Poster Gallery: Remembering Jack Davis 1924-2016

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Artist and pop culture chronicler Jack Davis passed away this week at age 91 after a long and productive career that spanned decades and traversed many mediums. Throughout his life, Davis won numerous awards and was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2003. Today the prolific illustrator is probably best remembered for his work in comic books but he also designed some iconic movie posters and worked hand-in-hand with Rankin/Bass productions on some of the company’s most beloved animated movies and TV shows.

Davis began drawing cartoons when he was just a kid and he pursued his artistic interests through high school, a brief stint in the Navy and college, where he began refining his skills. After graduating, he worked with a number of high-profile employees including the Atlanta Journal, Coca-Cola, and several newspaper syndicates before he was hired by EC Comics in 1950.

During his years with EC, Davis illustrated and inked many popular comic books including Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, Piracy, Incredible Science Fiction and Crime SuspenStories but his most recognizable work can be found in the company’s horror and suspense comics. Titles like Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, Shock SuspenStories and Terror Illustrated all greatly benefited from Davis’ distinct vision, sense of humor and macabre sensibilities. Besides his comic book work with EC, Davis illustrated horror tales for Harvey Comics, western stories to Atlas Comics and even created his own humor series for Dell called Yak Yak.

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Examples of Jack Davis’ work for EC Comics, Mad magazine and TV Guide.

When Editor Harvey Kurtzman launched Mad magazine in 1952, Davis was brought on board immediately and worked with the satirical magazine on-and-off for decades. Davis’ caricatures of famous faces were instantly recognizable, which made him a great asset to a publication that generated laughs from its humorous parodies of popular culture. Along with Mad, he also provided Kurtzman with content for Cracked, Panic and Humbug among other funny books.

Davis’ varied talents and limitless imagination allowed him to branch off in many different directions. Beside comics, Davis’ lent his skills to designing covers for TV Guide and Time magazine, album sleeves, books and advertising materials which included numerous movie posters. Besides designing posters for movies, Davis also regularly worked with the beloved animators Arthur Rankin & Jules Bass developing characters and promotional materials for their popular line of children’s movies, TV shows and holiday specials. Some of the Rankin/Bass productions Davis worked on include Willy McBean and his Magic Machine (1965), Mad Monster Party (1967), Mouse on the Mayflower (1968), The King Kong Show (1966–1969) and The Jackson 5ive series (1971–1972).

 

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Some examples of Jack Davis’ work for Rankin/Bass productions

Davis’ movie poster design frequently encapsulated the wild, crazy and mad-cap spirit that pervaded comedies in the sixties and seventies. The kinetic energy on display never fails to make me smile. He seemed to have an unabashed love of life and the joy his work exudes is contagious. To celebrate Davis’ life and work, I’ve compiled a gallery featuring some of his movie poster designs and I hope you’ll find his work as joyfully contagious as I do!

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Further reading:
- Spotlight on Jack Davis at the official Rankin/Bass site
- Jack Davis tribute at The Comics Journal
- Artist Drew Friedman has a great collection of Jack Davis related posts on his blog.

10 Responses Poster Gallery: Remembering Jack Davis 1924-2016
Posted By George : July 29, 2016 4:11 am

Among Davis’ EC stories was the infamous “Foul Play,” often cited as one of the sickest things ever published in comics. It had the “honor” of being attacked by Fredric Wertham in “Seduction of the Innocent.”

http://www.besthorrorcomics.com/pdf/Foul_Play!.pdf

Posted By Doug : July 29, 2016 10:49 am

It might have been the MAD influence, but there was always so much going on in the background of his works. Dorry to hear Davis passed; thank you, Kimberly, for this fine tribute.

Posted By Max : July 29, 2016 12:06 pm

Growing up the 60s as I did, I’d see a movie just because of the Jack Davis poster. Likewise, I’d buy the original soundtrack just to own a piece of the art. No matter how mediocre the movie was, he’d make everything seem like a wild, crazy, sexy event.

Posted By EricJ : July 31, 2016 2:23 am

I remember being disappointed that the Long Goodbye poster was its own Mad Magazine spoof (complete with the same style of jokes in the square balloons), but hearing that the movie wasn’t.

And when did Hal Needham’s “The Villain” get its title changed to “Cactus Jack”?

Posted By Carlo Panno : August 1, 2016 3:38 am

Nice tribute. He did a couple of good self portraits. I would attach them but that isn’t offered.

Posted By robbushblog : August 1, 2016 3:30 pm

Unmistakable as anyone else’s work. The way he drew shows alone is so unique.

I was also wondering about the title of “CACTUS JACK”. THE VILLAIN was the original American title. It was changed for foreign release.

Posted By swac44 : August 2, 2016 2:17 pm

There’s so much life in those posters, I’m always astonished when home video companies didn’t use Davis’s art for tape and disc releases, like those Davis Jr./Lawford titles. Probably some issue surrounding copyright, but they would have likely sold more titles if they had.

Never saw that poster for The Flim Flam Man before, but it sums up the energy and humour in that film quite nicely (and thanks TCM for showing it recently, I’d been wanting to see it for years). As EricJ points out, that The Long Goodbye poster doesn’t seem appropriate for the film at all, I have a poster featuring the “B” artwork (not drawn by Davis) with an illustration of Gould with the cat on his shoulder, and Nina van Pallandt in the background looking mysterious. It’s a better fit for the film, but I bet the Davis poster put more bums in seats, which is the point of a poster, after all.

I actually saw a Suicide Squad poster recently that was quite colourful with a strong graphic design that stood apart from the fairly generic poses found on all the other recent posters at the multi-plex. Kind of refreshing, actually. Can’t say I was shocked that Batman vs. Superman and Captain America: Civil War have virtually the same poster, although one of them is clearly the better movie.

Posted By John Kachmar : August 6, 2016 8:33 am

Sorry to hear the news. I ma 67 am grew up with his great work. Nobody was better. Some came close but none better.

Posted By Chris : August 9, 2016 4:59 am

You forgot “Animal House”!

Posted By Autist : August 9, 2016 1:07 pm

That was Rick Meyerowitz, Chris, though it does look rather like a Davis.

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