Monday, June 08, 2015



The great Mort Drucker is famous for drawing funny, not sexy.   Yet, if you look back at his stories for MAD Magazine, you'll see they were often packed with beautiful women:



At the recent annual conference of the National cartoonist Society, Drucker was awarded the first NCS Medal of Honor for his lifetime achievement.  I had the good fortune to interview him before the ceremony and he remarked that beautiful women were the most difficult subject for him to draw.   Classically beautiful women lack distinctive features for caricaturists to exploit.  Their faces are smoother and softer than men's, which makes them more difficult to capture with a hard ink line.  Their features are more delicate, their shapes rounder and subtler.  This requires restraint-- the enemy of a caricaturist.

Still, I was surprised by Drucker's comment because he managed to bedeck his stories with gorgeous females and made it look effortless.  Note the array of facial expressions, hair styles, body language and attitudes in his crowd scenes above. 

And even though Drucker drew in a humorous style, it was plain to everyone that he was able to draw serious "sultry" any time he wanted:


Nobody would ever think of Drucker as a pin-up artist; he was so damn good at drawing other things, few people ever got far enough down his list of accomplishments to pay attention to  his beautiful women.  So I've isolated a few high rez examples for your attention:  





Think about the "serious" illustrators who've become famous specializing in nothing but beautiful women.  Typically you'll see wooden postures and vapid faces (or even worse, faces wearing an adolescent notion of "desire.")  I find pictures such as these inferior to Drucker's casual drawings of women that you find sprinkled around his panels as background jokes. 

In addition, there are some highly skilled pen and ink artists today who specialize in drawing hot babes, yet their careful linework often strikes me as flat and uninspired when contrasted with Drucker's energetic, descriptive line.

One of Drucker's advantages is that his complete mastery of facial expressions enables him to give his women characters personality and depth that was largely absent from traditional good girl art. Unlike a traditional pin up standing alone in a suggestive  pose, his women are integrated into a story.

How often do you see a thoughtful expression on a drawing of a gorgeous woman?

A scene from the film Cool Hand Luke, where a young woman decides to torment a prison work gang by washing her car in front of them.  Drucker was able to put extreme facial expressions on lovely women-- a delicate balance.
The face of ennui in an 18th century English bath tub

Of course, this entire discussion ignores obvious questions about idealized beauty.  I'm happy to say that, unlike most artists (from Vargas and Petty to Elvgren and Olivia) who built their skills around conventional looks, Drucker had a far broader, more humanistic notion of beauty. Over the years he drew thousands of cute girls with freckles or eye glasses or pot bellies, who could never be seen in Playboy.  You could tell he recognized-- and conveyed-- the beauty in them as well.  But that discussion is for another day.   


Greg Evans said...

What a terrific article, David! Insightful, interesting, and right on target. Mort's gifts with women (no joke here) is a much overlooked aspect of his talent. Nicely illustrated with a great selection of gems. Bravo!

Larry MacDougall said...

David - I totally agree. Thanks for the post !

Donald Pittenger said...

I hope I'm not going out on a limb, 'cause I don't have the full pages that you excerpted at hand...

But my reaction is that in the movie spoofs and perhaps some other cases, Drucker was doing a really fine job of caricaturing those babes. For instance, in the fifth image, that sure looks like Brigette Bardot whether it was a movie spoof or some other Mad thing.

kev ferrara said...

A Drucker post is always welcome, but this one really caught me just right. I had never thought to analyze his females in isolation and it is truly something of a revelation, just as you've laid it out. Also, I literally just bopped in here from ebay where I accidentally clicked on "original comic art" by a "Celio P. Rock" that was some of the worst, godawful shit in history. Frank Cho may be a bit antiseptic compared to Drucker, but at least he can draw and has a sense of beauty and craftsmanship. He isn't a harbinger of the fall of civilization.

Jon Van Brunt said...

David, your previous spotlights on the fantastic art work of Mort Drucker was an enlightening experience. After seeing some of your posts I attempted to do some drawings inspired by Mort's work. My God! What a task!!! I couldn't come close. No one can ever truly appreciate his mastery until they try to do it themselves. Look at the shirt wrinkles in the side by side panels you've shown. Absolute genius! Thank you for profiling such an enjoyable artist to look at

David Apatoff said...

Greg Evans-- Thanks very much for weighing in. I know Mort appreciates input from his fellow artists. The great thing about writing these posts about his work is that once I reproduce the image, I don't need to say anything more. I just try to get out of the way, because these beauties speak for themselves.

Larry MacDougall-- I'm glad you see what I see in these drawings.

