Kurtzman and Elder

Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993) was an accomplished comic artist but his skills as a writer distinguished him from others in the field.  At EC, Kurtzman realized that Will Elder (1921-2008) and others had better artistic skills.  They met at the High School of Music and Art in New York City in 1939.  Together, Kurtzman and Elder formed a writer-artist team that was the best in the business; and one that survived numerous changes and challenges through their productive cheers.  This website page will focus on the marvelous work that they created as a team.  [JAM 8/30/2017]

Two-Fisted Tales (1950-1955)

The team of Will Elder and John Severin created art for issues 19 through 29, 31, 33 and 36.

Elder (1972): "Harvey was a very good talker.  In the early stages of the war comics he would sit down with most of the artists and describe the story to them panel by panel, and he'd go through the sound effects ... and before you knew it you got very absorbed in the story and it became very interesting ... and eventually you saw the thing laid out as he described it, and before you knew it you were very much involved."

Frontline Combat (1951-1954)

The team of Will Elder and John Severin created art for issues 2 through 11.

Kurtzman (1972): "All our stories really protested war.  I don't think we thought war was very nice generally.  The whole mood of our stories was that war isn't a good thing.  You get killed.  And 'Big If' is about a soldier who happens by coincidence to be in a certain place at a certain time and a shell explodes.  He could have been several places, but he just happens to stop and gets killed.  That's the way war is; you get killed suddenly for no reason."

Mad (1952-1956)

#1    Ganefs!
#2    Mole!
#3    Dragged Net!
#4    Shadow!
#5    Outer Sanctum!
#6    Ping Pong!
#7    Shermlock Shomes!
#8    Frank N. Stein!
#9    The Raven
#10    Woman Wonder!
#11    Dragged Net!
#12    Starchie
#13    Robinson Cruesoe!
#14    Manduck the Magician
#15    Gasoline Valley!
#16    Shermlock Shomes in the Hound of the Basketballs!
#17    Bringing Back Father!
          Meet Miss Potgold
#18    Howdy Dooit!
#19    Mickey Rodent!
          Puzzle Pages!
#20    Katchandhammer Kids!
#21    Poopeye!
          Comic Book Ads!
#22    Special Art Issue
          The Child!
          The Boy!
          The Young Artist!
          The Commercial Artist!
          The Old Pro!
          Mole! (reprint)
#24    Bofforin
          Mmboy Cream Deodorant
          Newspaper Comics
          Classy Crimes #138: Who Put the Strichnine in Mrs. Murphy's Husband?
          Is This Your Life?
          Tom Swiffft and His Electric Ping Pong Ball
          Bind-Aig Plastic Strips
#25    Ipuna Toothpaste
          Leave Me or Me Leave
          Confidential Information
          Mad Awards for Television Commercials
          Crazyroot Cream-Oil Hair Tonic
          Kennt Cigarettes
          Ol' Craw Whiskey
#26    Armstronger Tire
          Ads Exploiting the Davy Crockett Trend
          The Seven Itchy Years
          Canadian Clubbed
#27    Marlbrando Tattoo Needles
          Cartoon Digest
          The Ed Suvillan Show
          Beer Belongs - Enjoy It
#28    Billows Cotton-Pick Whiskey
          Best Toothpaste and Frammistan
          Children's Primer
          Paper Doll Page
#29    Directions for Playing Gringo
          Hot Weather Photos
          Padst Red Ribbon
#30    Pulp Magazines
#31    Ink Blot Tests 

www.mindsnackbooks.com/mad/mad_1.html through mad_22.html

and www.mindsnackbooks.com/mad/mad_24.html through mad_31.html

Panic (1953-1955)

Although Kurtzman did not write the stories for Panic comics, his influence on Elder's art is obvious.

