Davis.