This past weekend I had the distinct privilege to participate in a gathering of some of the “Usual Gang of Idiots” (i.e. major contributors to MAD Magazine) hosted by the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society and the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah Georgia. In attendance were long-time editor Nick Meglin, cartooning legends and members of the exclusive 50 year MAD contributor club, Paul Coker Jr., Jack Davis and Al Jaffee, soon to be member of that same club (next year) Sergio Aragonés, 30 year MAD artist and MAD art director for the last 13 years, Sam Viviano, and… uh… me. Only at MAD can you have been a regular contributor for over a decade, be 45 years old, and still be considered the “new kid”. Originally scheduled to attend and who could not make it for family health reasons was Don “Duck” Edwing, who was badly missed. Other long-time UGOI were contacted, including the incomparable Mort Drucker, but various circumstances make it impossible for them to be there.
Seriously, what a line-up. Throughout the weekend people were enthusiastic about the gathering, but I think it might have escaped most how unique it was to get Al, Jack, Paul, Nick and Sam all together at one time, Certainly that kind of gathering of greats has not happened since the legendary MAD trips Bill Gaines used to take the UGOI on. I was constantly pinching myself all weekend to even have been allowed in the same room as these awe-inspiring talents, let alone be billed alongside them.
The weekend was a mixture of presentations and workshops with the students and faculty of SCAD as well as members of the SEC NCS, tours, the opening reception of a public show of original MAD art from all the guests, and a free public panel discussion with all the attending UGOI. Here’s a rundown of the events I was able to attend, both public and private, with some pictures:
Thursday, Nov. 10th-
I got in early enough that I was able to attend Sam Viviano’s MAD 101 lecture Thursday night at 5:00 at the SCAD Museum of Art. Sam has a unique part of MAD history as he is the only major freelance contributor to become a full-time staff member. In his dual role as long-time artist and current art director, he has a perspective on the evolution of MAD from two distinct viewpoints. As a result, he is a voluminous repository of MAD lore, history and mythology, and is eminently qualified to lecture on the history of the magazine. Great presentation, and pretty well attended by SCAD students and faculty.
That night, with all of the visiting UGOI having arrived, we were able to go out and experience a little Savannah hospitality at the Crystal Beer Parlor!
Al Jaffee, Paul Coker, Jack Davis and Nick Meglin
Al and Paul arguing about gin vs. vodka martinis
Nick is exasperated as Sergio is being Sergio
Friday, November 11th-
In the morning we here taken on a quick tour of The Savannah College of Art and Design by the John Lowe, Dean of Communication Arts (and former inker for Archie, DC and Marvel). We visited the Digital Media Center (animation, etc), the Film and Motion Picture hall and the Sequential Arts (comics) building. There was a significant level of chaos at the time, as this week is the final week of the semester, and students were scrambling to get final projects done.
Me going into SCAD Digital Media Center
Touring a SCAD classroom
I have to take a moment here to say how incredibly impressive SCAD is. There are a number of schools that have a great programs in animation, film-making and other creative fields, but only a handful really teach comic art. SCAD is one of them, and it’s programs and students blew me away. Some schools seem to teach a “house” style, or shoehorn their students into certain approaches and solutions. SCAD really stresses the narrative aspects of comics, and while they are also extremely art-intensive, they allow students to explore their own unique styles of art within the context of good storytelling. They also challenge them to work within different styles and frameworks, but ultimately I got the feeling they help them to develop their own unique voices. The facilities were mind-boggling, especially the animation studio. Rooms and rooms of 20″ Cintiqs were everywhere, and we saw some incredible grad student animation projects that were basically their graduate thesises. Digital work abounded, but that said we walked into a large room full of old-school animation light boxes and were told that every student begins with mandatory study of traditional drawing as a foundation.
During the animation building tour, we saw how much these legendary MAD artists still influence young cartoonists and animators. We were just a group of old people being led through rooms of the studio, winding our way through all these young students busy at work… we didn’t have name tags or Alfred E. Neuman with us. Tagging along the back end of the group was Jack Davis, grinning and gawking at all the artwork we saw. My wife, The Lovely Anna, was bringing up the vanguard, making sure none of the MAD guys got too interested in any of the artwork and missed the group moving on. Jack said hello, in the southern gentlemanly way Jack does, to three young ladies working on an animation project. They politely said hello back and asked him to have a nice day. I’m sure they were thinking “what a nice old man” as he wandered past. Anna leaned over to them as she came by and whispered to one of the girls, “That was Jack Davis you just said hello to.” The girl went white as a sheet and started shaking stammering… “J-J-J-J-ack DAVIS?!?” They ran after him and were so excited to meet him they barely got three words out. Jack drew a self portrait on the whiteboard and Anna took their picture with him, promising to send it to them after gathering up their email addresses. Those girls were maybe twenty years old, and they not only knew who Jack was, but they understood what a giant of cartooning he is. Great work transcends time.
Jack drawing for the animation students
Jack is an irrepressible ladies man!
Later that afternoon some of us met with groups of students to review portfolios. I had a diverse group of talent in my review session, including international students from Indonesia and Brazil (if I remember correctly). Some great talent, and an obvious desire for advice and direction. It was fun to get to meet a few of the students in the comic’s program, and see what kind of work they were doing.
That night we has a reception at the MAD Art Exhibit at SCAD’s Poetter Hall. The exhibit featured pieces from each of the visiting MAD artists, and it was a great show.
