Will Elder dead at 86

Will, or “Wild Bill” Elder died today, so I feel I must note this, as he was one of my main inspirations for drawing comics and, along with the Pythons, informed my sense of humor when I was growing up. His work for the early Kurtzman issues of Mad blew my mind when I read them at 8 or 9 years old (the reprints would come in Mad’s “Super Specials” that I could find at the supermarket, as well as some of the trade paperbacks). Unlike Wood or Davis (or Kurtzman, when he drew), Elder gave you the biggest bang for your buck, filling in every nook and cranny with visual gags, word play, running jokes, and none of it beholden to physics or linear narrative. More than any other comics that I was reading, this was art that you had to go back and study. For the uninitiated, check out this reprint of Dragged Net, a parody of the TV show Dragnet. It’s chock-a-block with goodness, and shows the difference of the early Mad parodies (all written by Harvey Kurtzman) compared to the flat and dull ones that they’ve done since.

After Mad, Elder’s main art was devoted to Little Annie Fanny, that ran in Playboy from 1962 to 1988. I wasn’t a fan so much of these, despite how dearly I love breasts. The panels are not as crazy, and the jokes–obviously because of its subject matter and its venue–are mostly sexual based. But I have to admit, look at the beautiful work in the above splash panel. Elder didn’t work in such painterly color in Mad, and his use of a weird perspective, distortion, color, and weight (Annie’s voluptuousness changes in the gravity of the water) are masterful for the medium.

You can look at my own (very few) comics and see where I’ve stolen from him, sometimes blatantly. So rest in peace, Mr. Elder.

UPDATE 05.16.08: Fantagraphics have posted a link to a once-banned (copyright infringement) Kurtzman/Elder parody of Archie/Playboy that appeared in Humbug, post-Mad.

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