TCJ ARCHIVE

The Will Elder Interview


Humbug

A fake cigarette ad from Humbug #11

GROTH: Now, you did become a part of the Humbug collective after that, but you must have gone through a period when you weren’t quite sure what you were going to do.

 

ELDER: Yeah, but I think we were bent toward that way because it was something that we could easily handle. Davis was the fastest alive, and he was quite good at it. Wally Wood was on and off. He was unpredictable. We weren’t too sure about Wally. Humbug was a chance to get something that’s a little more to the younger crowd, and also we could be very much a part of it. I would have a piece of it. I would own a piece of it. Arnold Roth, Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, Harvey and myself would own a piece of Humbug. Harry Chester as well. I’m sorry if I missed his name. We were all vital to the magazine. We had some publishing company in Connecticut. I don’t know exactly where but I remember we rode out there one time when the World Series was being played. We heard it on the car radio.

It went well for the first two issues. Not terribly well, but it made inroads. It made a good beginning. And then it went downhill. It ran out of money.

GROTH: I think the company you’re referring to in Connecticut was the American News Service —

ELDER: That sounds pretty close.

GROTH: — which was a distributor. Let me skip back for a second. You don’t seem to me to be the entrepreneurial type.

ELDER: I’m not.

GROTH: But you became one of the six owners of Humbug. Did you contribute money to it?

ELDER: Oh, surely. We decided to own a piece of it, all of us. If Harvey was editor, he had the same piece of investment as anybody else. You got the darn collective you call cartoonists. Big difference.

GROTH: The whole idea was that you would jointly own the magazine and you would own your own work.

ELDER: Right. And we’d have Harry Chester becoming the white paper lord, make sure that everything got out on time.

GROTH: He was the production guy. Investing money was something that you would not ordinarily, it seems to me, have done.

ELDER: I figured that my reputation was part of it. I had something to say and there were people out there who liked my work and would offer me some kind of contract for working for them, and I thought that was a very convincing way of getting started with something someplace where I thought I had a great future.

GROTH: So was this an exciting project?

ELDER: It was, because it was a bastard subject. I mean by that that it was too small for the adult audience readership and too sophisticated for the youngsters. It was sort of in between, and no one knew what was the purpose of it. It was put in a corner of a stationery store and never picked up very much. The contributors got a little annoyed, and that was the end of that. But this is the kind of thing that we, as artists, never even considered. We thought that we had been doing this kind of work in the past and had gained some kind of reputation — noteriety, you might say — so anything to do with the business or what the newsstands were thinking was completely lost on us.

GROTH: You obviously knew Jack Davis.

ELDER: Fine fellow.

GROTH: How well did you know Jack when you were working at EC?

ELDER: Oh, I knew Jack only through our work. We went out on picnics in the beginning. We’d go to Cape Cod — he and his wife, my wife and I and Harvey and his wife and his little daughter. We’d all pack in our cars and take a trip. We saw each other for maybe three or four years like that and then everything drifted apart. Then we had to leave Mad and then of course he hadn’t heard from either one of us, Jack or Harvey. I would say eight years. Seven, eight — it seems like a little more than six years. I would see Jack more often usually at the Mad offices.

GROTH: Did you know Arnold Roth before you met him for the Humbug project?

ELDER: I knew him through Harvey. Harvey seemed to attract all of these people like fleas on a dog. We once went over to Harvey’s house, my wife and myself, and we’d have a picnic in the back with Arnold Roth and we’d be introduced. Arnold was a fine a fellow, a very funny guy. A wonderful sense of humor.

GROTH: What were your impressions of Arnold when you met him, got to know him?

ELDER: I thought he was a very straight-laced, studious type of guy, but he had a very subtle way of slipping one over on you.

GROTH: You guys share an interest in jazz.

ELDER: I like it when it’s played by a professional. I don’t like people who practice on it. They’re not too numerous, thank God. But I like a piano player. I like classical music, believe it or not.

GROTH: Is that your —

ELDER: I prefer classical music to anything. Berlioz. I love Berlioz. And I love Frederick Delius. Have you heard of these people?

GROTH: Sure. Yeah.

ELDER: And Berlioz?

GROTH: Yeah.

ELDER: Delius died from… What did he die from? Syphilis?

GROTH: I don’t know.

