Mort Drucker and the subversiveness of Mad Magazine

December 29, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

For more than five decades, Mort Drucker was one of the most subversive people in America.

Drucker was not some member of an anti-government cell plotting the violent overthrow of the rule of law. Rather he was an artist who could draw people like no other artist, revealing their pomposities and absurdities but in a light-hearted fashion. He put his talent to work for Mad magazine, and he and his cohorts attracted an audience in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s –many of them teenagers — looking for a laugh to help them through troubled times.

Drucker was a caricaturist, but he didn’t seem interested in exaggerating physical features. Rather, he went for expressions, and he put his real-life characters into absurdly funny situations where they could be surprised, angered, humiliated, and surprised — emotions that their normal pomposity would not allow.

Drucker was born in Brooklyn in 1929 and began drawing comic strips when he was 18 years old. He got a job with the company that became DC Comics, and in 1956 he joined the staff of Mad magazine. He stayed there for the next 55 years.

Drucker was self-taught and initially had little interest in caricature, but he worked at it, found that he had some talent for it, and set about developing that talent. He soon found himself in the top ranks caricature artists, and over the years he gathered legions of fans who could quickly recognize and appreciate his work. Many of his parodies for Mad involved send-ups of current movies, such as his parody of American Graffiti titled “American Confetti.”

His fans loved his work, and so did his subjects — if they had a sense of humor.

His work ranged far beyond Mad magazine. He co-authored books, drew comic strips, worked with animated movies, and received commissions for posters and magazine covers. The covers that he drew for Time magazine now hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Not only did Drucker have a legion of fans, his work spawned a legion of illustrators who pay homage to him for their techniques and inspirations. Anyone who does caricatures these days (including me) has been profoundly influenced by the work of Mort Drucker.

Drucker died at his home in Woodbury, N.Y., last week (April 9, 2020). He was 91 years old. His New York Times obituary is here.

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