Happy 84th Birthday today to Mort Drucker, one of the art medium’s great caricaturists, whose work for decades upon decades in Mad Magazine has endeared him to millions of fans around the world and set a bar for himself as one of the genres great artists of all-time.
Starting at Mad in the late 1950s and still contributing to the magazine to the present day, what the art of Mort Drucker has brought to that publication is immeasurable. His caricatures are highly distinctive and original and they run the gamut and spectrum of pretty much everyone in any form of entertainment media, be it from Hollywood’s finest and not-so-finest past and present, music titans, sports figures, and television characters. Drucker stands second to possibly only the late Al Hirschfeld, who elevated and pretty much clamped down on the entire caricature style in illustration and became synonymous with it, creating a body of work that lasted over 70 years and was affixed to everything from Broadway Showbills to U.S. postage stamps.
Drucker’s resume also plays out like that, too. He’s done covers for Time Magazine, advertisements, even film posters (like the very memorable American Graffiti film poster done in 1973), but it’s his work with Mad Magazine that remains the absolute stand out, his illustrating of the voluminous amounts of television and film parodies the magazine has done for over six decades now.
The man’s style is instantly recognizable and at once stunning, highly creative, and fascinating. Cartoonish at the core and mired in a sort of reality at the face of it, his caricatures take the most nimble and remembered features of a subject and are flawlessly captured on paper. While the parodies for Mad Magazine he illustrates are equally as memorable and hilarious in the way they are written, one sometimes marvels at just the art involved; many a time a reader simply just looks at the amazingly rendered pictures Drucker has created, doesn’t even read it for the most part, and in extreme wonderment, is dazzled by how spot-on he nails the original source material.
The body of work he’s done for Mad with the film and TV parodies can fill up a small phone book. A semi-short list would include films like Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, Midnight Cowboy, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Patton, The Godfather I, II and III, Jaws I and II, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Superman I and II, The Empire Strikes Back, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, Total Recall, Batman, and plenty more, and television shows like Dallas, General Hospital, The Sopranos, Batman, Smallville, The A-Team, Cheers, Star Trek – the list is endless and endless – have all gotten the Drucker treatment.
In all of those parodies for those aforementioned films and TV shows, he not only captures the subject matter, but he also captures the directorial style, the lighting style, and the way the original films and shows are framed. He even throws in little drawn “easter eggs” throughout his panels, in effect, fun little “catch em’ if you can” humorous renderings that add to the stories and give them even more hysterical punch, examples being family members, or Peanuts characters, fellow Mad employees, tongue-in-cheek product placement, and much more. Drucker’s work through the decades is almost like an illustrated, skewered pop cultural primer, and the quality of the work, especially during the 1960s-1980s, stands among some of the best. And it’s not just in his rendering of people and public life and his re-imagining films and television in a satirical sense, but also in the way he draws still life. Objects as diverse as automobiles or landscapes, skyscrapers, trains, houses, even hands and feet and shoes (Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz once noted that Drucker draws them terrifically, and that Drucker draws the way everyone would like to draw) are also given the royal Drucker treatment artistically. Ultimately, there’s really nothing that gets by the sharp eye and imagination of Mort Drucker.
His work for the magazine has slowed a bit and he’s loosened his style somewhat in the last decade or so, but he’s still A-list indeed and he still leaves his fans and pretty much anyone who gazes upon his stellar work open mouthed and jaw dropped. Mort Drucker is a rare one of a kind artist in his medium, and like any great influential magnate, most of Drucker’s contemporaries and those who followed him (many getting their start because of the work he has done in Mad Magazine), trumpet him and deservedly give him the respect and honor of the living legend that he rightfully is.
Dust off those old copies of Mad and get blown away all over again at the magnificence and beauty from the works of Mort Drucker. You can also check out MAD’s Greatest Artists: Mort Drucker: Five Decades of His Finest Works. Actor Michael J. Fox said it best about the man back in 1985 on the old Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson: When Carson asked Fox when he knew he had “made it” in the industry, Fox replied, without hesitation, “When Mort Drucker drew my head.” Flattery of the highest honor, and so rightfully applied. Happy Birthday, Mort.