ELDER: Well, I know but I’ve forgotten. You have to use his name these days because everybody talks of other musicians, very fine musicians, and they take something away from them.

GROTH: Would you listen to music when you drew?

ELDER: Yeah. Classical music. It’s more soothing. With jazz you kind of want to hop and jump. It makes me a little too excited.

GROTH: Were you involved in all of the financial decision-making of Humbug?

ELDER: Chester would handle all of that. Harvey wasn’t the great businessman that he should have been, but there’s lot of people who could join him pretty easily. I’d be one of them.

GROTH: Were you comfortable being one of the owners, being in this entrepreneurial position?

ELDER: I think it over and tell myself that I could have done better. Financially, I could have done better. But then again, I wouldn’t have gotten what I had done at all if it weren’t for the way I worked as a businessman because I was an artist first. That’s what I was known for. I wouldn’t have been known as a businessman, because there are millions of guys like myself who go bankrupt in no time.

GROTH: I think you would be better off being known as a great artist than —

ELDER: Well, following the arts was a way of enjoying life. It was part of my life. It’s like marrying a person that you figure you’re going to live with for the rest of your life. Not that it always works out, but there’s a good thought behind that. You have to believe in staying with a company that accepts you constantly and loves your work. There’s no better system than that.

GROTH: Was it an enormous jump for you knowing that you would own your own work as opposed to… You know, everything that you’d done up to that point was owned by the publisher.

ELDER: Yes, and I heard through Harvey or somebody that, at that time, Esquire magazine allowed you to keep your work as soon as it was published. I didn’t know about that. We had a little problem with that business of owning Humbug artwork after it’s been sold. I can’t say any more than that.

GROTH: You really jumped into this work and you didn’t own the copyright and you didn’t own the original art prior to Humbug.

ELDER: Well, we did the Goodman Beaver book, you know. Harvey had done Goodman Beaver before with another technique in a different book, but he handed me the stories and I went ahead and took them home for a couple of months doing all these stories for Goodman Beaver. It turned out to be a well-received type of art but it didn’t make a lot of money.

GROTH: I’m referring to the Mad and Panic work, which you really threw yourself into and yet you didn’t own the copyright or the original art. Were you aware at the time of a feeling that that was wrong?

ELDER: I was kind of ignorant. I was a young man ready to be raped, ripe to be raped. Little did I know until things were finished with and were over and out that I realized what had happened. I’m a little smarter now than I was yesterday, but yesterday is what paid off.

GROTH: When you started at Humbug, and you realized that you would retain the rights to your work and ownership of the original art, did you recognize that as an important change for you?

ELDER: Yeah. For aesthetic reasons. I wasn’t going to make a fortune out of it, although I understand you can get quite a bit of money for a lot of original work today. But once you do that, the money is spent. The money that you get for the original art is spent, and you don’t have your work any more. It’s gone and God knows who has it and who makes more money selling it. So I figured that if I didn’t hold onto it I’d be a fool not to, because I have a family I can leave it to. I can’t tell them what to do with it after I’m gone. So it’s a case where either they would keep it around as a remembrance or if they needed money in a hurry or in an emergency they can get something for it. But I’d hate to see them do that, and they would hate to be doing it. But it’s funny with Humbug, because that is the one place where all the artists figured they would get their art back and I still don’t have it.

GROTH: It looked to me like you were definitely trying to duplicate the kind of magazine Trump was on a tighter budget.

ELDER: Yeah, it was on a tighter budget, because it was our budget.

GROTH: Right, but you were definitely trying to be a little more sophisticated than Mad.

ELDER: Oh, yeah. In fact, we tried to capture an audience that had more wits and sense than what they had following Mad. I had more room to move in that type of cartoon. That’s all I can remember. It was something a little more sophisticated than MadMad was growing up very fast. It became successful the first four issues, very successful. But to go on that way, you just keep repeating yourself. I found that very early. I did it because I needed the money.

GROTH: The strips you did in Humbug, none of them was based on comics. They were based on television and movies. I assume that was a deliberate strategy to break out of the narrow confines of comic books?

ELDER: Yeah. In fact, I did less and less of the comic section.

GROTH: Can you tell me how the bureaucracy at Humbug worked? Did you still work at home?

