Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, May 16, 2008
      ( 5/16/2008 07:17:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WILL ELDER: I was two or three years too young to have experienced EC comics when they first came out, though I still remember reading a battered copy of one of the crime comics (the one where a mousy librarian is freak out about a serial killer) owned by a boyhood friend's older brother. But thanks to Ballantine Books' early paperback reprints of the 10-cent MAD comics (The MAD Reader, MAD Strikes Back, etc.), I quickly fell for the work of Will Elder, the hardest drawing gagman in the comics biz. To read an Elder MAD comic was to get sucked into a cyclone of sight gags, of extraneous eyeball kicks that may have occasionally come close to derailing scripter Harvey Kurtzman's sharply satiric takedowns of pop culture ("Starchie," "Ping Pong," "Dragged Net," etc.) but kept you coming back to see what other little jokes you missed the first - or fiftieth - time through. The comic's other regulars may've been slicker (Wally Wood was definitely sexier, Jack Davis was more immediately commercial), but to a pre-teen reader, Elder was MAD comics.

Elder would find later comfortable success, still collaborating with Kurtzman on Playboy's "Little Annie Fanny" comics, and while I can't begrudge either man's making a good living after several commercially unsuccessful attempts at bringing the MAD comics formula into a more grown-up mag edition (Trump, Humbug, Help!), the fact remains that "Fanny" was just not as kicky those funky ol' MADs. A few years back, I had the pleasure of reviewing The Mad Playboy of Art, a biographical tribute to Elder featuring a hefty selection of rarely seen Elder work from the period between MAD and Playboy, and it couldn't help but make you wish that Willie and Harve had never gotten lured into the Playboy Mansion. Still, Elder's style, even toned down to meet the demands of Playboy's pricey color reproductions, remained purest funnybook.

R.I.P. Villie Elder.
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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