Paul Coker, Me, Jack Davis, Sergio Aragonés, Sam Viviano and Nick Meglin.
Al Jaffee was MIA… rumored to have been around the corner showing some
co-eds how he could do 100 one-handed pushups.
It goes without saying the artwork was awesome… some of the best stuff was seeing preliminary sketches and pencils as well as the finished art for several pieces by Paul Coker, as it was fascinating to see his process. Also hanging at the show were the 15 finalists of an art competition SCAD did with their comic art students. The contest was to create a Spy vs. Spy comic, and there was some innovative and creative solutions on display. It was interesting to see how some people stuck close to the original Prohias style of the Spies, and others went in much more original directions. We MAD men had to judge the finalists and select three winners.
Al, Jack and Sam at the reception
Paul Coker and me, judging the Spy vs. Spy work
Hard to believe this art snuck into the show…
The MAD Gang with the Spy vs. Spy competition winner Meg Casey, at left is
Anthony “Fish” Fisher, the Chair of SCAD’s Sequential Art Dept.
Later that evening the Southeast Chapter of the NCS and SCAD had a welcome reception for everyone at the SCAD Museum.
Saturday, Novemeber 12th-
I started the day at the official business meeting of the NCS Southeast Chapter. It was really the chapter, especially chairman Jack Pittman, Nick Meglin and Michael Jantze, (The Norm and Jantze Animation) who is both an NCS SEC member and a professor at SCAD, who were the driving force behind this whole weekend. Michael got SCAD involved, and they enthusiastically got behind the idea and helped turn it into a big event, but it was the NCS SEC that made it happen. Nick especially got these legends to come to Savannah to get together, being long-time friends with them all. They just turned their annual fall meeting into a cartooning event that made CNN and countless other news outlets. Speaking as president of the National Cartoonists Society, the SEC is a model chapter not only for putting on this event but for the way they keep active and run their group. I was greatly impressed.
Later that morning there was an informal sort of workshop conducted for NCS SEC members by the UGOI. Yep. No pressure. Just me drawing in front of a crowd with Jack Davis, Paul Coker, Al Jaffee, Sergio Aragonés and Sam Viviano. No big deal. Piece of cake. <8O
Sergio does his thing!
Jack does his thing!
My demo… I think Paul is laughing at me!!
After lunch a number of SEC members and a few MAD guys did some student workshops at the museum. These ran simultaneously and while the groups were small they were a lot of fun. I did a workshop on caricature, and other artists who participated were:
- Robert Pope: Making the script serve the visual while preserving the author’s intent
- Andy Smith: Drawing Dynamic Comics
- John Lotshaw: Self-Publishing and distribution strategy
- Jack Cassidy: Editorial Humorous Illustration and Gag Cartooning
- James “Doodle” Lyle: Demystifying Inking
- Stephanie Gladden-Miller: Drawing Characters “On-Model”
- Sergio Aragonés: Cartooning
- Jim Massara: Presenting your Work to Editors
- Jack Pittman & Grey Blackwell: Opportunities in Cartooning
Wish I could have attended a few of those, but I was busy doing my workshop.
That night was the grand event, the MAD Chat Panel Discussion at the Trustees Theater.
The MAD Chat Panel
Wow! Big billing! Photo by Michael Jantze
The MAD gang onstage- photo by Anthony Fisher
There was a great crowd, probably around 600-700 people. The chat was moderated by the quick-witted Nick Meglin, and there were plenty of laughs, great stories and about 300 years of collective cartoon wisdom onstage. I was there for security and to sweep up afterward. Some of the funniest moments were impromptu, like when Jack’s cell phone kept going off and he couldn’t figure out how to turn off the ringer. Unfazed, Nick kept firing off one-liners about it. Jack’s sheepish grin was priceless.
Nick is merciless to poor Jack and his ringing cellphone. Al is amused.
I look on as Sergio and Sam tell a story
Nick, Jack, Al and Paul Coker
Towards the end of the panel, SEC NCS chairman Jack Pittman presented Paul Coker with the “Jack Davis Award” for outstanding achievement in cartooning. Well deserved!
Jack Pittman presents “the Jack Davis” to Paul Coker
Sergio and Sam admire Paul’s award
Afterward there was an autograph session with the whole gang, signing books, issues of MAD and all sorts of stuff…
The UGOI signing stuff. From far end: Sergio, Al, me, Sam, Paul and Jack
That’s a big line!
Me, Sam and Paul
What an awesome weekend. I missed all the mythic MAD trips, and this might be as close as I will ever get to experiencing what that was like. It was a great honor to be able to spend some time with these guys, who are all idols of mine, let alone be included among them. A BIG thanks to the NCS Southeat Chapter, especially Jack Pittman, Nick Meglin, Julie Negron and James “Doodle” Lyle for all the hard work, to SCAD for all the support and hospitality, especially Michael and Nicole Jantze, Anthony and Tera Fisher, John Lowe and all the faculty and grad students who shuttled us about and kept us out of trouble.
Oh, yeah… there was also a silent auction of donated art including some stuff from several of the MAD artists. The proceeds go to both the NCS SEC and the National Cartoonists Society Foundation/Milt Gross fund. I won this little gem done by Paul:
For those who aren’t familar with Paul Coker’s work, he didn’t just work for MAD. He has done a lot of other stuff including being the artist who did the character designs for the Rankin-Bass animated Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and about a dozen other specials and shorts you know and love. This piece was done for MAD as part of a spoof of updated holiday programs… funny that they had the original artist to do the parody already in the fold!