Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The legendary Will Elder passed away last week at age 86. He had a long, glorious career as a founding artist for MAD Magazine, TRUMP, Humbug and Little Annie Fanny. Working from these platforms, he made a deep impact on the youth of America (especially teen age boys).

For me, Elder's great contribution to humanity was not an original style or a sensitive line or brilliant designs. His work offered no profound insights into human comedy or tragedy. Instead, his strength was slapstick. Note how Elder equipped the menacing space creature with a glass cutter to get access to the space cutie:

Look closely and you will see that her helmet is also a gum ball machine. Elder's unruly imagination wouldn't have been effective without the technical skill to draw so convincingly. Yet he never gets bogged down in the detail; his gags never interfere with the fluidity of the picture.

Here you can see Elder's craftsmanship close up:

In order to keep a consistent value on the girl's thigh, he painted out and redrew individual dots. Was it worth the effort? All I can tell you is that those legs were extremely important to boys all across America who would have noticed if even a single dot was out of place.

Many of those boys were motivated to become artists just so they could draw girls the way Elder did.

I speak from experience.


Mark Stroud said...

I really like this piece. It fits with what has become for me a new appreciation and discovery of all those artists who contributed to Mad's early years. I love the technique and the subtle humor of this piece.Great stuff!

David Apatoff said...

Glad you like it, Mark. Those early MAD artists were a gifted group but beyond that, they were also truly and deeply weird. Harvey Kurtzman had a lot to do with the tone, but each artist contributed his own juicy eccentricities.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

My absolute favorite single Elder drawing. I alsmost chose it for my homage, but in the end I went with two busier samples from the early magazine Mad.

David Apatoff said...

Ger, I enjoyed your excellent (and obviously heartfelt) tribute to Elder on your blog, and I commend it to others. You certainly picked two fine examples of his MAD art.

Anonymous said...

great post

Rick said...

Am I incorrect in assuming that Elder is "parodying" Virgil Finlay's pulp illustrations with this wonderful drawing?