#1    The Night Before Christmas
#2    The Lady or the Tiger?
#3    Li'l Melvin
#4    Smiddy
#5    Tick Dracy
#6    The Phansom
#7    Mel Padooka
#8    Irving Oops
#9    Rx Migraine M.D.
#10  Captain Izzy and Washt Upps
#11  Mary Worthless!
#12  Charlie Chinless


Trump (1957)

#1    The Fastest Gun There Is
        L'l Ab'r
        Our Own Epic of Man
        Liquor Decanters
#2    Science Fiction
        Eti Quette
        Sporty Illustrations
        Liptone Tea

Playboy (1957)

This article by Rolf Malcolm ("The Little World of Harvey Kurtzman") appeared in the December 1957 issue of Playboy.  It was a tribute to the work of Kurtzman, or an advertisement for Humbug, or an apology for pulling the rug on Trump, or most likely, all of the above.  Page 51 includes the excellent painting by Will Elder ("A Visit to Grandma's" - Norman Rockwell parody) that was supposed to be the cover of Trump #3 that never happened.  The article contains seven pages of Kurtzman/Elder humor and two major lies.  [JAM 9/20/2017]

1. "... EC's distributor went bankrupt and, in the ensuing financial upheaval, the Kurtzman Consort was soon out on its own, looking for another publisher."  [Kurtzman quit after a control dispute with Mad Publisher Bill Gaines but he already had an offer from Playboy Publisher Hugh Hefner.]

2. "The publisher of Playboy soon discovered, however ... that the fans of satire, though fervent, are few: there are not enough of them to support a lush, costly publication [Trump] devoted to satire."  [The two issues of Trump sold very well - 65% of 200,000 printed copies each.  Hefner dumped Trump because Palyboy was in financial trouble.]

Other quotes from the article:

Roger Price: "Harvey looks like a beagle who is too polite to mention that someone is standing on his tail."

Stan Freberg (re Mad humor): "... brilliant lampoonery ... an example of pure and honest satire ..."

Editor of Allumination: "Mad is perhaps the first truly adult comic magazine."

Editor of Pageant: "... a very unusual comic book - Mad - has emerged as the leader of the latest trend.  Mad is satirical and it's funny.  And in a field normally dominated by horror and violence, this is such an unusual twist that Mad, in only 11 issues, has soared to a circulation of 750,000 ..."


Humbug (1957-1958)

#1    The End of the World is Coming - cover
        du Moirier
        The Keeper of the Gelded Unicorn
#2    Radiation - cover
        The Fishtail
        Around the Days in 80 Worlds
        A Night at the Castle
#3    Humbug Medal - cover
        Sheldon Morris
        You Are There Then
#4    Welcome to the Queen - cover
        The Cannon with the Passion
        Consumer Retorts
#5    Bofforin
        The Day Murray Schneiderman Was Shot
        Evolution in Publishing
        Voting Machine
#6    Subscription Ad
        Why Tell the Truth
        The Humbug Award
#7    Galcream
        Frankenstien and His Monster
#8    Jailbreak Rock
        For The Man Who Has Everything
#9    The Best Television Commercials 1958
        Adhesive Bandages
#10  The Humbug Award
        Old Yaller
        Humbug's Gardening Guide
        Western Onion
#11   Randan
        Muscle Magazines
        Columnia Panel Club


Pageant (1958)

"Conquest of the Moon" was the first Kurtzman/Elder job after the collapse of Humbug.  This ten-page article in Pageant coincided with the fascination that the American public had with the U.S. Space Program after the Russians were first in space with Sputnik I in October 1957.  Kurtzman and Elder had done some work for Pageant since 1954.  After "Conquest," Elder did more drawings for Pageant while Kutzman went on to other things.  Seven of Elder's articles have been reprinted in large format in The Mad Playboy of Art.

