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March 09, 2013




Currently at the Society of Illustrators in NYC is the best comics museum exhibit I've ever seen, happily on my favorite subject in comics -- Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of Mad Magazine.  I attended the opening last night, and was floored by the material on display.


My favorite pieces were ones showing unfinished and preliminary art, showing the process of creation, and in particular the process of collaboration; the most successful aspects of Kurtzman's career were his collaborations with some of the great cartoonists of the 20th century.


Here is one of several unfinished pages on display of a Little Annie Fanny (Playboy) story on The Beatles (Hugh Hefner apparently pulled the plug on the project for some reason).  Kurtzman did the layouts, and his pencilled lettering can be seen.  Jack Davis did the spectacular and intricate pencils in his distinctive style.  And where Bill Elder painted over the pencils, he converted the style to his own.



I can't bear to show this picture without pointing out that Paul is playing right-handed.


There are many pieces like this, providing a window into the creative and collaborative processes of Kurtzman.  Huge pages of pre-pencilled layouts, a beautiful, painted mock-up for the cover of Mad Magazine #1 (!!), and even loose layout panels for a detailed fight scene, with the finished product by Jack Davis, closely following Kurtzman's poses and framing.


Kurtzman was an uncompromising genius, always stretching himself and his colleagues for innovation.  One of the many fascinating conversations I had last night was with Al Jaffee, who was talking about his next Fold-In for Mad, something like his 430th.  He said that when he did his first one the editor Al Feldstein, Kurtzman's successor at Mad, Feldstein instantly asked for another.  Al said he was shocked that Feldstein thought the concept could last more than one iteration -- he had planned for the Fold-In to be a one-off thing.  And Al said that Kurtzman would never have asked for another Fold-In; he would have seen that as a great piece and asked Al for his next brand-new concept.  This may demonstarte why, as brilliant as Kurtzman was (and as much as Al revered him), Feldstein may have been the better editor to move Mad from innovative sensation to cultural mainstay.


If you have any interest in Kurtzman and Mad (and I can't imagine how any readers of my comic strip could not) and you're in or can be in New York City by May 11, I urge you to get to this exhibit.  Info  HERE.


Thanks to the Society of Illustrators and curators Monte Beauchamp and Denis Kitchen for creating the amazing exhibit.



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