Donald Pittenger-- Some of these are caricatures of specific actresses, but others are generic gorgeous women, often made up. One of the amazing things I learned in my interview of Drucker was that in his early years with MAD, the movie studios weren't so eager to be featured in the pages of MAD and did not cooperate. (In fact, sometimes they sued.) Sometimes he illustrated whole stories without ever seeing the movie or getting any stills of the film. He'd have to make do with a couple of reference photos of an actor he'd clipped from other contexts.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I agree with you; I deliberately separated artists such as Frank Cho or Adam Hughes from the affirmatively awful Alberto Vargas or Bill Ward. I don't think they can compete with Drucker, but then, who can? Celio P. Rock is a new one to me, but it is amazing how many artists with no talent can still make money just by drawing huge breasts. They get a free ride on their subject matter. Crazy.

Jon Van Brunt-- Thanks for your thoughts. Mort's achievement becomes even more miraculous when you consider that he was drawing panels like that for 50 years.

Sean Farrell said...

The one with Burt Reynolds and a dismayed Gloria Steinem is fantastic. It really captures what will forever confound intellectuals, how beauty reduces otherwise perfectly sensible people to buffoons. His pleasure in drawing and in his subjects is just gushing out of these examples. I never realized how varied and effortless are his interpretations in capturing form from one hair style to the next. Thanks.

Mort Drucker visited our very small art class in high school and besides making an impression as a fine and beneficent person, I remember he was amazingly well dressed, even dapper or cosmopolitan and out of step with the times which was nature oriented. He made a point of letting us know that commercial art was a well paying occupation, which is one of those details people were not supposed to care about in 1971 and his success did seem almost alien to the concerns and attitudes of a high schooler at the time, (or even to the fun in his own drawings), but knowing one's efforts brought benefits rung a bell and didn't go unregistered and I'm sure it helped me to believe in my own efforts over the ensuing years. It was an idea that brought dignity to efforts which for a very long time in my life seemed even foolish and I remain grateful for that.

chris bennett said...

Very illuminating post David, thank you.
The only point on which I disagree is that you do not consider them sexy. I think one of his strengths lies in the way he sees woman as humans beings first and that they happen to be attractive second. In my view this is the very thing that makes them so.

MORAN said...

Drucker is awesome.

chuck pyle said...

Mort Drucker was one of the reasons I went to art school. So great to see these selections! Hats off to a master.

Tom said...

Great Post David, beauty plus intelligence. Drucker's women have their own motivations, their own independence. They are as you wrote participants in the story.

The spacing and proportions in the heads is wonderful. A beautiful defined eye and eye brow shine against the large clearly conceived simple forehead and cheekbones creating a delightful harmony.

The drawings look effortless, like the Summer of 42 girl who, is so graceful as she rolls her head over in the opposite direction of one outstandingly drawn foreshortened derrière.

The way Drucker draws the folding of cloth remains of all the names Chinese painters gave to the patterns they created with their brush strokes like spread-out hemp fibers or brushstrokes like raveled rope or brush strokes like big ax cuts.

Anonymous said...

I think Drucker is my all time favorite Mad artist, now that I think of it.

Ken Meyer Jr.

Michael Cavna said...

Was great to have you there, David. Thanks for tagging along!


Philip Crawley said...

Great post. How often have you seen women reduced to a list of assets and one of the most important that is usually left out is personality!, and these women have it in spades. Another cartoonist who was able to marry beauty and personality was Bob Oksner.

Robert Funk said...

The plagiarist and idealess Richard Prince should apologize and more for ripping artists with more talent them him.

He started off by stealing (and getting away with it) one of the most iconic Ad campaigns of all time. Marlboro Man ( Leo Burnett Agency ) and then he moved to stealing the work of illustrators.

What is so funny about this, members of the art establishment actually think there is an idea here. There is no idea! There just desperation to come up with an idea. I am not enlightened by this fraud art. I personally think the art world trend of doing the opposite of what goes on in the Commercial Art world is a desperate attempt to keep the art world afloat with faux ideas. After all, most of the talent is not in Chelsea it’s on Madison Avenue. You could take all of the living artist that exhibit in Art Basil and put them in a blender and with their combined talent, they still could not paint, draw or design as good as most of the classic illustrators. Why? They do not have the academic training. It's easy to do easy stuff like a faux idea. It's really hard to draw like Dean Cornwell. That's why you have "Appropriation Art, because no one wants to spend a lifetime working on the art skills.

Unknown said...

Brilliant post. Every post you make about Mort Drucker reveals more and more to enjoy about his work.

Anantjeet Kaur said...

Thankyou! I discovered Mort Drucker when my dad gave me a MAD issue preserved since his college days. The issue is in tatters, but is the MOST prized one in my entire book collection. Even his signature is art!! I love the fact that his caricatures are truest to the sense of the word - be it men or women!! The women are the show-stealers though. Everytime!! :) :)