Jungle Book (1959)

Although Will Elder did not draw Kurtzman's stories in this book, the second story ("The Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite") was the first of 110 adventures that Kurtzman wrote for "Goodman Beaver" and his sister, "Little Annie Fanny."  Elder worked on the last 109 of them.  In The Organization Man ..., Goodman is fresh out of college and going to work as a crossword puzzle editor for "Schlock Publications, Inc."  Goodman comes in with positive ideas about the industry but soon learns the truth about the cut-throat corporate world.  There is just a little of Kurtzman's experience with comic book publishers in this first story.  For Harvey and Will, the goal was always to create a quality product in spite of the obvious profit-making goals of the powers-that-be.  [JAM 9/3/2017]

Help! (1960-1965)

#1    Television Tangle
#2    Beauty Is Truth?
#3    Chess
#4    (Camel)
#5    Defectors
#8    Dogpatch Revisited
#9    Evil Towns That Never Were
#10  77 Penny Strip
#12  Goodman Meets T*rz*n
#13  Goodman Goes Playboy
#14  Goodman, Underwater
#15  Goodman Meets S*perm*n
#16  Goodman Gets a Gun


Executive's Comic Book (1962)

Four of the five Goodman Beaver stories from Help! were reprinted in this pocketbook edition published by MacFadden Books.  The "Goodman Goes Playboy" was not reprinted here or in the 1984 volume because Kurtzman had lost the copyright in a legal dispute with the Archie people. [JAM 9/2/2017]

Little Annie Fanny (1962-1988)

Kurtzman and Elder created 104 episodes of Little Annie Fanny for Playboy magazine over a 26-year period. [JAM 9/2/2017]


Comics Journal #67 (1981)

Kurtzman: "I felt that the comics business [1950s] had brought censorship down on its head because of the kind of thing the horror comics were doing.  I always thought the horror comics were evil.  At some certain point they'd turned sick, I thought, and I think they reached that point when EC was running short of classic book plots and had to turn inward; what came out was shear grue - ideas that sniffed of necrophilia."

Kurtzman: "... I proposed the format Mad, I proposed the title, made little title sketches and showed it to Gaines, and he said, 'Go ahead.'  The format would make fun of comic books as they were at that particular period.  So I had a 'horror' story and a 'science fiction' story and so forth.  We used the physical format of EC - four stories, with the legal text requirement in the center.  I gathered in my favorite artists, I wrote the stories, laid them out, and that is the God's honest truth on how Mad started, God damn it."

Kurtzman: "... Gaines was a very paternalistic guy.  Paternalism has its good and its bad sides - it gives you a certain kind of security, but at the same time you always have to go to poppa.  And we had a series of ever-increasing arguments, and finally I decided to ask for as much as I dared, and if Gaines didn't give it to me I was going to quit.  So we had a confrontation and I quit because he didn't give me what I wanted.  And I certainly can't say that I blame him."

Kurtzman: "... I don't tend to be so hard on Hefner.  I think that Playboy had a lot to do with the male fantasy just as Cosmopolitan has to do with female fantasies, and I don't deny people their fantasies.  I think we need them.  We need to play make-believe.  At what point does make-believe become destructive?  That point undoubtedly lies somewhere between the Ku Klux Klan fantasy and The Wizard of Oz.  I don't know where Playboy fits, but Playboy is male fantasy and knowing Hefner as I do I have a great respect for the man.  He's not a dummy.  He's a thinking, intelligent, progressive man."

Greg Potter: "In November of 1952, Kurtzman and Gaines produced the first issue of Mad which, with its 24th issue, became history's first black and white graphic story publication."

Steve Austin: "Harvey Kurtzman develops a rough storyboard, which is sent to Will Elder for spot gags.  Harvey then constructs a tighter storyboard which is sent to Playboy for approval.  Upon approval, Harvey draws the pencils on tracing paper, collects necessary reference material, and hands the page to Bob Price for lettering and masking.  Then, Steve Austin traces the page onto bristol board and paints the preliminary water color.  The page is then turned over to Will Elder, who does the painting, starting with light tones which are built up to a finished rendering.  The page is returned to Harvey who makes corrections on a tracing paper overlay.  Will Elder does the corrections and the page is completed."

