Friday, May 16, 2008

Bill Elder Passes Away

Several online sources, including Journalista and Mark Evanier, are reporting that cartoonist Will Elder, one of the founding artists for MAD Magazine, has passed away.

DC Comics sent out a press release earlier today on his passing:

William “Willie” Elder, the successful cartoonist and commercial illustrator whose work helped launch MAD Magazine, died Thursday morning, May 15th, 2008. He was 86.

Born Wolf William Eisenberg in the Bronx, New York, Elder changed his name after returning in World War II. During his time of service, Elder was part of the map-making team that was instrumental in the invasion of Normandy.

When Harvey Kurtzman launched MAD Magazine in 1952, he hired Elder along with Wally Wood, Jim Severin, and Jack Davis to produce content for the first issues.

“Willie Elder was one of the funniest artists to ever work for MAD. He created visual feasts with dozens of background gags layered into every MAD story he illustrated,” says John Ficarra, Editor of MAD Magazine, “He called these gags “chicken fat.” Willie’s “anything goes” art style set the tone for the entire magazine and created a look that endures to this day.”

“Willie’s passing saddens all of us here at MAD,” says Sam Viviano, MAD Magazine Art Director, “Everyone who has attempted to draw a funny picture over the course of the last fifty or sixty years owes an enormous debt to Willie, who taught us all how to do it — and no one has ever done it better than he did.”

In addition to his work on MAD, Elder also co-created Little Annie Fanny. Will Pfeifer has a remembrance up on his site:

…People say Elder was a master mimic — and he was, probably the best the field has ever seen — but even that title is selling him short. He didn’t just duplicate the styles of other artists, he twisted them slightly, revealing the rough sides of those smoooooth house-style pen lines.

And, all mimicking aside, the guy could draw too — draw like a master. His own art style had an inviting, open feel that nevertheless made the most of well-placed shadows and varied line weights. Just check out this panel from MICKEY RODENT!, where Elder’s own style offers a dark, disturbing contrast to the familiar, friendly style of the Disney studio. In fact, that’s the joke!

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