Thursday, January 16, 2014


Mort Drucker didn't like the way he drew this knob, so he painted it out and re-drew it.

The knob was located on the back of an electric lamp:

Over a chaotic surgical table:

 In a crowded operating room:

Surrounded by even more bystanders-- from a vampire to a clergyman-- in a splash panel for MAD Magazine:

MAD reproduced Drucker's drawing small enough so that it's doubtful a single reader saw that damn knob.  Yet, Drucker painted it out and did it all over again.

Charles Dickens wrote to his son,   
I should never have made my success in life if I had been shy of taking pains, or if I had not bestowed upon the least thing I have ever undertaken exactly the same attention and care that I have bestowed upon the greatest.


Bryan Tipton said...

Love this post. Wonderfully constructed. The sentiment reminds me of a Richard Schmid quote I repeat in my head when I paint: "Never leave something you know is wrong."

Richard said...

Judging by the tiny bits of ink peeking out from under the paint, it looks as if his knob was very large and very misplaced.

Other places in the image he has pretty obvious mistakes that he ignores (e.g. the bad perspective of the chainsaw's blade).

I'm wondering if the knob mistake wasn't more obvious before the redraw?

Laurence John said...


trying to spot perspective mistakes in an image like this is such a pedantic thing to do.

do you really think he would have placed everything against a dead-on straight wall and then used such a steep angle for the foreground if he was so concerned about correct perspective ?

James Gurney said...

"Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains"
--Thomas Carlyle
"Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration."
—Thomas Alva Edison
"Geniuses are a pain because they're always perspiring."
—James Gurney

Richard said...


I think the internal logics of an object here matter for the strength of the over-all image, as in the case of the chainsaw (and the knob as I'm suggesting), whereas the medieval perspective adds to the narrative elements of the work and are thus easily forgivable.

David Apatoff said...

Bryan Tipton-- Yes, exactly. Even if, as here, no one else notices that it's wrong. Cartoonist Richard Thompson, whose work I admire tremendously, said: "Realistically, you know you can live with compromises and that nobody else will be able to see how terrible they look. But I did not want to cut corners or lower my standards. It took all the fun away from it for me. For me, what made this whole thing worthwhile was looking back at something and saying, ‘Gee, that’s good.’"

Richard-- Not sure what you mean by "I'm wondering if the knob mistake wasn't more obvious before the redraw?" Are you suggesting the knob is still a mistake, just less obvious? I noticed the chain saw too, and wasn't sure if I was looking at perspective or a tapered guide bar or a combination of the two. I view that ambiguity as a (minor) flaw. If you see other "pretty obvious mistakes" I missed them. My own view is that this drawing represents a brilliant orchestration of complex elements, abiding literally by the rules of likeness and perspective where appropriate, but leaving them behind when the artistry requires it. I don't know of any other comic artist in the past century capable of a page like that.

Laurence John-- Perhaps it is my fault; perhaps I sounded as if I was encouraging people to evaluate art by looking for imperfections with a microscope. My point was rather that the readers of MAD who did not use a microscope would never have noticed that knob, but Drucker knew it was there and had to change it for himself.

Artedigital said...

Excellent post with very good pictures. Anyone can identify get clear explanation with this picture. Thanks for sharing.

Arte Digital

Richard said...

Sorry, that should've read "I'm wondering if the knob mistake wasn't more obvious [than we would guess] before the redraw?" As in, maybe it wasn't such a small mistake after-all, if it warranted fixing but the chainsaw did not.

cranberries said...

Stephen Sondheim quoting his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein: Hammerstein, in the Introduction to his book Lyrics, wrote: 'A year or so ago, on the cover of the New York Herald Tribune Sunday Magazine, I saw a picture of the Statue of Liberty. It was a picture taken from a helicopter and it showed the top of the statue's head. I was amazed at the detail there. The sculptor had done a painstaking job with the lady's coiffure, and yet he must have been pretty sure that the only eyes that would ever see this detail would be the uncritical eyes of seagulls. He could not have dreamt that any man would ever fly over this head and take a picture of it.

He was artist enough, however, to finish off this part of the statue with as much care as he had devoted to her face and her arms and the torch and everything that people can see as they sail up the bay. He was right.

When you are creating a work of art, or any other kind of work, finish the job off perfectly.

You never know when a helicopter, or some other instrument not at the moment invented, may come along and find you out.'

Cranky Bird said...