Goodman Beaver (1984)


Mad (1987-1988)

#256    Goetz Mask
#258    The Weinburger
#259    Rambo 2
#260    Traveler's Blues
#261    Miami Vice cover
            Camouflage Tricks of City Animals
#263    The Day AT&T Went Too Far
#265    How To Pick Up Guys
            Garbage Pail Adults
#266    We'll Make a Fortune
#267    Mad's Fearless Forecast for the Upcoming TV Season
#268    Aliens cover
#269    Fund Raisers That Never Made It
            Mad Celebrity Madballs
#270    Banana Republic Dictator of the Year
#271    The American Ex-Pres Card
#272    Mad Visits an Organ Transplant Hospital
#273    A Mad Look at Some Widely Held Misconceptions (Kurtzman only)
#274    Why Owning a VCR is Better than Going to the Movies (Kurtzman only)
#279    All Purpose Video Game Instructions Kit (Kurtzman only)
#281    The Mad People Watcher's Guide to a Political Convention (Kurtzman only)
#284    Play Pictionary with the Mad Artists (Kurtzman only)

www.mindsnackbooks.com/mad/mad_256.html through mad_284.html

My Life As A Cartoonist (1988)

This paperback original (Minstrel Pocket Book) is an honest autobiography that seems to be aimed at young readers.  Kurtzman explains how he got into cartooning and details about the business.  However, he completed omitted all referenced to his longest-running gig: writing and producing Little Annie Fanny for Playboy magazine.  It is interesting that Kurtzman mentions his argument and parting-of-ways with artist John Severin after nine issues of MAD; but completely ignores his failed negotiations with Bill Gaines after editing the first 28 issues.  The many examples of his art and writing in this short, 108-page book. [JAM 1/23/2019]

From Aargh! to Zap!: Harvey Kurtzman's Visual History of the Comics (1991)

Many have attempted to tell the story of the history of the comics, but Kurtzman does the job better with fewer words and more illustrations.  [JAM 9/15/2017]

"... (Bill) Gaines and (Al) Feldstein homed in on a series of successful crime, horror and science-fiction titles, a line they renamed Entertaining Comics (EC).  They were a good team with a unique system of ping-ponging ideas into shape.  Gaines, an avid speed-reader, would devour fiction at night, cataloguing plots in a thumb-nail file of paper slips.  In the morning, he and Feldstein would kick around ideas inspired by the file and rough out stories."

"Wally Wood was intense, immensely talented, and a particular slave to wrok.  He poured forth a stream of fantasy and sex clothed in a multitude of textures and visual effects - space, machinery, vegetation, monsters."

"Will Elder, in particular, found his metier in Mad, laying down guidelines for the hundred-gags-per-inch art style that everyone now associates with the magazine ... When I was writing the Mad stories that Will illustrated, there was magic between us, and he would be inspired to go far beyond what I wrote for him ... Will would take my ideas and add twenty more sub-gags in the backgrounds.  And they would be funny sub-gags; he would carry my stuff forward and enrich it by a multiple of ten.  And more than anything else, whatever Willie did, he did it with originality."

"Little Annie Fanny, which runs intermittently in Playboy, is probably the most expensive comic strip ever produced, and the most expensive comic that ever will be produced.  Annie ideas never came thick and fast, and I would often open up my storyboard to anyone who could offer good ones.  I worked with everybody - people from the Playboy organization, friends, and professional writers and artists.  Once a storyline started moving, I tried to pack it with as many sight gags as I could that were relevant to the story.  Next I made a storyboard.  From that I made blowups and color sketches and finished pencil renderings.  I passed these on to Will Elder, and he changed everything, adding more ideas and coming up with his own renditions of my renditions."

Hogan's Alley (1994)

[Cullum Rogers] "You could even argue - in fact, I'm going to argue it right now - that [Richard] Nixon, Pat Oliphant and Harvey Kurtzman deserve most of the credit for the great wave of young cartoonists that swept into the nation's editorial pages in the '70s and '80s.  In the '50s, Kurtzman combined a keen attention to detail with knockabout humor to magnify the cracks in the surface of grown-up reality."

