No illustrator in recent memory has carried more influence on generations of artists of all stripes than the great Mort Drucker.
Photo by Greg Preston, from his fantastic book, The Artist Within, vol 1.
This is not an obituary. It's not a recap of his life. This is a celebration of the man, and his art.
As anyone reading this knows, Mort Drucker, who passed away last night, April 9, 2020, was a legend. Caricature, graphic story-telling, technical craftsmanship, Mort mastered it all and made it look easy.
Mort is the one who introduced me to caricature, probably around age 9 or 10. His wasn't the first caricature I'd taken note of, but when I opened up a Mad Magazine for the first time and saw what one person could achieve with a stroke of a pen, I was absolutely astounded and knew immediately that that was what I wanted to do. Those are big shoes to fill, and I'm nowhere near his skill level, but I can say definitively had I not been inspired by Mort, my life would be very different at this point.
Years later, I began to learn about the person and go beyond just his amazing artwork. If you haven't heard the story of him breaking in to Mad, it's worth a Google. It's a classic Mad yarn that's been told umpteen times since. Mark Evanier's Mad Art book has a nice retelling of it. Basically, Nick Meglin and Bill Gaines immediately saw the potential in this young, somewhat green cartoonist, and after a quick classic gag, he immediately became one of 'The Usual Gang of Idiots.' He is still.
It turns out, Mort didn't start his career drawing caricatures. He began as a classic commercial artist- taking jobs just so he could make money drawing. It turns out, people wanted him to draw caricature, so that's what he ended up doing. He was wise early on in that he diversified his work life. He ghosted on other people's work, did commercial jobs, whatever, because that's what you do if you want to make a living as a commercial artist. His aptitude for caricature and storytelling caught the right eyeballs, and the world is a better place for it. I dare say, had the winds shifted in another direction, he would have excelled in anything that may have come his way, and we'd still know his name.
What's interesting about Mort is, he had basically no formal education. After a brief stint at Parson's School of Design in Manhattan, he left and.... went to work. His first and foremost 'talent', some may say, was simply an unearthly work ethic. You got a job, you bust your ass doing that job better than anyone else, so the Editors and Art Directors simply have no choice but to call you again for the next job. Such is the life of a successful freelancer.
On a personal note, I'm grateful I got to know Mort in the past 20 or so years. Mort bought me my very first scotch at the 2003 National Cartoonists Society Reubens event. I'd never had one that tasted better, and I know I never will, (though I continue to try).
By this point, the internet will be flooded with obits and remembrances much more thorough than mine. However as I sit here, literally with a blank page in front of me for my next Mad Magazine job, I'm thinking about Mort, his lovely family, and, selfishly, reminded of how blessed I have been to not only have been influenced by him, but also to have been able to call him a friend and colleague.
I can hear his voice saying 'oh, you beautiful people', as he often did at our cartoonist gatherings. Today, I am reminded of what a beautiful person he was.
RIP Mort. We'll be raising a scotch to you soon.
Below is the artwork I did for the 2015 Reuben awards, where Mort was award the very first Medal of Honor by the National Cartoonists Society. That was an honor.