ELDER: Yes, I worked at home for most of my career. I found that I needed quiet and privacy to get the work done and to hit my deadlines. I had the freedom to get up and leave for a while if I wanted or if I got tired or bored I would just look out the window and look at the birds. I think I was more productive without the distractions of a busy studio.

GROTH: I assume Harvey wrote all of the scripts that you did in Humbug?

ELDER: Yeah. I think we’d both sit on his back porch. Whenever he ran into a wall, I would supply ideas if I could. Generally, I did. I have a very good memory for old movies, and movies were widespread throughout the land. Everybody had movie ads in their local newspapers. Small towns, middle size towns and large cities — they all had these sections on the arts like the New York Times. Maybe not as elaborate, but we had many of the ads advertised in newspapers. Those were ready for satire.

GROTH: Let me ask you a few questions, first about the strips and then about the advertising parodies that you did. Did Harvey come up with the choices of what you parodied, or did you guys talk about it and shoot a number of ideas back and forth?

ELDER: Well, when it came to Harvey and myself we sat wherever we could sit and think and throw ideas at each other. If they were pretty good and made us both laugh heartily we would put a check that this was one story to recover from a maximum amount of ideas.

GROTH: So, were you involved in choosing the satirical subjects? Like you did “Around the Days in 80 Worlds.” You did the “Cannon with a Passion.” Were you involved in choosing which ones you did?

ELDER: Most of the time. Most of the time. I would choose because I knew Harvey suggested it. Let me put it that way. He would take the idea and have me go to a movie. I went to the Victoria Garden theatre or somewhere in town and they were playing Around the World in 80 Days. It was wonderful for satire. In the first place, there were a million people in it. It was a great movie that could show itself off and make a fool of itself. That’s the point. The point is you can’t fool the people all of the time, and we were working for the proletariat.

GROTH: Is that how you felt at the time, that you were being read by middle-class, working-class Americans?

ELDER: Yeah. Just by where we were from, we had the underdog view of things. So when it came time to satirize a movie or TV show we just naturally took our own point of view, which was much further below middle class, so it was easy for us to see the funny things in something that was supposedly from an upper-class view. Everything was upper class to us from where we came from.

GROTH: You parodied the TV show, which I think was originally called You Are There, with Walter Cronkite. You also parodied a TV show called To Tell the Truth, which you called Why Tell the Truth? Were those really significant TV shows at the time?

ELDER: At the time, they were. Everybody had a TV set at the time and what they saw on it was more or less shoved down their throats. We had very little choice. We made fun of that fact that we had very little choice, in our own little way, with Sgt. Bilko. That was funny. Matt Hyken was the writer. Hyken was a master at humor, I thought. He had all of these dropouts join the army and make nothing of themselves. He promised a great career. There were a lot of things that you more or less gave a twist. It was a formula in many ways, that became overdone if the formula became very plain and unappreciated. I got tired of it. I didn’t think that there was that much else to make fun of. You have a big war, and so much happens that can affect the outcome of anything.

GROTH: One thing that occurred to me was that you used these square balloons in all of the strips with typeset copy.

ELDER: Oh, yes.

GROTH: I was wondering why that decision was made, because it seemed to sort of jar against your very organic drawings.

ELDER: Well, they were placed in an area that wouldn’t interfere with any of the ideas and drawings if we could do that, and we did that most of the time. And as far as the squaring off of the balloons, they were rounded at the points. That’s to give it class. It made it look like a well-organized magazine.

GROTH: Whose idea was it to typeset rather than hand letter the balloons?

ELDER: I couldn’t tell you that. What I saw I liked. It made my ideas and humor more sophisticated than ever.

GROTH: That’s how you felt?

ELDER: Sure.

GROTH: I wanted to revisit the ad parodies you did in Trump and Humbug and in the later Mads. You were that post-WWII generation that experienced this enormous boom in advertising and consumerism, so your parodies of these ads fit right into the zeitgeist of the times. I’m wondering how political you were at the time and what exactly you felt you were doing. Did you feel that you were being subversive in some way?

ELDER: I didn’t think so. I think that there were people out there who read what we put out who were more aware that things shouldn’t be taken too heavily, because it’s advertising and they live by it. The corporations live by it. They must advertise in order to be known. We brought it down a couple of pegs, because it had to be shown that these ads were more or less making fun of us. It wasn’t the ad necessarily. It wasn’t the ad that we were making fun of, it was the people who pushed the ad who gave us another rendition of the ad by saying nothing about cancer of the lungs from smoking cigarettes. We had the Ed Sullivan show, which had sometimes had second-class humorists, comedians appear because they were just starting their careers. They had a future if they were popular on the show. That applied to most anybody who wanted to have an advertisement about what they did and who did it.

