Illustrator and Prankster Will Elder Dies at 86

Journalista: The Comics Journal Weblog is reporting that Will Elder, the famed illustrator and one of the founders of Mad Magazine, has died at 86. (This comes via boing boing.) Elder was considered a major influence on artists like Robert Crumb and Daniel Clowes.

Gary Groth, an editor at Fantagraphics, which published several Elder books (including Will Elder: The Mad Playboy of Art and Chicken Fat) told the Media Mob, "He was such a fabulous talent in the sense that he could do almost anything." Recalling his penchant for pranks, Mr. Groth called Mr. Elder "instrumental in making Mad."

In David Hajdu’s recent book The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, the author described Elder as follows:

He could render anything he could see with the precision of a photograph—or mimic virtually any fine-art style, including various modes of impressionism and early abstract art—yet he had no inclination to waste his time on anything other than his overriding interest, pranksterism. The sound of his name to those who knew him well, such as his former schoolmates and fellow cartoonists, Al Jaffee (who met Elder in eighth grade, when they were both being tested for admission to the High School of Music and Art), John Severin, and David Gantz, was a cue for grin and a round of ‘Crazy Willy’ stories: the time, when he was a kid in the Bronx, when Elder took discarded pieces of beef carcasses from a meat-processing plant, arranged them in old clothes on the railroad tracks, and started screaming that his friend Moishe had been killed; or the time, when he was in high school, that he smeared chalk dust on his face and pretended to be hanging in the coat closet; or, when went to lunch with some friends from EC [Comics] and tried to pay the cashier with leaves of lettuce that he had in his wallet. His humor was almost aggressively madcap, startling, often dark, and silly.

"He really was one of the sweetest, most generous guys I’ve met in this profession," said Groth, who is currently compiling a complete reprinting of Humbug, a post-Mad project by Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, and Al Jaffee for a new Fantagraphics book.

"He really was wonderfully helpful and incredibly sweet. Which is probably why he didn’t become an enormous success in this business. He was too nice a guy."

Illustrator and Prankster Will Elder Dies at 86