A sad day for all the comedy nerds who grew up with their eyes glued to the pages of Mad Magazine. It was announced today that Mort Drucker, who helped create the magazine’s style that we’ve come to know and love, has passed away at 91.
Drucker, who was born in Brooklyn on March 22nd, 1929, joined the team at Mad as a cartoonist in 1956, as founding editor Harvey Kurtzman was stepping down. Upon joining, there was a Brooklyn Dodgers game on. Publisher Bill Gaines told Drucker that if the Dodgers won the game, Drucker would be given a writing assignment. Luckily for Drucker, the Dodgers run the game that day.
Drucker’s run at Mad outlasted any other tenure in the publication’s history, going for 55 years until he retired in 2011. He had become renowned for his style of illustrating, to the point where there was a legend behind it. Michael J. Fox once told Johnny Carson he knew he made it big when Mort Drucker drew his head. Jerry Seinfeld called a Mad Magazine cover drawn by Drucker “the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me”.
Known for his movie parodies, in the early days, movie studios didn’t want Drucker lampooning their films. He had to utilize stills in magazines and newspapers and occasionally had people photograph images of the screen in theaters. This went on for decades. In 1980, after he parodied The Empire Strikes Back, he got a cease and desist letter from George Lucas’ lawyers. Unbeknownst to them, however, Lucas himself had also written him a letter telling him how much he loved his parody. He had even worked on advertising materials for Lucas’ first film, American Graffiti.
Regarding his style, Drucker once said in an interview “When I started working for Mad, they assigned me TV satires and asked me to draw famous people. So I just did it. It took me a long time to learn the skills I have, and it was time-consuming. With me, everything is trial and error.”
He died yesterday in his Woodbury home, as confirmed to the New York Times by fellow animator and friend John Reiner. It is not believed to have any connection to the Coronavirus.
Below, we take a look at some of Drucker’s work.