Kurtzman Retrospective (1995)

Published two years after Kurtzman's death, this volume by The Cartoon Museum is an excellent tribute to the history of Kurtzman art.  The book also includes a five-page chronological list of his work from 1939 to 1992,  [JAM 9/15/2017]

The Mad Playboy of Art (2003)

Of all the books written about the creators of Mad, this is the best one.  Will Elder's son-in-law Gary VandenBergh has perfectly captured the career and genius of the great artist.  This book reprints examples of all of Elder's work and especially his collaborations with Harvey Kurtzman.  I actually had some correspondence with Mr VandenBergh during the writing of the biography.  He was dedicated to the project published by Fantagraphics on quality paper.  This is how an artist's biography should be presented.  Will Elder was a classic artist who also drew for the comics.  Following are some quotes from the book.  [JAM 9/17/2017]

Elder: "I never planned any specific direction.  More importantly, Harvey's editing focused whatever energy I had into the proper channels.  All my wild ideas were distilled into some organized sense.  I believe that Harvey had the gift of editing and drawing out the best in us for Mad.  Harvey was greatly responsible for encouraging my versatility and sharpening my sense of humor."

Al Jaffee: "Willy is one of the most natural funny men I have ever known.  I think he is probably at the very top as a funny cartoonist.  He's almost a Marx Brother in cartooning.  He just has an instinct for what is funny in a drawing."

Terry Gilliam: "Willy's stuff in particular, the way he filled every inch of the thing with, just stuff, I thought, jokes on jokes on jokes.  I don't know if anybody's really worked on that level as intensely as Willy did and it never seemed to distract from the center of the action."

Hugh Hefner: "I think that, to some extent, the artists have existed in the shadow of Harvey.  But I think there is a very real awareness of the fact that Harvey and company changed the direction of visual art in America."

Kurtzman: "Willy was the funny one."

Elder [re Mad #22]: "Boy, that was a real rush job.  We did that in about five seconds.  We were running behind and needed something fast.  So Harvey decided to devote an entire issue to me, because I was considered the crazy guy.  It was a big mess, but a lot of fun to put together and rather experimental, using painted-on photographs and phony ads and so forth.  Kind of a test run for the Mad magazine."

VandenBergh [re end of Kutzman's editorship of Mad] "Elder always quietly felt that Kurtzman's position was unreasonable, and there is evidence that, in retrospect, Kurtzman agreed.  Had he accepted Gaines's offer [49% of Mad] he would've probably become rich.  Still, at the time he couldn't lose; the door was now open to produce the most lavish humor magazine in history [Trump]."

VandenBergh: "Critics have accused Elder of living in the shadow of Kurtzman, to which Elder replies, 'We've grown on each other, like a fungus!'  In fact, they were alter egos, part of a well-oiled machine.  Kurtzman was a groundbreaking artist-writer-editor and Elder the quintessential artist-clown.  Kurtzman gave Elder the framework in which to go crazy and Elder always went outside the frame.  To the fans that say Elder never got the recognition he deserved, Elder says, 'That's very kind but I didn't need the spotlight.  I was happy to be working and able to be there for my family.  I never needed the praise of critics I didn't really care for.'"

Bill Gaines [re Panic]: "Sometimes Harvey loses sight of the fact that this was my Mad, that I had a lot of other magazines making more or less profits, some of them none ... Harvey felt we were competing with him, and I used to say, 'Harvey.  We're not competing with you, we're all one company.  The money comes from everywhere and it goes into a pot and from this pot we publish."

Kurtzman: "It was a very gllomy day when Trump folded.  The gang was sitting around the Playboy offices, everybody staring at the wall feeling sorry for themselves ... We decided to pick up the pieces and do our own magazine.  And it was one of those classic disastrous decisions, when four or five artists get together and say, 'We will do our magazine, it will be artistically magnificent,' and we did Humbug."

