Whether you studied every issue MAD magazine or just glanced at the occasional cover, you knew the work of Mort Drucker. It was hard not to, seeing as how the illustrator and writer Dick DeBartolo were “the George Bernard Shaw and Leonardo da Vinci of comic satire,” as George Lucas famously wrote of their Empire Strikes Back parody.
The Star Wars creator’s quote came up a lot on April 9, upon the occasion of Drucker’s death at his Woodstock, N.Y., home at the age of 91. There was no shortage of kind words for the man whose television and movie parodies tickled us long before Mel Brooks set saddles blazing, Monty Python went looking for a holy grail and Airplane! inhaled laughing gas from the overhead masks.
“I believe Mort Drucker was our finest caricature artist/satirist, and possibly the greatest of all time,” says Heritage Auctions’ Co-Chairman Jim Halperin, one of the country’s top collectors of MAD original art, magazines and memorabilia. “Stories abound throughout the MAD magazine fandom community of his consistently warm, kind and gentlemanly nature.”
Added illustrator Drew Friedman, simply, in The New York Times’ obituary: “He’s the guy.”
In the wake of his death, there was no shortage of stories about Drucker’s life; he influenced and amused generations, dating back to 1959 – in MAD No. 48, to be specific, which featured the Drucker-drawn story “The Night Perry Masonite Lost a Case.” In that four-page spread “the basic movie parody format for the next 44 years was born,” Grady Hendrix once wrote in Film Comment.
He continued them for another half century, drawing 238 TV and film parodies before his retirement in 2008. Among the most famous and beloved: “The Odd Father” from 1972, “Flawrence of Arabia” from 1964, “M*U*S*H” from 1982 and “Jaw’D” from 1976.
Over the course of his career, which included revered covers of Time, Drucker figured he had drawn every famous person of the era. Getting Drucker’d was the sure-fire way of knowing you’d made it. As Michael J. Fox told Johnny Carson in 1985, he knew he was a somebody “when Mort Drucker drew my head.”
Mark Hamill tweeted upon Drucker’s death that “it felt like we had really made it when we were brutally mocked in the pages of @MADmagazine!” The man called “Luke Skywalker” included several Drucker panels from decades’ worth of Star Wars parodies.
“One thing that many people do not realize when they look at Mort’s work was that he did not do ‘talking heads,'” said Joe Mannarino, Heritage Auction’s Director of Comics and Comic Art, who worked with Drucker for 20 years. “His characters were all there — expressive, natural — which added to the believability of a scene. His stories molded the imagination of generations.”
“He will be deeply missed,” Halperin said, “and no doubt remembered and celebrated for centuries to come.”