Avengers Assemble 60 Years of MAD at the Cartoon Art Museum September 3, 2012 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns – Tags: A Pictures' Worth, Mike Pascale
A Picture’s Worth #96 – Contents ©2012 Mike Pascale. Visuals copyright and trademark their respective owners.
As mentioned last week, my wife and I recently went to see the “Sixty Years of MAD” and “Avengers Assemble!” exhibits at San Francisco’s wonderful Cartoon Art Museum. The MAD display ends on September 16th, so if you want to see some incredible work from some of the best, funniest and most respected creators, artists and writers on the planet, U need 2 go 2 SF ASAP PDQ! (That’s for those who’re used to reading text messages.)
Highlights of each follow. Keep in mind that for some reason, all photography is prohibited, so I had to sneak a bit. (Personally I don’t see why; almost every piece has been previously published. Even the Charles Schulz Museum now allows photography, as does nearly every art museum. No FLASH photography is understandable as the light can damage the artwork. But digital, non-flash shots? Come on.)
MAD magazine was created by Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Gaines in 1952 (kudos to the museum for acknowledging Gaines’s contribution, which most biased historians and books do not). It peaked in popularity in the early 1970s, reaching two million in circulation! Its influence on pop culture, actors, directors, artists, writers is astounding. It began as a comic book and switched to magazine format with issue #24. Artists and pieces you’ll see on display:
–Original cover art (and sketches) from the gods of satirical comics, Kurtzman and his partner Will Elder, including an unused one for #6. Plus a cover stat colored by EC colorist (and Marvel great) Marie Severin.
–Splash and panel pages from such classic Kurtzman parodies as TARZAN (“Melvin”) and THE SHADOW.
–George Woodbridge and Tom Koch’s satirical primer, “43-Man Squamish” from 1965–one of the greatest satires of the century, if not ever. The copy never fails to make me titter like a monkey.
–Norman Mingo original covers (most were in gouache, which is opaque watercolor. I always thought they were in oil or acrylic).
–Lots of brilliance from Sergio Aragonés (some with the original rubylith overlays, used for adding gray areas back in the stone age of 20th century printing). Included are Sergio’s take on SUPERMAN from #172 and “A Day At The Beach” from #185. And one of his rare original covers!
–Not one, but two original Al Jaffe “MAD Fold-In” back covers! Always wanted to see how they were created. You’ll appreciate Jaffee’s work even more. (Thankfully, the museum has copies of the folded-in versions so you don’t have to touch the paintings.)
–Jack Rickard’s cover art from #189’s WELCOME BACK KOTTER parody (coinciding with the recent sad demise of Ron “Horshack” Palillo).
–Wally Wood’s amazing, classic take on aging comic-strip characters (including Superman) and comic strips written by famous authors (Huey, Dewey and Louie written by Chayefsky), both gems from the 1950s.
–An Al Feldstein-drawn piece from 1958. (Al succeeded Harvey with editorship and was responsible for MAD’s greatest success. Hasn’t been the same since.)
–Lots of gorgeous (and hilarious) Jack Davis originals from various time periods, replete with his intricate inking and wash techniques.
–Several originals from Don Martin, accurately titled, “MAD’s Maddest Artist.” As a bonus, they span a good portion of his career so you can see the progression of style.
–Original MAD movie and TV parodies by the kings of the genre, Mort Drucker and Angelo Torres.
–Obscure stuff from stalwarts Paul Coker, Jr. (who went on to design FROSTY THE SNOWMAN among others), Dave Berg (“The Lighter Side Of”), and Woodbridge’s guide to Beatniks from MAD #57, with a caricature of Mort Sahl, signed by the political satirist himself.
–An unused (?) atypical Kelly Freas original cover with repeating silhouettes. Make sure you look at each figure–long before Photoshop, each had to be hand-painted!
–Richard Williams’ BATMAN parody cover from #289.
–No MAD retrospective would be complete without original SPY VS. SPYs from creator Antonio Prohias and worthy successor, Peter Kuper.
Other great more contemporary excellence from Sam Viviano, Mark Stuzman, Evan Dorkin, Mark Richardson, Tom Richmond, Robert Grossman, John Caldwell and James Warhola (whose work looks a lot like oils but were listed as gouache; see what you think) and others. Extras include several foreign versions of the magazine, including an original from Sweden’s Bengt Olof. A major treat is the rough, original art and published version with text of Viviano’s HARRY POTTER double-page spread.
In other words, just go see it if you can.
As for the “Avengers Assemble!” exhibit, the highlights include:
–A Kirby/Ayers page from AVENGERS #1 that started it all (the Hulk vs. Iron Man fight from the Detroit sequence).
–Kirby art side-by-side inked by Dick Ayers and Paul Reinman really highlights the different approaches by both men. The former is more brush and the latter more pen; yet Kirby’s power comes through on both.
–Neal Adams/Tom Palmer cover and interior art from the classic Kree/Skrull War series with writer Roy Thomas. (Trivia question: who worked on more issues of the title than anyone? Answer at the end.)
–Much John Buscema greatness, including the iconic cover of AVENGERS #57 introducing the Vision (which has more photostats on it than I thought), and an unused pencil version of issue #79 (not much different from the published version as I could tell, but it would be neat to have both there for comparison).
–The published and unpublished error versions of #228, with the “oops” shot of Hank Pym. The way the error was corrected with minimal redrawing was something I really appreciated. (Typical art director problem-solving stuff to make a deadline). See how much you notice.
–Original pages from the underrated and under-appreciated Don Heck who had the unenviable job of succeeding King Kirby. You can tell Jack’s layouts on some of the action but the beautiful stylized realism of the faces is pure Heck.
–One of my favorite pieces of the whole show, an original “large art” Iron Man page by pal Gene Colan from TALES OF SUSPENSE #78. What makes this so special other than its beauty and the artist behind it? He drew it under the pseudonym of Adam Austin and it’s even signed with that name! I never knew he did that!
–Of course, no Avengers exhibit would be complete without fan favorite George Pérez, who has a few pieces in the show.
–Breathtaking splash pages and covers by Frank Cho. The economy and effectiveness of his inking alone will drop your jaw. He makes it look way too easy.
–A hilarious parody cover in the SIMPSONS style by the underrated Bill Morrison.
–Other artists ably represented include Gil Kane, Jim Lee, Al Williamson, Paul Ryan (the artist, not the candidate), Steve Lightle, Bob Hall, Al Gordon, Herb Trimpe, Steve Lealoha, Jack Abel, and more.
Luckily for you, this show is at the Cartoon Art Museum until October 21. But I strongly recommend seeing both. Other exhibits include “The Art of Parnorman” as reviewed last week, a display of Latino artists, a small-press spotlight artist and a history of the medium. Great stuff! Not to mention a fully-stocked bookstore.
As always, let me know what YOU think in the Comments section.
P.S.: Got the trivia answer yet? The answer’s Tom Palmer. And if you want a commission of any Avenger or MAD character from me, I’m happy to oblige. Just ask Craig here!