Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at a special event honoring a very special man. “From the Beginning: Jack Davis” was an exhibit of the work of the great cartoonist, caricaturist, and humorous illustrator at a terrific little gallery called the Glynn Art Association in Jack’s adopted hometown of St. Simons Island on coastal Georgia. Jack is easily one of the most beloved and honored cartoonists of the last century, but this exhibit was extra-special because it was organized and hosted by a local gallery… and it really opened the eyes of his neighbors as to who Jack really is.
The show itself was phenomenal, of course… how could it not be, it was made up of nothing but the work of Jack Davis. This is the Jack Davis of E.C. comics fame… MAD Magazine, TIME covers, TV Guide illustrations, countless movie posters and album covers, thousands of magazine illustrations, animated character designs, ad work…my GOD, you name it, Jack has done it… and better than anyone (look at the bottom of this post for a gallery of work from the gallery!)
Nick Meglin, Jack Pittman and myself
The panel consisted of Nick Meglin, the longtime MAD editor, Jack Pittman, a very successful, award-winning humorous illustrator, and myself. We talked a great deal about how Jack’s work influenced us both artistically and professionally, his tremendous importance to the history of humorous illustration, and his general, well-deserved fame, influence on and the admiration of generations of cartoonists.
A capacity crowd!
Jack got a couple of chuckles…
After the talk, I had dozens of people come up to me and say things like “I am one of Jack’s neighbors and I knew he was a good “drawerer” but I had no idea he was this famous!”, or “I knew Jack did work for the University of Georgia but movie posters?! TIME Magazine?? Oh My!” It was so sweet.
You see, these folks really had no idea what Jack Davis truly means to the world of cartooning. Sure, they know he made a living as a cartoonist…that’s hard to miss there. If you walk into a local restaurant, you’ll see a couple of Jack Davis originals on the wall with some goofy looking guys saying “Good Eats!”. If you go into a local barber shop, there’s a Jack Davis original drawing showing someone getting his hair cut by a lawn mower or something similarly silly. Even the local bait shop has a couple of dog eared Jack Davis originals affixed to the bait cooler with scotch tape showing some good ol’ boy with no shoes, flies buzzing around his mess of hair, a bobber in the water and a string tied to his big toe tied waiting for a bite. You can’t throw a rock without hitting an original Davis on St. Simons Island, no doubt all done by Jack “just because”…yet none of them really have any idea what sort of national treasure lives in their midst… and why would they? They may have known Jack for 30 years, but not in one moment of that time would they get a sense from him of what he really means to the world of cartooning. He is that humble. Jack is genuinely mystified by the accolades and the attention his work gets, and that is no act. He just doesn’t think he deserves all of that stuff, but his humility only adds to his incredible legend. To them, he’s just “little ol’ Jack” who lives down the street and loves to draw.
So who is Jack Davis? Simply put, if a group of knowledgeable cartoon historians got together and were asked to pick one name as the greatest cartoonist who ever lived, Jack’s name would not just be in that conversation, it would be one of the first names that they thought of. Obviously, when you attempt to compare genius with genius, there is no right or wrong answer, but no list of that nature, no matter how short, would not have the name Jack Davis in it. Think about that…not just great, or well known, or popular . . . one of the best who EVER WAS.
I cannot think of another cartoonist or humorous illustrator who conquered as many venues and forms or cartooning, whose work was more respected by his peers, who was more imitated, or who inspired as many cartoonists and illustrators over the last 60 years as Jack Davis. He’s the ultimate cartoonist’s cartoonist. The soaring heights of his natural talent is only matched by the depths of his humility, which is another reason he is so beloved by the professionals who are privileged to know him. He is as kind, decent and nice a man as he is an artistic talent¬¨‚Ä† . . . and that is saying something.
Right after I joined the National Cartoonists Society, I attended my first Reubens in San Antonio in 1999. The first people The Lovely Anna and I met were Jack and Dena Davis, who introduced themselves to us and spent their time making us feel welcome. That would have been memorable to us no matter who they were, but this was JACK DAVIS, and I was slack-jawed with awe and admiration. I am proud to say Jack and Dena are our friends, and every chance we get to see them is a special time for us.
It was a joy to be there last week, to get a chance to let the wonderful and generous folks of St. Simons Island know, if they didn’t understand before, that “little ol’ Jack” is a giant in the world of cartooning and illustration. He is inarguably one of, if not THEY, greatest who ever took pen to paper.
Thank you Jack… not just for the incredible work that has thrilled, entertained and awed millions over the years… but for being a person we can admire as much as you are an artist.
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