Tuesday, April 22, 2008


You've seen Paul Coker Jr.'s drawings all over the place-- on countless greeting cards, ads, magazines and comic books-- but when was the last time you actually paused to look at them? His drawings may appear simple, but they reflect considerable sophistication and talent.

For example, Coker understands anatomy and body language. Notice the shoulders and lowered head of this boy looking over his father's work:

or the twist of the body and the bouncing step of the happy runner in the background:

This is how a good artist uses anatomy: not as a distraction, but with confidence and understatement, in the service of the total image. Coker's drawings never brag about his knowledge, but they would not "ring true" without it.

Or look how at how Coker takes fundamentally symmetrical subjects-- a ball, or a standing boy-- and transforms them into highly asymmetrical, interesting shapes by means of the personality in his drawing:

And Coker's mastery of facial expressions ranges from the reserved (above) to the zany (below).

Any artist who has been asked to draw children knows how incredibly difficult it is to simplify them without losing character and believability. In my view, only a handful of cartoonists, such as Charles Schulz, Percy Crosby, Hank Ketcham and Paul Coker managed to pull it off well.

Coker's drawings will never attract the kind of fanatical fans who collect pictures of muscular barbarians or huge-breasted space nymphs.  Coker specializes in a different kind of subject matter.

Nevertheless, he is a highly observant and subtle artist who draws with a beautiful line. I wanted to post a few examples here for those of you who may have thought that the pictures on Hallmark cards weren't worth your attention.


Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

Paul Coker Jr. is brilliant. He also designed some of the characters for some of those Rankin-Bass animated puppet Christmas specials.

Thanks for posting his work!

4/23/2008 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never paid much attention to him before.

4/23/2008 8:44 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

I always loved Coker's stuff in Mad, especially those Horrifying Clichés segments. But I never realized how good an artist he was until years later. He is a consummate visual entertainer.... we never think to think of his work as art because it is so clearly focused on the entertainment of his audience, we never get a sense that he is drawing attention to himself... Every picture looks to be rendered transparently. True selfless mastery.

4/24/2008 12:55 PM  
Blogger Gravedust said...

Thank you for posting these!

4/24/2008 1:39 PM  
Blogger Jack R said...

I'd long forgotten about Coker, though I know I used to see his work all over the place (maybe it was in Mad). Along with the charm he invests in his characters, it is his line, as you rightly note, where he shines. It is so supple and spontaneous. I can imagine him dashing through the inking, making what would be impossible for others look easy.

4/24/2008 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I rarely comment but visit often. Thanks for sharing your talent and your appreciation for the artistic talent of so many outstanding artists.

Tim Langenderfer

4/25/2008 4:01 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Jack. I didn't know about Coker's animation work, but I'm not surprised. He has done consistently excellent work all over the place. You would think someone would have added up all his various contributions by now and recognized his special stature.

Anonymous, you are not alone; people get easily distracted from quiet quality by glamorous or salacious subject matter.

Kev, I agree-- those horrifying cliches were great, in a class by themselves. "Selfless mastery" is a great way to describe Coker>

4/25/2008 10:30 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Gravedust and anonymous / Tim, I'm happy to have you here. Thanks for writing.

Jack r, far too many people have forgotten about Coker. Let's bring him back for some fresh reconsideration. I like the way you describe his line.

4/25/2008 10:37 PM  
Blogger FriedMilk said...

"when was the last time you actually paused to look at them?"

When I was 10. He was one of my favorite Mad artists and I'd study his comics over and over again when I was a kid.

4/28/2008 4:59 AM  
Anonymous Winston Rowntree said...

Paul Coker Jr. is the most underrated artist of all time. Thanks for posting these.

4/28/2008 9:38 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

There's at least one Annie Fanny story where Coker helps out, and i think it's the only time I've seen his characters in fully-rendered color. But they retain the same character and personality.

4/28/2008 9:43 AM  
Blogger Blogart said...

This blog is really and truly a refreshment for the soul. Now you just hitted the spot: Paul Coker, Jr. is one of my strongest MAD influences on cartoon, as you can see if you take the trouble to check on my editorial cartoons album here http://www.orkut.com/AlbumList.aspx?uid=16093226074818205728

Mort Drucker in caricature, Paul Coker and Sergio Aragonés in cartoon. Those are my spiritual fathers. Many others came after, but they are the backbone.

