Thursday, December 02, 2004

Birthday greetings to a comics legend

Happy 80th birthday to one of cartooning's greatest artists: Jack Davis. Although best known today for his hyperkinetic drawings in Mad magazine, on the cover of such publications as TV Guide, and hundreds of commercial advertisements, Davis first came to prominence as one of the key artists at EC Comics, the firm whose horror stories almost led to the death of the comic book industry.

Davis, in fact, drew perhaps the most notorious tale in EC's history. "Foul Play," like many of the stories that appeared in such EC titles as Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Horror, was a revenge tale, this time centered around the game of baseball. In a series of panels that Dr. Fredric Wertham highlighted in his anti-comics screed Seduction of the Innocent, and that Senator Estes Kefauver would put on trial as examples of the imagery comics were using to pervert the minds of American youth, Davis depicted the zombified victims of a villainous ballplayer dissecting him and using his body parts as baseball equipment: His limbs became bats; his intestines, baselines; his heart, home plate; his head, the ball.

Gruesome stuff, to be sure, and probably in that instance edging beyond the boundaries of good taste, at least for the 1950s. But ironically, the same Jack Davis who so vividly portrayed such frightful sights later became universally renowned as a humor cartoonist. He received the Rueben Award as Cartoonist of the Year in 2000.

There's a great bio of Jack Davis at Bud Plant's Comic Art site, if you'd like more insight into the career of this enormously talented artist.

Best wishes, Mr. Davis.

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