GROTH: So did you work from the premise that advertising was basically deceitful and that you wanted to poke fun at how —

ELDER: That’s a good argument. They were deceitful in many ways. They weren’t harmful, because deceit and harm can go hand in hand. But they were more or less — I’m trying to think of a good word that would place it in the proper position. They didn’t exactly represent the ideas of people who bought the magazine. I think that people who bought the magazine thought that the advertisements were nothing but just that. They were nothing to them. They weren’t truthful.

GROTH: How did you go about putting the ads together? That was a collaboration between you and Harvey as well, wasn’t it?

ELDER: Yeah, it was pretty collaborative for all of us. We all got together with Humbug and we did the same with Trump. It seemed to work because occasionally we’d come back with a late idea if we waited until the last minute. Usually, you had to be very good in order to be part of the story or whatever we wanted to satirize.

GROTH: You mentioned the advertisement for cigarettes that you did, which was really funny. It had the guy and the girl running joyously through the Q. The guy smashes into it — a nice metaphor for the damage cigarettes cause.

ELDER: That’s more sophisticated than anything else, because without seeing what happened, you knew right away what happens. The idea of coming up with the same source that we had to begin with makes that commercial very popular and very famous.

GROTH: Or the Chanel ad with the cockroach in the elegant perfume bottle.

ELDER: Reminds me of the good old days.

GROTH: Roughly speaking, what would Harvey do and what would you do on the ad parodies? What was the creative process like?

ELDER: Harvey would lay out the thing very crudely, very roughly, because he expected us to finish the drawing. When I finished the drawing I would show it to Harvey. He might object to it, but he was the person we were supposed to get in touch with in terms of accepting an idea or adding a few new ideas. He would tell us what to do: “Go ahead and fix this or that” and “Go ahead and finish it.” It took me about a week for a very responsible ad, a very subjective, a very busy ad. He cut it down for instance. He added the back page, from Russ Heath, which was very good. Petty Girl. She had glass all over her. That was waiting for a satirical artist to come along.

GROTH: In fact, Russ Heath looked like he was trying to get as close to your technique as possible — and succeeded.

ELDER: Well, the thing is, the style that TrumpHumbugPlayboyMad — We would set out stories with a style that was acceptable by most people out there. In fact, some of them thought that they were photographic. The only regret I have is that I didn’t want people to think that we worked with photographs. It was rendered in every way. Especially the Queen Victoria in her limousine riding down the streets of New York and people opening up windows and checking her out, yelling “Long Live the Queen.” And Prince Albert is sitting in the back seat. That could never be duplicated as a photograph. It wasn’t. It was line work.

GROTH: I thought one of your best pieces was Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly.

ELDER: Yes. There’s a bread that’s called Jenny. Jenny… What’s the name of the hotel again? My wife is in the other room. I should call her. She has a memory like an elephant.

GROTH: I should be interviewing her.

ELDER: You’re right. I’ve forgotten the name of the hotel, but she loved the hotel and she advertised it. The idea was, the man who has everything having a round table in the scene — if you remember, the round table with the baseball on the top. That was by Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series. He’s got the ball. It’s worth a couple of million dollars.

GROTH: Art Larsen.

ELDER: He owns that and he has a picture of Eisenhower up on the wall with all of his medals, and Eisenhower as a baby on the bear rug, with his tush sticking up. That’s Eisenhower. All of the things that were extremely valuable at the time; inspecting the industries of Russia.

GROTH: Oh, you’re talking about this note from Jenny.

ELDER: Jenny. Jenny… what the heck is her last name? It was a very famous hotel at the time.

GROTH: These advertisements were painted, right?

ELDER: They’re painted in black paint.

GROTH: What medium did you use?

ELDER: I used watercolor and sometimes tempera.

GROTH: Prior to doing these painted ad parodies, when you were just doing the black-and-white work for Mad, what experience did you have with painting?