4/28/2008 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog. Very informative.

4/28/2008 6:19 PM  
Blogger J. J. Hunsecker said...

Paul Coker, Jr. is one of my favorite cartoonists from MAD. His poses feel animated, and he designs his characters with interesting shapes. I also love his line work, which is unique (not the typical thick/thin line).

I'm glad to see there are so many others who appreciate his work, too.

4/30/2008 3:07 AM  
Blogger illustrationISM said...

Yes, quite a 'line artist'! Another great master of line
(to me) is/was Hank Ketcham (of Dennis the Menace)!
He made the simplest line(s) look so perfect.

Mark Jaquette @
illustrationISMISM &

5/02/2008 3:44 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I agree with all here, that Paul Coker Jr was an amazing talent and one of my favorites from Mad to Hallmark. Even if the sentiment was crappy, I used to still buy a greeting card with his work on it just because it was his. I use to copy all those Horrifying Cliches when I was a kid in my sketchbook especially if we had to drive somewhere boring. Very animated drawings.

What a great post!

5/04/2008 1:15 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Hey, I love Paul Coker - used to see his work in Mad out here in RSA - he;s also in the Art of Humurous Illustration, I have photocopied pages in 15 yr old boxes! It amazes me that you have originals, Dave - are those yours?

Thanks, good to see he has a bigger following than i thought!

5/09/2008 5:31 AM  
Blogger Kevin Barber said...

I can't thank you enough for posting these great scans. Coker is amazing.

9/10/2008 10:56 PM  
Blogger John EF said...

I take it you own some original Coker's??

His line has a unique texture to it. Any idea what he uses? It almost looks like felt tip marker, what with the bulbous/"bleeding" ends of some of his strokes, but there's more control in it than I think would be possible with a felt tip.

1/20/2009 5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Frank Jacobs once wrote (writing as Helen Hunt)

I win an Emmy every year
unlike my friend, Paul Reiser.
And when I won the Oscar too
Paul muttered "I despise her."

But I can't help it if I'm great
and he's just mediocre.
I sometimes feel like I'm Van Gogh
and he is just Paul Coker.

9/04/2009 10:34 AM  
Blogger Don Coker said...

I grew up loving and being influenced by Paul Coker's work, always hoping that I might find we were actually kinfolk. I haven't found that yet, but still enjoy and find inspiration in his work!

9/16/2009 8:48 AM  
Blogger Yan Monica Site said...


2/22/2010 3:43 PM  
Blogger Elana Pritchard said...

very cool article- thanks for posting it!

3/28/2010 1:56 PM  
Blogger RooniMan said...

Paul Coker's work is gold.

3/28/2010 2:36 PM  
Blogger jojo said...


Coker is incredibly talented--and a beautiful humble man to boot!
I am an Art Consultant specializing in Animation Art at the The Chuck Jones Gallery in Santa Fe, NM where we will be hosting an exhibition of his amazing art work!The pieces will be very reasonably priced. This will be a tremendous opportunity to collect some original artwork at a very accessible price! Please let me know if you would like more information about this event!-Jocelyne Brown--jocelyne@lje.com, 505.983.5999

7/07/2011 1:54 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jojo-- Thanks for alerting us to this show of Coker's work. If I lived in that half of the United States, I would definitely be there. I look forward to reading about it on line.

7/09/2011 8:20 AM  
Blogger jenniflip said...

As kids in the 70s, my brothers and I grew up devouring every Mad magazine we could get our hands on. Rankin-Bass specials were a part of our holiday traditions. I have always been a great fan of Coker's work, and feel I have an even greater connection to him now. In 1995, I moved to Lawrence, Kansas, the birthplace of Paul Coker Jr. He is the designer of Lawrence High School's mascot. My daughter is graduating this year as a proud Chesty Lion!

12/08/2011 12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I learned to love Paul Coker's work in Mad Magazine when I was a kid. He had a distinctive, masterly and very comical style. Sad to say, he never acquired the cult following a lot of other Mad artists have now.

1/06/2012 1:42 AM  

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