Will Elder, one of the pioneering MAD Magazine cartoonists has passed away at the age of 86. Tom Richmond, a current MAD magazine cartoonist wrote a personal tribute to Will on his blog.
All cartoonists get asked about who their major influences are, and among the usual suspects it sometimes surprises people when I name Will Elder near the top of my list. The reason for the surprise is that there is almost no similarity in my work and Elder’s… at least not on the surface. His influence for me was more about his humor and his approach to it. He used all manner of tools to create multiple layers of humor in everything he did. He could “sell the gag” like no other, making the written jokes funnier with his storytelling and imparting of the essential information in a way that rang clear with readers. He crammed his panels with multiple background gags and visual humor, some related to the story and some total non-sequiturs, that required readers to reread a story several times to make sure they didn’t miss any gags. That technique, coined the “Chicken Fat School of Art” (apparently so named because in the depression era chicken fat was added to many a dish to make it more filling) became a staple for MAD. More than anything, Elder just drew FUNNY. His drawings all by themselves could make you laugh. He had a way with expression, action and energy that created drawings that were just plain funny.
Elder was not only a master cartoonist but also a fantastic illustrator, and some of his best pieces for MAD were the parodies he did of famous magazine and other print ads that were expertly executed in various styles. He could draw anything, and it showed in the composition and layouts of even his more “simple” cartoons.