Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Harvey Kurtzman One Man Show

Harvey Kurtzman was the editor of MAD when it started as a comic book and remained editor for about 28 issues. I say “about” because there is not a clear cut off issue that was his last. Articles he wrote and supervised the art were still coming out in MAD months after he left.

MAD issue number 23 was the last comic book issue. They promoted themselves to a magazine status. MAD number 24 was their first magazine issue.

In the comic book phase of MAD Harvey Kurtzman wrote every story and every word.* He was very articulate and wanted his stories to be exactly as he envisioned them as he wrote them. He mostly had four artists with four distinct different styles, techniques and talent: Will Elder, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, and John Severin. There were a few more artists that came for one issue and left.

Harvey would draw a rough “thumbnail” outline, panel by panel and would and would meet with the artist he had in mine to do the story in front of him. He would go over each panel with the artist and explain just how he was to illustrate it and he did not want to deviate from his plan at all. I think they all day from time to time – after all, they were MAD artists.

It has been said from various sources that Harvey Kurtzman, while explaining to the proposed artist just how he wanted the panel to go, he would pantomime the body language of the character he was trying to portrayed. If he wanted one to be dancing, kicking their heels high, then that is what Harvey did – if he wanted on bent over to the floor with a magnifying glass, then he would do that.

In other words, he put on a man-man-show for an audience of one. Boy, would I have loved to have been a fly on the way (only temporarily) to watch that.

Here are examples that Kurtzman probably put on a good show acting out for the benefit of one person, that had to be funny, if I was the artist in the room I am not sure I could have kept a straight face.

* except some classic poems that Kurtzman adapted.

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