Monday, March 12, 2007


Many comic artists draw hair in a kind of shorthand. They select from a menu of 3 or 4 basic styles they once learned, and modify the color or hairline for a little variety. Highly regarded artists such as Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby were all guilty of this timesaving practice (and as for George Wunder's Terry and the Pirates-- let's not even go there).

One reason I admire Mort Drucker so deeply is that he didn't take such things for granted. In each of these pictures, he looked with fresh eyes for the best way to capture hair with line. It's hard work-- the essence of traditional drawing-- but it really pays off.

Obviously, Drucker isn't relying on any formula here. In the pictures below, Drucker has analyzed and mastered the 3 dimensional structure of each hairstyle. Once he understands it, he can rotate it on an axis in his brain just as if he was born with a CAD CAM software program.

Drucker did not just haul this approach out for wild, eccentric hair. In the following picture, notice how he captures even plain, straight hair with a master's sensitivity.

Although Drucker is justly famous among professional caricaturists who recognize the measure of his achievement, in my view he remains the single most underrated comic artist.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I think I'm the single most underrated comic artist since I can't even get a rejection letter from the New Yorker but you're right, Drucker does deserve far more fame than he has yet recieved. I suspect that most people see Drucker as akin to the charicturists that they see at a county fair or at the mall at Christmas, the ones who decorate their area with celeb-cartoons to entice the public into getting drawn. You rightly point out the thought that Drucker puts into the details like the hair but these 'thoughts' are vital when trying to capture someones likeness.You can't just draw two big ears and say 'look, it's Prince Charles' (well Gerald Scarfe can but that's a whole 'nother talent) I think Drucker, like many others,suffered from the sublety of his work. How else can one explain the popularity of Todd Mcfarland or Rob Liefeld, just two of the many really really popular comic artists who quite frankly can't draw but who cover up the fact by adding loads of pointless line and detail to their work? As always another great post, just sorry I have so little time to comment. The post about your favourite bad artists, have you looked at Alex Ross yet? I asked you that months ago but I think we were thinking of two different people. The one I mean has made a name for himself by bringing traditional illustration techniques to the comics.He paints these wonderfully realistic panels of all the big and little superfolk but I still find his work lacking some sort of something, imagination or soul perhaps, I'd love to know what you think and how you feel he compares to the great illustrators. Craig

3/16/2007 12:46 AM  
Blogger Chris Warren said...

It's so awesome to see someone give Drucker his props. Your posts about him have been great!

3/16/2007 3:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your Drucker samples he drew celebrities, most likely from a photo. That's alot different than Kirby or Ditko working on panel after panel in a superhero comic. They had to produce alot more work, hence the short hand.

3/16/2007 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Tim L said...


I think most if not all of the samples shown are from MAD movie spoofs. While not as long as a comic book they did require multiple drawings from different angles etc.

I think I read somewhere years ago that Drucker and Jack Davis would only have a couple of photos from a flick and could create the caricature illustrations for the continuity feature/spoof. They were all remarkably consistent even though the angles and views were different.

Since I could not find an e-mail address for the site, I'll use this post to say thanks for this blog.

3/16/2007 11:54 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous, I understand your point, but the difference in productivity is not as great as you think.

Kirby may have produced 24 pages a month (estimate) while Drucker produced 6 to 8 pages. But Kirby only penciled his pages, while Drucker penciled, inked, and often enhanced his pages with wash and marker. Drucker also had to research each story by going to a screening of the movie and finding reference material, while Kirby just had to imagine a new costume or a new machine. Finally, Tim is correct-- Drucker obviously did not have photographs for every single angle and facial expression needed for these stories. He had to understand the facial structure and hair style, and then project the character into the situation needed for the story. His ability to do this was almost supernatural. It completely transforms the nature of your job if each and every panel has to have one, two or even three likenesses of a celebrity or historical figure.

3/16/2007 12:11 PM  
Blogger colin said...

Craig's mention of Alex Ross (here's his site, by the way) made me think, have you talked at all about contemporary comic illustrators? Although I'm not a big comic book reader anymore, I've gathered quite a list of artists, mostly from Charlie Parker's wonderful Lines and Colors site, including Alex Ross, Adam Hughes, Travis Charest, Joshua Middleton and Ryan Sook. I know I like these artists' work (although, as Craig said, Ross's sometimes seems... distant, somehow), but I wonder if you like any of them. Your posts on specific artists often point out aspects of their work that I had only appreciated subconsciously before, and I wonder what you would find in the work of these artists.

And if they're not your cup of tea, or if you're not even interested in finding out if they are or not, no worries. Your blog is a great source of inspiration and insight. Please keep it up!

3/16/2007 1:39 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Craig and Colin, I agree with your assessment of Alex Ross (and you are right, Craig, I did initially confuse him with the other illustrator named Alex Ross). I think he does make an interesting case because he does paint with so much technical facility and so little humanity. I would love to engage in a dialogue with readers about the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of work.

