|NOW YOU DO KNOW JACK!
About "Crazy Campsongs" Illustrator Jack Davis
One of America's most beloved and best known illustrators, Jack Davis was born in December 2, 1924 in Atlanta, Georgia, and still makes his home in the area. This consummate Southern gentleman has an easygoing personality and a relaxed attitude about life despite churning out dozens of illustration assignments every month, mostly for advertising and corporate clients, as well as magazine work.
THE EARLY DAYS
Jack's art career started out early, doing illustrations for his high school yearbooks. Joining the U.S. Navy during World War II, Jacks talents helped the war effort, creating Boondocker, a weekly comic for the Navy News.
After the war, he entered college under the G.I. Bill at his beloved University of Georgia and continued cartooning, doing sports caricatures for the college newspaper and later, with some of his fraternity brothers, founding Bullsheet, a short-lived humor magazine. While in college, Jack also did some freelance work--corporate training illustrations for Coca-Cola and background drawings for the syndicated "Mark Trail" comic strip. These jobs help provide Jack with enough money to buy a car and the ambition to travel to New York City after graduating. He was determined to make it in the Big Apple as an artist.
NEW YAWK CITY
Arriving in New York City, Jack was accepted by the prestigious Art Students League where he studied by night and helped pay his expenses by inking and doing backgrounds for "The Saint" comic strip, which was illustrated by Mike Roy and contained serializations of the famed Saint stories by Leslie Charteris. Perhaps inspired by working on other syndicated cartoon strips, he created his own daily strip, "Beauregard," which was a Sad Sack-type character, set during the Civil War days.
"Beauregard" was picked up by the McClure Newspapers Syndicate and although it only ran a short while, it did catch the attention of William Gaines, Harvery Kurtzman and the staff at EC comics, who were in the process of changing their name from "Educational Comics" to "Entertaining Comics" as they launched new comics such as "Two Fisted Tales," "Frontline Combat," "Tales from the Crypt," "Crime Suspenstories," "The Vault of Horror" and "The Haunt of Fear." Jack not only illustrated for EC, but also wrote a number of stories, particularly for the war books. His tenure at EC comics lasted from 1950 to 1956, but Jack really found his stride in 1952 when they launched "Mad" comics--which later became "Mad" magazine.
THE MAD DAYS
Jack illustrated the first story in the first issue of "Mad" (November 1952), which was a spooky old house parody called "Hoohah!" He stayed on doing "Mad" and other EC titles for years.
During that time he also drew for other comics, including Stan Lee's pre-Marvel "Atlas" comics of the 1950s, such as "Rawhide Kid," "Tales to Astonish," "Journey into Mystery" and "Gunsmoke Western." In 1961, with the success of "Mad," Dell Comics approached Jack about doing a humor magazine, called "Yak Yak." It only lasted a few issues. Jack also illustrated for other humor magazines, including "Trump," "Humbug" and "Help!", as well as monster magazines like "Creepy" and "Eerie." Jack enjoyed doing these, especially as they offered plenty of opportunities to draw Frankenstein, his favorite character. There's no doubt that one of Jack's favorite assignments ever was when "Famous Monsters" magazine commissioned him to draw the big green guy with too-many-stitches and a couple of electrodes in his neck for a six-foot, "Giant, Life-Size Frankenstein Pin-up" poster in 1962. We're not sure, but we think they're still selling that today!
In 1965, Jack returned to working on "Mad"--drawing stories and covers on a regular basis. He actively continued drawing for "Mad" up until a few years ago, although his earlier work shows up regularly in current issues of Mad, through reprints and re-use.
At the same time, Jack also did freelance work for advertising agenciessometimes doing illustrations for ad campaigns that weren't too different from some of the ad parodies he created for Mad, such as his poster for the classic film "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad. Mad World," which Jack reprised in parody form for the 1966 Mad paperback "It's a World, World, World, World Mad." By then, Jack's work was everywhere and his distinct style was immediately recognizeable to a large segment of the population, especially with the dozens of movie posters, record albums, book covers, ads, and magazines covers and illustrations he developed for leading publications such as "TV Guide," "Time," "Life," "Playboy," "Ebony," "Esquire" and countless others.
There were plenty of other (occasionally odd) projects along the way, including the "Wacky Plaks" card series, trick "Pip Squirt" squirting pens, game box covers (for Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers), the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." lunchbox, monster tattoos, greeting cards, "Red Lobster" restaurant placemats, and a 7-11 coffee cup giveaway. But nothing was stranger than the coloring book he was commissioned to do in the 1980's. The art was great, but unfortunately, the publisher printed the books on slick paper stock, so crayons couldn't stick to it. Oops!
Yet through it all and over the years, Jack's inimitable style never became tired. In fact, in 2001, he edged out Simpsons creator Matt Groening for the coveted Reuben Award bestowed by the National Cartoonists Society.
JACK GOES CRAZY!
A longtime Jack Davis fan, "Crazy Campsongs" co-author George Petersen had over the years encouraged the art directors at "Mix" magazine (where George was editor) to hire Jack to lighten up some of "Mix's" technical articles on recording technology with some fun illustrations. From these experiences, George knew that Jack was easy to work with and always delivered on time. So in early 2002, we contacted Jack about illustrating "Crazy Campsongs."
As it turns out, Jack had never illustrated a children's book before, and the book was not entirely done yet at this point, so we sent Jack a stack of the completed songs. We were thrilled when Jack--a former Boy Scout--called back to say he loved the songs and wanted to do the book. We asked Jack to pick out one song from each of the chapters that HE wanted to illustrate, and so Jack's selections became the opening song in each chapter.
When we got some of the preliminary sketches to approve, we were floored--they were amazing! Knowing Jack, we weren't too surprised to see that his illustration for the "Halloween" song included Frankenstein--his favorite monster! Ironically enough, Jack started doing the final illustrations for "Crazy Campsongs" in October 2002--exactly 50 years after the day that the first issue of "Mad" comics hit the streets!
So there you have it. And hopefully now, you know a little more about Jack Davis. All we can say is thanks to Jack for believing in the "Crazy Campsongs" project, but also for the decades of wonderful whimsey that's brought joy to millions of fans around the world. You rock!
Note: Jack Davis is represented by Gerald & Cullen Rapp, Inc. of New York City.
To see a current portfolio of Jack's work, click HERE.
All artwork on this page is copyright by the respective copyright holders. The text on this page is copyright by JENPET Books; All rights reserved.