In Memoriam: Mort Drucker, 1929–2020

April 14, 2020

Morris “Mort” Drucker (1929–2020)

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Morris “Mort” Drucker began his long career in caricature and illustration in the early 1950s, working for the forerunner of DC Comics. He joined the staff of the long-running parody magazine Mad as one of their “usual gang of idiots” in 1956 but continued to freelance throughout his career, creating countless movie posters, album covers, and animated cartoons. A profoundly versatile illustrator, he worked in all areas of print media, excelling at both stand-alone images and entire stories. He became well known for the television and movie parodies he drew for Mad, skewering blockbuster entertainment that included Dallas (“Dullus”), The Godfather (“The Odd Father”), and The Poseidon Adventure (“The Poopsidedown Adventure”).

In the 1970s, Drucker was commissioned to make seven cover images for Time, which are now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. “Battle for the Senate” appeared on the magazine’s cover the week before the 1970 midterm elections. The artist’s original gouache watercolor drawing presents a multicharacter pileup of fifteen political figures, including President Richard M. Nixon and then-Senator George H. W. Bush, engaged in a Romans vs. Gauls showdown. His September 10, 1973 Time cover caricatures the tennis player Bobby Riggs as a beady-eyed and buck-toothed sports hustler, wearing a shirt emblazoned with a smiling “male chauvinist” pig. Drucker made the drawing after the tennis star Billie Jean King agreed to Riggs’s challenge of a $100,000 winner-take-all “Battle of the Sexes” match, which they played the following week. (Riggs lost spectacularly.) During the Oil Crisis recession, Drucker’s “Doctoring the Economy” cover of January 27, 1975, used medicine as a visual trope to caricature the desperate attempts of President Gerald Ford and Speaker of the House Carl Albert to save the nation with a feeding tube of liquid money and a bicycle pump.

Drucker’s fans were innumerable and included President Ronald Reagan, who invited the artist to tour the White House, and actor Michael J. Fox, who in 1985 told talk show host Johnny Carson that he knew he had made it in Hollywood when the artist made his caricature. Drucker’s irreverent style, which combined easily recognizable facial caricatures with highly exaggerated body language, has inspired generations of illustrators and can still be seen in much of today’s political cartooning.