Colin, I am familiar with most, but not all of, the artists you mentioned. One of the coolest things about blogging is learning about new artists who have escaped my attention. They are all worthy subjects of a future posting.

3/16/2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger SpaceJack said...

As a kid, I enjoyed Drucker's work immensely in Mad. So much so, that I wished a lot of the superhero comic artists could do what he could.

Excellent examples of his incredible hair skills.

3/16/2007 7:36 PM  
Blogger G1toons said...

this is a great informational blog, i appreciate this, thanks

3/23/2007 12:52 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks Chris, spacejack and G1toons, I appreciate the comments. Oh, and G1toons... good luck with Michelle!

3/23/2007 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kirby typically did more than 24 penciled pages a month. At one point he even did two books in a month! He had a huge hand in creating the Marvel Universe. Because of that he had to use shortcuts.

The other artists you mentioned produced alot as well. Raymond and Caniff both had to write, draw and ink a comic strip per day. Not to mention create a color sunday strip.

On top of that they were producing work that wasn't based on specific personalities like Drucker was/is. It's different. I'm not saying Drucker isn't good, but I do think you're not crediting the other artists for the abilities they had.

3/28/2007 1:10 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous, I don't mean to be too hard on Kirby-- I am in awe of his output, and of his impact on the world of comics as a whole. However, at some point during his long career he simply stopped looking. He drew all women's faces and hairstyles the same way. He drew outer space the same way. He drew all battle scenes the same way. He drew all villains with the same expression. My point about Drucker was that after 50 years in the business, his eyes and hand were still searching.

I have mixed emotions about the argument that a comic artist could have done a better job if they didn't have to produce so much art on deadline. To some extent, that's a problem of their own making. If Kirby has to cut corners to produce two books a month, perhaps he should only have produced one. But mostly, my reaction is that many great artists are famous for their quick sketches. Look at a book of Rembrandt sketches, each one of which may have taken only a minute. They are honored as the highest level of art. Their speed is not a drawback, as long as the drawing reveals insight.

3/29/2007 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rembrandt's sketches weren't meant to be seen. They were studies and as far as I know he didn't have tight deadlines like many comic artists such as Kirby.

Comics also don't pay very well which is a big reason why artists took on so much work. Would he have done better had he got paid more per pages and didn't have to rush as much? I don't know, but sometimes the deadline brings out the best in an artist.

Again Drucker was drawing celebrities and using photos. It's a different thing all together. Of course he was looking all the time.

3/29/2007 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a time when if you looked at an artist's directory like the workbook, you saw nothing but one Drucker or Davis imitator after another.They were beyond influential.
The problem with Drucker is that the Mad parodies are essentially topical. And any anthologies that are printed today have to feature current movies whose parodies are drawn by that excruciating no-talent, Sam Viviano.
So people today see less Drucker's greatest work, and becuase it concerned old movies they don't know anything about, they're probably not going to appreciate the work.

4/03/2007 1:05 AM  
Anonymous Jonnah said...

Wow.. i didnt know there would be such a debate on an artists hair styles!.. (*You never know what you're gonna find on the web)

I'm love Mad magazine artists. i havent read one in years, but having picked one up recently, it surprised me again to find such talented artists. And i agree with a commment up top, that a sign of a true artists is how nice their "sketches" are. Many people can do "polished" stuff.. but they useually look stiff. Sketches reveal the thought process of an artist, and you can guage their true potential thru a sketch.

But back to hair, i'm an illutrator myself.. and hair's a bitch to draw. So congrats on on this post. Let's give both Drucker and good hair artists their due!

4/12/2007 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Hair Replacement said...

Artist should pay much attention on their hair. It's very important for image. When people like some artist, they want everything to be perfect with them.

8/28/2007 9:12 AM  
Anonymous Hair Transplant said...

I'm fan of Mort Drucker. I like his work and how he looks. His hair looks perfect, he doesn't need to do something special for improving.

8/28/2007 9:18 AM  
Blogger louis de la taille said...

thank you for sharing these images. In France, this caricaturist is barely known, and it's very difficult to find samples of his work !

3/23/2008 12:30 PM  
Blogger Rodrigo Su├írez said...

Mort Drucker. I loved his work since childhood. Thanks for sharing this fine material from the master. I love Kirby and Ditko creations, no need to compare their work. I think they are in different worlds of comic. Now I have to read my Drucker's comic here in Buenos Aires. Bye.

11/07/2008 2:29 PM  
Anonymous Term Papers said...

I've gathered quite a list of artists, mostly from Charlie Parker's wonderful Lines and Colors site, including Alex Ross, Adam Hughes, Travis Charest, Joshua Middleton and Ryan Sook.

2/12/2010 1:16 AM  

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