Mike Gold: Jack Davis, We Truly Knew Ye

Jack Davis FrankensteinRelax. This isn’t an obituary. It’s bad news, but it’s not an obituary. And that’s the good news.

First, the headline. Legendary cartoonist Jack Davis decided to retire. One of the very last of the EC artists, one of the very best of the Mad Magazine artists and a man whose work graced hundreds of TV Guide and Time Magazine covers and movie posters and record albums and books finally decided that, after 90 years on this planet, it’s time to call it a career.

We kick the word “legendary” around a lot, but here the word is not rich enough to convey the quality and the width and breadth of his work. Jack is best known for his satirical illustrations, but he was equally gifted in storytelling. His comic book work includes most all genres – science fiction, westerns, war stories, horror, sports… and that’s just his stuff for EC Comics.

Jack DavisSecond, the personal story. Some time ago, I was sitting at a massive table at New York’s Society of Illustrators with a bunch of other people, folks who were actually talented. We were judging a humor in illustration contest, and we discussed each entry. For me, this was akin to going to college. To the right of me sat Jack Davis. Not to put down any of the other gifted folks at the table, but damnit, I was sitting next to Jack Davis! He turned to me and made a comment that seemed to me like a sound effect from Charlie Brown’s parents. All I could think of was “how the hell did I get to be here?”

Actually, that’s the polite version. I might have been drooling, but if so, Jack could have drawn it better.

Finally, the clever Jack Davis anecdote. It’s one of the more famous, and it deserves to be repeated. Jack Davis was, and may still be, an inveterate golfer. I am told it is an addiction. One day he was teeing up and was reminded by a companion that he was right on deadline. Jack stopped, walked over to the golf cart, whipped out his pen and found something upon which to work and he drew the assignment right there on the cart!

As an editor, I cannot begin to tell you how much I admire that level of professionalism… not to mention his sense of priorities. He didn’t slow the game down at all, as his foursome had yet to complete the hole.

When called for a comment, Jack told Wired Magazine “I’m not satisfied with the work. I can still draw, but I just can’t draw like I used to.” Yeah, well, the rest of us could never draw like you used to, Jack, and I’ll bet my last barbecue brisket sandwich that your work today remains top drawer.

My dear friend Mark Wheatley said we knew this day was going to come, and of course he’s right about that. It happens to us all, probably. But, damn, I’ve spent an entire lifetime enjoying his career and now I can no longer live in denial.

Thanks, Jack. You are a master and your work will live long after the last tree is pulped.