And it's amazing how closely it echoes the talk I had with Davis many years ago when I was a graphic design student, right down to the mention of the kind of brush he uses for inking. Well, for the most part. He's probably answered these same questions from people like me a thousand times over the years. We didn't get into biography all that much. He did tell me the chain gang story and how he went from the University of Georgia to the Navy in WWII and then pounded the pavement in New York city before he broke into the comics business, and we briefly touched on his time at EC. In the A/V Club interview he paraphrases what he told me about his feelings about today's Mad. I asked him what it was like to work with Wally Wood. But mostly, as an artist, I wanted to know about process and that's what I got.
Here's how I remember it: His agent faxes him jobs and he picks and chooses the ones he wants to do, otherwise he's on his boat or playing golf. His initial sketches start off as a "lot of scribble-scrabble" and he inks with a No. 3 Series 7 Winsor & Newton brush. Seeing that mentioned really brought back a lot of warm memories of our phone conversation, where he was so genial and patient with my hero-worship gushing that I walked on air for two days afterward. It remains a highlight of my checkered college career. Somewhere among all my own crappy art files I still have the notebook where I jotted down as much of what he told me as I could. If I'm ever back in the US, I could dig it up and read through it and try to recapture a little bit of that magic.
Jack Davis is overdue for widespread acclaim. Not that he hasn't had accolades and praise. The Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, the Reuben Award and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cartoonist Society are certainly that.
It's just he needs to be one of those names dropped alongside people like Charles Schulz and Walt Kelly (although Davis's attempt at a syndicated newspaper strip never really got off the ground), Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner and Wally Wood. He needs to be right there in the forefront of your consciousness whenever you think of cartoonists and cartooning.
After all, he worked for EC's most infamous titles-- and interviewer Sam Adams brings up perhaps the most notorious story of them all, the Davis-illustrated "Foul Play"-- as well as for Mad magazine. Then he did covers for Time and TV Guide, designed the characters for the Jackson Five cartoon, created movie posters and all sorts of amazing stuff. There's a trade paperback book, now out-of-print, about the man and his art called-- appropriately enough-- The Art of Jack Davis, and it was a decent enough tribute. Considering the man's done so many high profile jobs and associated with so many other cartooning legends in his time, he really needs something more deluxe. Something spanning the entirety of his eclectic art career.
That Fantagraphics volume is a must-buy, but I'm thinking even at 208 pages it's a little light. I think he needs a hardcover series collecting all of his sequential work with color plates of his magazine covers and movie posters to round it out. Your floorboards should buckle under its weight. If only someone published, say, a collection of some of his other humor magazine work, or if you could buy a book with some of those horrifying EC stories he drew with mixed feelings but incredible skill-- what a world that would be! Oh well.
Jack Davis is an American treasure.