ELDER: I started painting in junior high school in the Bronx. It was a very new school at the time that encouraged young talent to come to that school. I was in seventh grade and we had an art contest and my name was in the school newspaper that I had won a prize. That was the thrillingest moment in my life, having someone recognize me and tell me good things about myself. My ego was well taken care of that day. I said, “I can do this again because it’s fun.” When it’s fun, you stick with it.

GROTH: Throughout the time that you did work for Mad, were you painting for yourself, honing your skills?

ELDER: I was, but it was sporadic painting. Not steady or involved; it was nothing serious.

GROTH: The first real professional painting I know of is when you started doing the ad parodies for the magazine issues of Mad.

ELDER: I told Harvey, “I think I can do that.” He said, “Let me see it.” So finally I drew up something and he was satisfied. He thought I could handle the photographic ads quite well.

GROTH: Did that take a big adjustment from all of the pen-and-ink work that you were doing?

ELDER: Not at all. I brag about being one of the very few people who can paint both illustrative work and cartooning. And besides all of that, I had a good sense of humor. I had every aspect going for me. I figured I wasn’t going to be going hungry much because I had these things that saved me when I needed them.

GROTH: So you basically adapted your pen-and-ink technique to painting?

ELDER: I could have done both. In fact, I did both if it called for something like that.

GROTH: Well, you did both in Humbug every issue, virtually.

ELDER: Virtually.

GROTH: Well, in #5 you didn’t have a comic strip at all.

ELDER: It varies. There isn’t a formula where you have to continue doing the same thing every week or every month. Why? Illingsworth did that and did it very well. Do you know who Illingsworth is?

GROTH: The British cartoonist.

ELDER: Wonderful cartoonist. Not only a cartoonist, he was an illustrator and he was great. He’s one of the people I admire. He more or less set the stage for me. I wanted to be another Illingworth, but not copy his work, because that would be sort of a plagiaristic attitude.

Oh, by the way, I just thought of the name of the hotel. I kept at it. I took my time. Grossingers.

GROTH: Grossingers. That’s right. It’s in the ad parody.

ELDER: She says, “Next to you, Prince, Grossinger’s on everything.” Which was a very funny statement. A lot of the humor is the times. It depends on the time that it was told or used. If humor falls beyond the ken of being recognized, then you’ve failed at what you started out to do.

GROTH: Humbug lasted for 11 issues.

ELDER: That’s correct.

GROTH: I understand that you put in your own money?

ELDER: It happened to work out almost as a big mistake.

GROTH: I think ultimately it failed partly because it wasn’t being distributed properly.

ELDER: Well, I felt it was the way it was presented. The presentation of that material lost its smashing qualities. Putting your money into it made you work overtime whether you liked it or not. If you wanted to come out in the black, and we were constantly in the red. The publishers in Connecticut wanted to see more results. They held the reins and nothing ever came of it and it slowly died.

GROTH: When it eventually died, how much of a blow was that to you?

ELDER: Well, it was a blow when I had to borrow money from my mother-in-law.

GROTH: I guess that’s a blow.

ELDER: Almost a vital blow. We lost a lot of money. We thought maybe we needed one successful issue that would bring us up to even and it never came. Although the stuff in that magazine was superior to anything we’d done in the past. It was just badly presented. It wasn’t a comic book and it wasn’t a periodical — what was it? They never knew.

GROTH: Do you think the format just wasn’t slick enough?

ELDER: That might have helped. It should have been thicker. Advertising should have handled part of it. I think we missed the advertising because they make up a great deal of the financial background of most things.

GROTH: Was there a decision not to take advertising?

ELDER: We just couldn’t afford it.

GROTH: You couldn’t afford to hire a salesman?

ELDER: We couldn’t get anyone to advertise in it. We weren’t anybody. A corporation or company of any kind would look at the magazine and say, “I’m not putting my product into that book.”

GROTH: I think you did five Goodman Beaver stories. You did the Tarzan parody.

ELDER: We wanted to give it a face and a content that was unmatched by any other satire. It was never going to be in Mad magazine or Panic or any of the other humor magazines, more popular magazines. We wanted something that had a lot of class and artistry, something known not only for its stories but for its artistic adventures. We wanted to get popular ones so it was recognizable. Our humor may not be very funny in China and vice versa, but here was a magazine that had something for everyone. The artistic endeavors in the magazine were first class, I thought. We found that out through our mail. We were getting very good responses. The thing is, nobody bought it and it was very expensive to reproduce. I had to lengthen, by I think… a lot of ideas that were my own many years ago I revised and put them in Goodman Beaver. But the main ideas of the stories were there. Goodman Beaver meets Superman. Superman is very well known amongst the comics crowd. And Goodman — what’s the name of the guy in the sea? It has something to do with the ocean.

