As reported by The New York Times, cartoonist and longtime MAD magazine caricature artist Mort Drucker has died. A cause of death has not been given, but the National Cartoonists Society released a statement about his death saying that he died last night at his home in New York. Drucker was 91.
Drucker was born in Brooklyn in 1929 and began working professionally as a cartoonist on Bert Whitman’s newspaper strip Debbie Dean in 1947 thanks to a recommendation from legendary cartoonist Will Eisner. He assembled a portfolio of comics work over the next 10 years or so (including a run at National Periodical Publicans, which later became DC Comics), which he brought to MAD’s offices in 1956 in hopes of getting a regular cartoonist job. He hadn’t yet perfected his caricature style, and at the time the magazine had only done occasional pop culture parodies, but that quickly changed by the ‘60s when every issue began to have some kind of movie or TV parody—with most of them being drawn by Drucker during his five decades at MAD.
Over those five decades, Drucker’s style became iconic, with his instantly recognizable recreations of famous faces being more subtle and nuanced than the average exaggerated caricature. Drucker’s time at the magazine also coincided with MAD’s rise in relevance, making his art itself an indelible part of MAD’s identity and a cultural touchstone for decades of American history. A Time magazine cover he drew in 1970 featuring drawings of 15 different political figures is now in the National Portrait Gallery, and George Lucas personally asked Drucker to draw the poster for his 1973 film American Graffiti. Speaking of Lucas, the New York Times obituary mentions that Lucasfilm tried to send MAD a cease-and-desist letter over an Empire Strikes Back parody in the ‘80s (“The Empire Strikes Out”), which prompted the magazine to respond with a copy of a letter that Lucas himself wrote asking to buy Drucker’s original art and comparing him to a modern Leonardo da Vinci.
Drucker is survived by his wife, two daughters, and three grandchildren.