A Mort Drucker “Bob Hope” cover
As I wrote about on Monday, I had occasion to have a pleasant lunch with writer Mark Evanier on Sunday, and among other things we discussed some MAD Magazine history. Mark is quite an expert on the history of comics and MAD, and as always told me a number of things I didn’t know. We got on the subject of classic MAD artists, including the great Mort Drucker. Mark asked me if I knew who Owen Fitzgerald was. I was chagrined to say I did not.
Fitzgerald was apparently one of those comic book and animation artists who “fell through the cracks” in terms of being well known or remembered by anyone but industry insiders, but who was well respected by his peers. He did a lot of work in a lot of well known places but his name is not one you hear very often. He started out in the animation business as an inbetweener on Walt Disney‘s “Snow White”, and did work for Chuck Jones and Warner Bros. in the 1940s. He also worked at the Fleischer animation studios, and later with Hanna Barbera. He also did a lot of work in comics, notably on celebrity adaptations like “The Adventures of Bob Hope” and “Ozzie and Harriet“. He even drew “Dennis the Menace” for a time.
Owen Fitzgerald “Moronica” comic book work
Anyway, Mark told me to look up Fitzgerald, because what I would find was one the principal influences on Mort Drucker’s style. Mark told me Mort worked as an assistant to Fitzgerald on the Bob Hope comics, eventually doing them himself for a while. I did some Googling and was not surprised to find Mark was right… you can see a heavy Fitzgerald influence in Mort’s work, even as it evolved into the amazing stuff he did for MAD all these years. Everybody knows and sees the Ronald Searle and Norman Rockwell influences in Mort’s stuff (and I personally think Andrew Loomis was another unspoken influence on his work), but this was one I’d never had an inkling of. I’m a little shocked Fitzgerald was not mentioned in Mort’s “bio” book “Familiar Faces“, but the book isn’t very comprehensive in the backstory department.
“Starlet O’Hara” Comic art by Fitzgerald
Coincidentally, cartoonist Bill White e-mailed me a few days later with a heads up on some old Bob Hope comic work that John K was posting over on his blog. In checking that out I saw that John was also singing the praises of Owen Fitzgerald in association with Mort in some additional posts. Check them out here, here, here and here. John points out the austere and simple but powerfully clear and strong layouts that were the hallmark of Fitzgerald’s work. Looks like Owen Fitzgerald is not forgotten after all… he passed away in 1994 at only 78 years old.
You learn something new every day. I’ll have to keep my eye out for more Owen Fitzgerald artwork.