Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I'm just "Mad" about Will Elder

Born this day in 1921, today would have been Will Elder's 88th birthday.

This is an example of my on-going education, appreciation and awareness of comic art. I have to confess, that other than admiring this greats work from afar, I know very little about Will Elder and the course of his career. I just know he was FREAKIN' GOOD!

Will, along with Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Jack Davis and a few others led by Bill Gaines, lead a revolution in free-thinking and real art and true satire in the 1950's. William "Bill" Gaines (his father actually invented the "comic book" a couple decades earlier) headed up a company called EC Comics.

This was the publisher that brought you "Tales of the Crypt" and other horror comics like it, and also western, horror, war and science fiction comics, all of the same calibre, decided one day to try his hand at a humor comic. And with the aforementioned group of artists gave the world Mad. EC originally stood for "Educational Comics" but changed to "Entertaining Comics" somewhere along the way...and entertaining they were.

A man (I use the term loosely) named Fredric Wertham published a book back then called "Seduction of the Innocent" which blathered on about the rise of juvenile delinquency and what may be causing it...comic books were a chief target of his slings and arrows. Bill Gaines even had to show up in front of congressional hearings and answer to charges of corrupting children's minds, with the gore and horror and graphically charged comics he published.

They were right...he corrupted us. In all the right ways. He gave us well written stories that were artfully told and didn't play down to the young minds, but rather treated them with respect to tell right from wrong.

These hearings and other lead to the creation of a self governing board of censorship amongst comic book publishers called "The Comics Code Authority" which tamed and maimed comic books from the 1950's until it was finally mostly abandoned in the 1990's. But that's another story. Bill Gaines chose not to be a part of.

Bill Gaines quit the comics business. "Tales from the Crypt", "Vault of Horror", "Weird Science" and the rest all ceased publication by him. All except one. "Mad" he chose to continue. But he would drop the comic book format and change it to a magazine. He gave the "Comics Code" the finger.

And he continued to puncture all societies foibles for years to come.

I tell you that story, because that's what I know about Will Elder. That he was one of those renegade artists that made Mad so great. His work was so dense and fun to look at, that even as a kid I got lost in the details and sometimes didn't see the raw satire that was being laid out before me.

Here's just a few examples of the great work that Will Elder did when Mad was still a comic.

Geez that's good stuff. By the 1960's Will had turned to even more alternate venues. One was a comic published independently call "Goodman Beaver" which I am still trying to read more of in my art research.

...and of course, no mention could be made of Will without his work form Playboy in the late 1960's-early 1970's. Little Annie Fanny. Kids, turn your heads.

I'm still learning all of Will's work. I have a copy of "Absolutely Mad"...a DVD which contains EVERY page of Mad from 1955-2000. EVERY PAGE. I will let you in on more of the work of Will Elder as my education and appreciation grows.

Until then...Happy birthday Will.


Anonymous said...

On the MADness... Dick DeBartolo, who is MAD's MADDest writer, does a podcast called the Daily Giz Whiz. Funny for a gsdget guy, and always seems to toss in some reference to Bill Gaines, and the other lunatics at MAD.

Hiz website is www.gizwiz.biz

Jeff Overturf said...

THANKS! I will be checking that out for sure!

Podcasts and blogs are great, and seem to be where I get all my news, information and entertainment from nowadays. I hear rumors that radio, newspapers and magazines still exist somewhere out there...but I'm not sure why.

Does anyone out there still want their info in 30 second snippets that don't say anything? And buried amongst info they don't care about? And 6 days old?

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old...and who want's peas porridge in the first place?

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