Saturday, March 11, 2006


Nobody draws hands like the great Mort Drucker.

close up, with pencil lines

If you study Drucker's stories for MAD magazine, you will see a wonderful ballet of hands from one panel to the next. Note in the following drawing how, in a tiny space crammed with Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Al Pacino and other superstars, a hand still dominates center stage.

There are at least two important lessons to draw from Drucker's treatment of hands.

First, Drucker constructs hands like a master architect-- he understands the structural foundation of his subject, and that gives his drawings solidity. But that's only the start. For some artists, extensive knowledge of anatomy can have a deadening effect. It locks them into a certain mechanical way of thinking. It becomes an anchor that weighs down creativity.

But if you're really good-- like Drucker-- your knowledge of anatomy sets you free. Drucker could never achieve his springing, bouncing joyful line if he had to slow down to consult reference every time he drew a hand. He has internalized his knowledge, and it has given him a solid foundation from which he can launch his trademark "slapdash" line with confidence. There's no other way to achieve that effect.

The second lesson is that Drucker did not need to draw all those hands in order to get paid for the job. The picture below would have been quite complete without one hand knocking on the door, a second hand grasping the door knob and a third gesturing in mid air.

Look in the following close up at the work that went into drawing three hands that could just as easily have been cropped from the bottom of the panel. These were not drawn for the sake of the editor.

That, my friends, is the real definition of art for art's sake.


Anonymous said...

Jack Davis is another guy who is great with hands.

Steve Simpson said...

Mort Drucker has to be one of my all time favs. Really inspirational stuff!

Cedricstudio said...

Great post! Makes me want to run out and draw a bunch of hands (it's been a while). Drucker is indeed a master.

leifpeng said...

Its great to able to see the fantastic detail you've pointed out here, David. I can recall marveling over those movie parodies as a kid. By coincidence I came across a reference to Mort Drucker in the recent issue of Alter Ego ( #56 ) wherein DC Production manager Jack Adler talks about how horrible edito Robert Kanigher was to Drucker. The artist apparently was so inscenced the Kanigher that he vowed never to work for DC again.

An example of his pre-Mad realistic style is reprinted as well.

Funny how sometimes a bad situation can lead a person down a much better path - imagine if Drucker had never moved into caricature at Mad but spent a career hacking out superhero comics at DC.

Kagan M. said...

What are your thoughts on Mad Magazine's current use of the illustrator who mimics Mort Drucker's style to a tee, but is not quite as good? Surely they could have found someone who could do just as nice of a job but with a different approach, like Herman Mejia, instead of hiring someone to stand in Drucker's shadow?

Stan Shaw said...

It would be hard to work doing movie parodies and not be in Druckers shadow.
Drucker's work is great, no doubt about it. I'm sure the act of drawing so many hands (and feet and faces and noses and…) helped keep him in top form. The only way to get better at drawing is by drawing.

leifpeng said...

I think Mad's current crop of editors probably struggles every day with how to steer that ship. Peter Kuper was a nice stylistic update for Spy VS Spy but when it comes to caricature maybe they felt they needed to stick with what must surely be the most successful approach to that style.

Also, I think the movie and tv parodies were aimed at an older readership ( I never much read 'em as looked at them as a kid ) so perhaps they felt older readers, being less flexible to accepting something new, would want to experience the familiarity of style they had grown up with?

Finally, Drucker and Davis ( and Torres too, I guess ) have so defined the look that almost anybody who does caricature with any skill must surely have studied and been heavily influenced by their work.

Anonymous said...

I've been drawing since I was two (I'm 16 now) and my art is very similar to Drucker's (I modelled after him hehe). But I've pretty much mastered his style (except for the hands- and sometimes the hair - Drucker's drawings of hair is FANTASTIC), so now I'm moving on to Hermann Mejia's style. I can pretty much mimic Mejia's style, but I can't get such clean layers. Any tips?

Anonymous said...

Last night I was discussing drawing hands -- a friend was looking at my work and said he liked the way I drew hands. I told him I was influenced by Mort Drucker and Will Eisner. Today, while drawing, I thought about Mort Drucker and how much I loved his work when I was a kid (and still do as an adult). So I did a Google search and found this blog.

Thank you for your insights on Drucker's work -- it's spot on. His use of hands showed drama, it showed a a secondary form of speech we use. Drucker's characters always seemed to "communicate" to one another better than other illustrators' people.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that these are the only articles I could find discussing Mort Drucker..... it is a name I have always known

David Apatoff said...

Myles, Drucker is legendary among people who are willing to approach drawing on the merits, without blinding prejudices and class assumptions. But there are a lot of museum types out there who believe "MAD magazine is vulgar" (that's a direct quote) and therefore it can't possibly be a source of worthwhile drawing. That's why you don't see a lot of articles and books on Drucker. It will take a little while, but it's coming. This blog is only a start.

Martin said...

This is a very impressive lecture, honestly. I have not looked at this type of drawing thiat intensely since my babysitter stopped reading MAD to me some 40plus years ago. Great blog, thank you.

David Apatoff said...

Martin-- sounds like you had a great babysitter. Time to go back and check what Drucker produced in those intervening 40 years!

Potter Zebby said...

Responding to a ten-year-old comment:
What are your thoughts on Mad Magazine's current use of the illustrator who mimics Mort Drucker's style to a tee, but is not quite as good? Surely they could have found someone who could do just as nice of a job but with a different approach, like Herman Mejia, instead of hiring someone to stand in Drucker's shadow?

The illustrator in question in Tom Richmond, who certainly does not "mimic Mort Drucker's style to a tee." For a mimic, look up an artist named Kent Gamble, who worked at Cracked. Beyond Richmond's use of color, his line, technique and choices are different from Drucker's even as he fits into the standard MAD style of movie parody. Angelo Torres' style was closer to Drucker's than Richmond's is, and Torres was readily different also.

In the ten years since Kagan M.'s question, the shadow-stander Richmond has won the NCS' 2011 Reuben Award for the year's outstanding cartoonist. To become a member of the National Cartoonists Society, one has to be sponsored by an existing member. Richmond's sponsor was Mort Drucker.

I know no one is reading this, but the question was off base in 2006 and has only gotten moreso in the succeeding decade.

Anonymous said...

Reminded me of Monkey Punch who created the Lupine III manga, they are interesting hands for focusing in emotion styling anatomy to simplicity