Elder [re Little Annie Fanny]: "The colors were like gems to me.  I worked very hard to give them iridescence.  I used a three-ply illustration board.  The white board works as white paint.  With oils you can pile things on, you can pile the light colors on top of the dark colors.  In watercolor you leave the white board alone and you hit the dark spots first,  If you wanted to build a nice, shiny white yacht like Daddy Warbucks raft, as some would call it, you leave it as the white board and you add, very subtly, wherever there's a reflection of the water, very light blue or greenish blue.  But you don't touch the illustration board except to add form or shadow,  You actually don't apply white paint on watercolor board unless you're adding last-minute highlights."

Comics Journal Library (2006)

Harvey Kurtzman became the seventh artist to be honored by Comics Journal in this manner.  The main portion of the volume is reprinted from Comics Journal #67.  The "War Comic Panel" transcript was reprinted from Squa Tront #8.  Although the text is mostly reprints of interviews, there is an excellent variety of Kurtzman drawings here in large size and quality paper.  Curiously, the "tribute" ends with an essay by Robert Fiore ("Mistah Kurtz He Dead") that is severely critical of the final 30 years of the artist's career.  My question for Mr. Fiore is: What is your volume of work that compares with that of Mr. Kurtzman?  [JAM 9/19/2017]

Kurtzman (1959): "To me, the biggest reason for living is to be able to contribute."

Kurtzman (1965): "... I always feel responsible ... for any of my work.  I may be kidding myself, you know, but I like to have this illusion of a grand raison d'etre.  I have to feel that I'm not hacking for money."

Kurtzman (re leaving Mad): "Professionally, I was completely unhappy.  I was feeling pretty low.  Hefner was in town - this was early in his career, too - and we went out to lunch together.  I was very impressed with him.  He came on with all that gusto and optimism he was putting into his own book, and we just talked back and forth.  His high opinion of my work did much for my ego at that lunch, and put me into just the right mood to go ask my publisher [Bill Gaines] for a substantial piece of the magazine as an alternative to my leaving.  I didn't want a piece of the profits so much as I wanted voting stock ... a controlling interest in shaping the property.  Well, predictably, he refused.  And I quit."

Kurtzman: "I don't think getting rich has anything to do with your value to society."

Al Jaffee: "... Harvey was a control freak - a talented, brilliant control freak.  He reminded me of a master Hollywood director, who'd reshoot an entire sequence costing thousands of dollars just because a certain detail didn't come out quite right.  Who can argue with that type of integrity?"

Kurtzman (1982): "When I do good work, it's a high in itself.  When you do a good piece of work and you can lean back and it looks good, makes you laugh and sing and dance, it's its own reward.  You don't try to get high to do the thing, you do the thing and it makes you high."

Kurtzman (re Alfred E. Neuman): "This is the most asked question in my life.  Alfred E. Neuman was something I picked up off the bulletin board in a friend's publishing house.  Bernard Shir-Cliff had this ting on his wall.  We used it in Mad.  It seemed to be a photograph ... big around as a silver dollar.  His name wasn't Alfred E. Neuman.  Alfred Newman was the name of a music arranger in the '50s that Henry Morgan used to use when he wanted a non-entity.  He called this faceless person Alfred Newman.  And so did we.  We literally had a no-face portrait we called Alfred E. Neuman.  The readers, however, insisted on calling the 'What Me Worry?' face Alfred E. Neuman ... as near as I can make out, the best explanation as to where he came from was that he was an illustration from a medical text of a person deficient in iodine."

Kurtzman (re 'Is Little Annie Fanny still artistically fulfilling?): "No, not really.  To this day, I don't know how to extricate myself from Little Annie Fanny.  There's no place to go, really."

Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad - Artist's Edition (2012)

The Artist's Edition contains full-size, mostly-uncolored reproductions of original artist drawings from the 23 Mad comics.  This volume allows comic fans to appreciate the spectacular drawings of these artists as they were first seen the publisher, and before to comic-book size and printed on cheap paper.  The book includes a foreword by Terry Gilliam and a short biography of Harvey Kurtzman on the last page.  [JAM 9/22/2017]

Following are the contents of this edition: (artists in parantheses)

Hoohah! (Jack Davis)
Gookum! (Wallace Wood)
Mole! (Will Elder)
Shadow! (Will Elder)
Outer Sanctum! (Will Elder)
Smilin' Melvin! (Wallace Wood)
Lone Stranger Rides Again! (Jack Davis)
Bat Boy and Rubin! (Wallace Wood)
Little Orphan Melvin! (Wallace Wood)
Face Upon the Floor! (Jack Davis and Basil Wolverton)
Flesh Garden! (Wallace Wood)
Mad Reader! (Basil Wolverton)
3-Dimensions! (Wallace Wood)
Prince Violent! (Wallace Wood)
Movie ... Ads! (Wallace Wood)
Plastic Sam! (Russ Heath)
Restaurant! (Will Elder)
Bringing Back Father (Will Elder and Bernard Krigstein)
What's My Shine! (Jack Davis)
Meet Miss Potgold (Basil Wolverton)
Howdy Dooit! (Will Elder)
Mad #1 cover and rough (Harvey Kurtzman)
Mad #4 cover and rough (Harvey Kurtzman)
Mad #6 cover and rough (Harvey Kurtzman)
Mad #8 printed cover and rough (Harvey Kurtzman)
Mad #10 cover and rough (Harvey Kurtzman)
Mad #2 cover (Jack Davis)
Mad #3 cover (Harvey Kurtzman)
Mad #5 cover (Will Elder)
Mad #9 cover (Harvey Kurtzman)
Mad #11 cover (Basil Wolverton)
Mad #12 cover
Mad #15 cover (John Tenniel)
Mad #16 cover (Harvey Kurtzman)
Mad #18 cover (Harvey Kurtzman)
Mad #21 cover
Mad #22 cover (Harvey Kurtzman)
Superduperman page 1 (Wallace Wood)
Beware of Imitations (Jack Davis)
House Ad (Wallace Wood)

The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America (2015)


Trump: The Complete Collection (2016)

In January 1957, Hugh Hefner panicked; walked into the hospital on the day the Harvey Kurtzman's third child was born; and stopped production of Kurtzman's new magazine.  Trump #3 was going to be the biggest issue yet with 64 pages (like MAD #24), with a spectacular Norman Rockwell parody cover painted by Will Elder, and an elaborate centerfold feature ("The Flexagon") that was never completed.  Over the years, Hefner's excuse for canning Trump has changed: "too costly"; "not enough fans of satire"; "could not meet deadlines"; "not good for advertising".  But the magazine concept was quashed too soon for any of these reasons to be true.  In my opinion, Hefner fired Kurtzman because Hefner knew that he could not micro-manage two magazines at the same time.  Kurtzman's Trump was going to look better and be better than Hefner's Playboy.  Five years later, Hefner found a way to micro-manage Kurtzman by including his work in Playboy.  Hefner demanded advance approval of every panel of 104 Little Annie Fanny adventures over a 26-year period.  [JAM 9/23/2017]


[Also by Harvey Kurtzman]

Nuts! (1985)

Unknown to many, the two issues of Nuts! may be the rarest of all books edited by Kurtzman.  It seems that these were aimed at young adults.  The covers are good; the artwork is OK; but the humor is just not Kurtzmanesque.  Where is the edge?  Where is the creativity?  And, really, where is Will Elder???  If I had known about these in 1985, I would have run to the bookstore to get them.  Obviously, there were plans for regular (monthly?) issues.  And, even though though both issues had second printings, it appears that low sales killed Kurtzman's last attempt at a mainstream periodical.  There are many drawings here in the Kurtzman style but I wonder if he drew any of them at all.  The unsigned drawings were probably done by Kurtzman assistant Sarah Downs who knew how to approximate Kurtzman's style.  Nuts! may hold a special place in the heart of diehard Kurtzman fans, but his heart was not in it.  [JAM 11/29/2017]

Strange Adventure (1990)


Hey Look! (1992)


Hogan's Alley #8 (2000)

[Kurtzman re Europe in the 1960s] "Wasn't that wonderful?  They treated us like real artists!"

Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book: Essential Kurtzman Volume One (2014)

Although it was a commercial failure, the thirty-five-cent 1959 Ballantine paperback with 144 original pages written and drawn by Kurtzman was highly-regarded by cartoon art experts as one his greatest publications.  Evidence for this exists in the fact that 55 years later, the book is celebrated by the issuance of this Kitchen Sink $24.99 elegant hardback volume.  The original title was "Harvey Kurtzman's Pleasure Package" but a description might be: "Too Cool for the Room."  The reprint of Jungle Book shows the drawings in a larger format on quality paper as the creator originally intended.  This volume truly is an artistic classic that must be preserved for the ages.  Following are a few from comments added to the reprinted edition.

[Gilbert Shelton] "In the end, though, I still feel that Kurtzman is the greatest of all the comic book humorists."

[Denis Kitchen] "While comic book circulations [1956] were generally in steady decline and the medium was being widely reviled by the media, parent groups and politicians for its alleged delinquent effect on young readers, MAD's sales were surging, and both the publication and Kurtzman were getting great press.  MAD's success, in large part, was because it wasn't just kid stuff or mindless genre filler like the vast majority of comics of the time; MAD's humor was intelligent, and it's loyal enthusiasts included college students, adults, and even intellectuals."

[Harvey Kurtzman] "The package itself was rinky-dink.  It was small and printed on bad paper and the printing itself was two cuts under the pulps.  On top of that, I did the art on sheets of blue-lined paper.  It was an experiment.  The printer assured me that the lines wouldn't show up, but of course, they did.  Still do.  The gray wash reinforced the blue and so the thing is noticeable.  It was a case of experimenting with a form before all the bugs were out."

[Denis Kitchen] "... if Kurtzman's fans had it in their power most would certainly trade twenty-five years of lavish Annie Fannies for just a few more magnificent solo works akin to Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book."

[Art Spiegelman] (1986) "A Kurtzman formula: you say something true, but high-minded - preferably a couple of things true, but high-minded, to set up the rhythm.  Then you deflate the whole lofty mess by saying something really true, but base and down-to-earth.  You point out that the Emperor is nekkid, that mortals are driven by greed and lust.  And preferably, you do it with a vaguely self-deprecatory Yiddish cadence so that nobody gets too mad at you for telling your truths.  ... and, if you're Harvey Kurtzman, you do it with impeccable timing and a tight sense of structure of Keaton that leaves the reader with not just a laugh, but insight."

[Harvey Kurtzman] (1986) "Of course, I'd been deep in the publishing business for years, putting together winners and losers.  Here (Organization Man ...), I was probably thinking of Martin Goodman of Timely [which became Marvel]. for whom I once did a puzzle page."

[Peter Poplaski] "I don't think when you say Jungle Book isn't funny, that it's necessarily a negative statement.  Kurtzman went for laughs, but beyond that was his compulsion to tell the truth behind the warm fuzzy surface of our favorite TV shows, comic characters and the like, to pull it out of our juvenile little hands and show us in his wacky way that it was just a banal, ridiculous commercial contrivance."

[Robert Crumb] "Cartoonists are ground down by the relentless demands of the medium.  few escape this fate, though with us fine artiste-cartoonists it's not quite as brutal, so maybe our creative energy can have a chance to revive itself periodically.  I dunno ... Maybe ..."

[Anthony Bourdain] "As a stylist, as an illustrator, as an innovator of layout, as a storyteller, he made everything that came before inadequate - and everything after transformative."

[Also by Will Elder]

Chicken Fat (2006)

This is a volume of sketches that Elder drew while he was waiting for the next Kurtzman project.  This is an interesting tour through the mind of an artist with a special look at the Elder family.  [JAM 9/18/2017]