R.I.P. Mort Drucker (1929-2020)

Other MAD magazine illustrators may have been flashy or more memorable for their eccentricities (see Sergio Aragonés and his “Spy vs. Spy” or Al Jaffee for his Fold-In features), but Mort Drucker may have been the most accessible of them all.

A New Yorker through and through, Drucker was born in Brooklyn, married his high-school sweetheart, moved to Long Island, and died in his home in Woodbury on April 8. He was 91.

Drucker brought TV and movie parodies to MAD not long after he arrived at the magazine in 1956. He illustrated some 236 multi-character, multi-panel movie parodies for MAD over the next five decades before retired.

His 1970 TIME cover, a collage of political caricatures, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

After retirement, in 2012, he described his style for a book on MAD’s greatest artists:

I’ve always considered a caricature to be the complete person, not just a likeness. Hands, in particular, have always been a prime focus for me as they can be as expressive of character as the exaggerations and distortions a caricaturist searches for. I try to capture the essence of the person, not just facial features … I’ve discovered through years of working at capturing a humorous likeness that it’s not about the features themselves as much as the space between the features. We all have two eyes, a nose, a mouth, hair, and jaw lines, but yet we all look different. What makes that so is the space between them.

The artist is actually creating his own storyboard for the film. I become the “camera” and look for angles, lighting, close-ups, wide angles, long shots — just as a director does to tell the story in the most visually interesting way he can. My first sketches are as much composition and design ideas as they are character and action images … I don’t want to get too involved in the juicy parts since some of what I’m doing will be modified or discarded as I get further involved in the storytelling. I then stand back and look at the page as a complete unit to make sure it’s designed well: “Hmmm, three close-up panels in a row of characters talking. Better change that middle panel to a far shot. Maybe make that panel an open vignette.” …  Then I place the facing pages together and look at how the spread holds together, and sometimes make changes based on that.

The likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Michael J. Fox said they knew they’d truly made it when Drucker drew them in MAD. George Lucas reportedly loved The Empire Strikes Back parody Drucker drew in 1980, even if LucasFilm filed a cease and desist order over it. After all, Drucker previously had illustrated the official movie poster for Lucas’s 1973 film, American Graffiti.

I’ll let some of his many fans weigh in.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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