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Mort Drucker: What His Life Can Teach Brands And All Of Us

June 9, 2020

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highThe cartoon world lost a true great back in April: Mort Drucker, best known for his Mad Magazine movie satires. He was 91.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He was an idol of mine. I wanted to pay him tribute. I backdated him a bit (I could only find one photo of him as a younger man.)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I included his distinctive signature and used the “O” to sneak in a second, more cartoony caricature.

Mort Drucker caricature by Mark Armstrong tribute to favorite cartoonist illustratorSo what can Mort Drucker’s life teach us?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

For starters, kindness and restraint.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

How can I say that about a caricature artist? Don’t they skewer people? hold them up to ridicule? rip ’em to shreds?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

That’s almost always true. But Mort’s caricatures were different.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Michael Cavna writing in The Washington Post: “His caricatures contorted celebrity features yet never seemed to stretch the visual truth.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can see it in his wonderful Godfather caricatures below.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

“I never wanted to be mean,” he told Cavna back in 2015. “I tried to be kind.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Somehow he always was.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

(click for larger view)

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highMad Magazine movie satire caricatures by Mort Drucker parody The Godfather Marlon Brando Robert Duvall James Caan Al Pacino

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highMad succeeded when mockery was rare. And its mockery was, to a large extent, affectionate.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

As mockery became the norm in American culture, Mad’s influence declined. The magazine ceased publishing new material last year, ending a run of 67 years.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Today, everything is mocked (with certain politically correct subjects being considered off limits). And that mockery is seldom affectionate. Quite the opposite.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

In recent years, Mad tried to adopt a sharper edge, but it could no longer compete. There were simply too many voices devoted to mockery, much of it mean-spirited.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Humor now finds itself between a rock and a hard place: it has to be cutting to be considered hip, but there are some places it can’t go or it will be condemned as hate speech.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

This need to mock, to be edgy, is reflected in much of today’s marketing and advertising and branding. It’s the antithesis of Mort Drucker’s humor. The snarkiness often comes at someone’s expense: you win fans or customers by alienating others.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Does anyone really like this situation? We laugh, we go along, but do we really enjoy it? I don’t, and I suspect I’m not alone.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Mort Drucker’s humor was a unifying force. Even his “victims” were fans.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He once drew Ronald Reagan as Hamlet, Moses, Scrooge and Mr. Hyde in a 1982 Mad story, Ronald Reagan — Now Starring at the White House.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Reagan gave Mort and his wife a private tour of the White House.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

When he appeared on The Tonight Show in 1985, actor Michael J. Fox told Johnny Carson that he knew he had made it in show business “when Mort Drucker drew my head.”

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highHumor that doesn’t cross the line into meanness has that kind of appeal. It helps people laugh, relax, feel good, feel accepted.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

That’s Mort Drucker humor. Brands could learn a lot from it. We all could.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The Force was strong with Mort.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

(click for larger view)blank vertical space, 32 pixels highMort Drucker Star Wars movie satire for Mad Magazine Carrie Fisher Harrison Ford Mark Hamill

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highMort was self-taught (which I find truly astounding). He figured things out– another invaluable lesson.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

“When I started working for Mad, they assigned me TV satires and asked me to draw famous people,” he recalled. “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.”blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Anyone who’s ever seen one of his satires knows it’s like watching a real movie or television show.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

“I become the camera,” he once said, “and look for angles, lighting, close-ups, wide angles, long shots — just as a director does to tell the story in the most visually interesting way he can.”blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Which makes me think of something communications expert Sarah Elkins is fond of saying: “Your stories don’t define you. How you tell them will.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Words and pictures aren’t enough. There has to be something more. A personal touch. A certain humanity, warmth, and yes, kindness.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Another lesson: the joy in Mort’s work is palpable. And he was always up for new challenges:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

”For me, the stimulation comes from learning how to do things better. It keeps the adrenaline going, and that’s why I try to do so many different things. The most important thing to me is that I never stop learning.’’blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Just how many people did he draw over the years?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

“I think I’ve drawn almost everyone in Hollywood,” he told the New York Times back in 2000.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

And a lot of other people, too.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

(click for larger view)


big montage of caricature drawings by Mad Magazine cartoonist illustrator Mort Drucker

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highblank vertical space, 16 pixels highBack in 2015, Michael Cavna asked Mort if there was anyone he couldn’t caricature.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

“My wife,” he said. “She’s too perfect to draw.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels highblank vertical space, 32 pixels high

Mad Magazine cartoonist illustrator Mort Drucker at drawing board cover for book five decades of work

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About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, editorial, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Doug Busk, VP Communications, Emory U. former Global Group Director Social Media at Coca-Cola

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2020 10:04 AM

    Lovely tribute, Mark, thanks! I grew up MAD….I mean with MAD magazine as fodder for my lively but bored mind in the 80s. While I’m not an artist, MAD’s humour (all of it, unfortunately!) shaped my own.
    You’re right – we can animate ourselves with more kindness and restraint just like he did. Mort will truly and forever RIP (Rest In Pieces) of all his drawings! 🙏

    Like

    • June 11, 2020 8:57 AM

      My dear Radhika! Yes, I know your mind was hopelessly warped– er, that is to say, subtly influenced– by your early exposure to MAD Magazine… join the club!! I liked your “lively but bored mind”– so true for many of us, even as adults! What one is exposed to at such a time can have a profound influence, at least that’s what my pal Siggy Freud told me… 😊

      Funny: until I wrote that post, I hadn’t considered that kindness and restraint are closely linked– two sides of the same coin, really. Which probably explains a lot of the anger in the world today. Hmmm… why do you always get me so philosophical??– this really has to stop!! Merci pour votre aimable commentaire, mon amie!! 👍💪👳

      Liked by 1 person

  2. June 9, 2020 4:04 PM

    What a loss… an admirable man.
    Beautiful tribute, my dear friend!

    Like

    • June 11, 2020 12:44 PM

      Thank you, dear Marina! He was indeed an admirable man, and we must rejoice that we were able to enjoy his presence and magnificent gifts for so many years. Such a shame we have to lose people to fully appreciate how lucky we were to know them, even if it was just on paper.

      And I’m lucky to know you, even if it’s just in cyberspace!! 🚀🌖💥🚑👽👽👽👽👽👽👽👽👽👽👽👽🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨😋💥🚑😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 12, 2020 8:31 AM

        So true…
        So am I, my dear Mark, VERY lucky to know you!!!!
        🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨
        🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀
        🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨🍨

        Like

  3. June 19, 2020 11:38 AM

    A nice tribute to a wonderful artist. I don’t remember when I discovered MAD magazine, but I was very young. I used to spend my hard-earned pennies every month at the little store down the street from my grandparents’ apartment. A Charleston Chew and a MAD magazine was all I needed. I looked forward to Don Martin’s and Mort Drucker’s work in every issue.

    Like

    • June 21, 2020 11:51 AM

      A Charleston Chew and MAD– now there’s a recipe for boyhood happiness!! Sounds like you did a lot better than I did– I was usually suckin’ on a Fireball, burning my mouth and rotting my teeth!! You brought back a memory: we had a corner store that sold penny candy and baseball cards, and one day they started selling old secondhand comic books– you know, the kind with the top half of the cover surgically removed. And among them: very early MADs, which introduced me to Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder. Sometimes a kid gets lucky. Always good to see you, Steve, thanks for your great comment!

      Like

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