Thought-provoking post, but intimidating as well. Looking backwards at the perfection of the masters is either inspiring or enervating. Depends on my mood, or how susceptible to guilt I am at any given moment.

Donald Pittenger said...

Taking pains for its own sake strikes me as a recipe for wasted time and effort. I would lie to think that the trick is to take pains where necessary for the intended effect and let other imperfections lie fallow.

I leave it to others to decide whether or not Drucker's knob was essential to the overall result. (Though I have my doubts.)

Donald Pittenger said...

Oh dear, Dr, Freud, I meant to write "...I would like to think..." in the second sentence of my previous comment.

I clearly to to be more perfectionist while proof-reading.

David Apatoff said...

James Gurney-- Does this mean that anti-perspirant stifles creativity?

cranberries-- Another excellent example, thanks.

Cranky bird-- I agree, it's very intimidating. The problem is, averting our eyes (which seems to be a popular method of restoring artistic courage these days) doesn't do us any good.

Donald Pittenger wrote: "the trick is to take pains where necessary for the intended effect and let other imperfections lie fallow."

I certainly understand the general point, although I think it applies with more force to leaving out unnecessary detail than it applies to ignoring mistakes. In this case, Drucker was certainly not oblivious to the need to "get on with it." He met deadlines at MAD for 50 years, churning out an astonishing amount of material, far more prolific than other famous caricaturists (including Hirschfeld, Levine, Sorel, etc. with the exception of Jack Davis, if you want to call him a caricaturist). That's one of the reasons I'm so impressed with his determination to go back and fix that knob. Perhaps the issue lies in what you consider "the intended effect." If you're doing it in part for yourself, then as long as you know the mistake is there, it might not matter whether it was "necessary" to fix it for MAD readers.

Donald Pittenger said...

David, I agree with your last comment in general, but there are things I can't help but ponder...

I wonder what the original "mistake" might have been. But Drucker covered it with Whiteout or some other medium, so we'll never know.

And if indeed a mistake had been made, then how serious a mistake was it? Was the original knob shaped like a woman's nipple and MAD's editors called that to his attention and ask for a correction? Or did he have the perspective or something else wrong?

If the knob had been nipple-like, then I can easily understand why Drucker did what he did. Otherwise, it strikes me as being a dab of compulsive behavior.

I suspect that most artists, when looking at a work they've completed and signed, suddenly notice things that they consider mistakes, and this probably applies to paintings considered masterpieces. Mistakes are almost always present; judgment is required to to evaluate whether they are serious enough to need fixing.

MORAN said...

Great resemblance on Richard Widmark.

ΙΩΑΝΝΑ Ζ. said...

Its just amazing , congratulations!

vwstieber said...

What if it wasn't a knob at all, but a flip switch, and a surgeon friend told him "those things have knobs"?

Or maybe it really was a small nipple-y knob (as suggested above)and the whole thing looked like a monstrous WoodyAllen-esque tit? "Mort, no giant tits, how many times do I have to tell you?"

Kurt Cyrus said...

I think Mort's dog was impatient for its walk, and nudged his arm in the middle of a stroke. My dog does that to me regularly. God bless the Undo button!

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

Taking pains is not in itself the reason quality is produced.
It is love of a thing that induces the desire to ensure that all is well with it. And persuading others to do so means giving it everything you've got.

Tom R said...

Mort often took major liberties with perspectives and scale... but that chainsaw blade is not a mistake. Some chainsaws have blades that are narrower at the end than at the base, that's what's depicted. However the table in the rear of the picture shows how loosely he handled the perspective in this scene, it and the floor are at obvious odds with the back wall. You'll also notice he didn't draw the ower area of the operating table and other lower elements so as to make the back wall not seem so out of place. Artistic license.

My guess is Mort didn't like the lines or the way the ink looked on that knob, and it bothered him, so he changed it. Other stuff didn't bother him. Hard to argue with genius.

Kalinides said...

Hasn't anyone thought about the possibility Mr Drucker wasn't caring about perspective but an harmonic composition?... I can see a couple of Parallels the same distance from the tools table, and from the table lamp (knob included) meeting where romeo and lady dr. are... Priest's arm and chainsaw blade are parallels too... I haven't printed and actually bisecting lines yet, but they are too many coincidences... If he was so fastidious for a knob I can see him for compositional lines...

Thomas Fluharty said...

Thats what I love about you David. You call attention to the littlest things and make us marvel at them. Thanks again~T