Art from "Goodman Meets S*perm*n," as it appeared in later paperback collections

GROTH: Oh, Lloyd Bridges.

 

ELDER: Lloyd Bridges. That series with Lloyd Bridges was very, very popular on TV. So we got the movies and we got TV and we had another newspaper involved.

GROTH: I assume you and Harvey would work the same way. He would supply layouts?

ELDER: Exactly. It was very comfortable for both of us to work that way. He knew exactly what was to be done on my behalf and vice versa.

GROTH: I gather that an awful lot of the pleasure that you derived doing comics was in the actual hands-on sitting down and drawing, composing each panel and stuffing them with gags. I mean, apart from the narrative itself, the actual physical act of drawing.

ELDER: Yeah. I would say it was true. Sitting down and doing something I like was a joy. But when that began to ooze and leak and I suddenly become mortified, it was time to move on. Luckily, I was reaching the age that I was taking it easier and easier and not doing the work I used to do, which was very painstaking. Once I found it painstaking, it wasn’t the same me working on Goodman Beaver. Goodman Beaver had to be totally enjoyable, and it wasn’t getting that way at all.

GROTH: Well, you certainly put the work into it, though.

ELDER: I’m very aware of fans based upon letters I get, believe it or not. They want to see more of this or more of that. That was an impetus to do a little better than I had been. I was given the full, free rein of making a comic strip. I gave a little tiny masterpiece. I was very hell-bent on doing that. We weren’t getting paid much. We really had very little in the way of deadlines to worry about. It was a perfect setup for doodling and putting doodling in a magazine. It was the best thing I ever did. Of course, this is personal thinking on it. Many people would disagree.

GROTH: What did you mean when you referred to maybe the creative fulfillment draining out of it or oozing out? Toward the end of the Goodman Beaver run?

ELDER: Well, working at such a pace. The stories were wonderful and I thought the gags were plentiful. Wonderful and plentiful — two important words, at least they were to me. If you can reach a height of humor, the very best that you can do, a Hemingway type of technique, it takes a lot longer and it is more difficult than ever to make it consistent. But it paid off in the end. I can remember I looked at a page after it was finished and I’d say, “There’s a job of sweat and saliva!” To this day, as I look through my work in Humbug, it has the same qualities of Goodman Beaver.

GROTH: Well, by the time that you did Goodman Beaver, were you feeling that you were putting an awful lot of work into something but not getting remunerated sufficiently?

ELDER: It’s the way I worked. I was working very hard. At the time, I didn’t know that I was working hard until I collapsed at the end of the day.

GROTH: You were kept going by adrenaline?

ELDER: I had no more adrenaline. Waterproof.

GROTH: Are you describing a situation where you were sort of running out of steam at that point?

ELDER: I would say so. Yeah. I’m not afraid to say so. I think that was the truth, that I was getting tired of it. I found the humor good. I look back at some of the stuff at the height of our career and I’m very proud of it. I’m very happy about what I’ve done. I have something to leave behind, if it ever does get left behind. But it gave me joy while it lasted. That’s more than I could ask for.

GROTH: You seem to be describing the fun slowly leaking out. Could that have been because Trump and Humbug were ultimately failures? They just didn’t work out. It seems to me like you had a couple of problems. One is that much of the work that you did you didn’t own. All of the Mad work was work for hire. And the work that you did own, which was Humbug and Help! you weren’t paid particularly well for.

ELDER: If I could interrupt you just a moment, Gary. When it came to not getting paid for the work, it didn’t bother me because I enjoyed looking at the work. That, to me, had longevity. Getting paid for it is very frugal and disappearing. It’s completely gone. What I have in my art work; that’s just what I want. That tells me of better times. It’s a nostalgic thing, I find, having these stories much more read. It did pay off in that respect.

GROTH: But there must have been pressures, because you were married and had three kids.

ELDER: That’s right. The pressures of having a family have dwindled over the years. It also helped me, not waste, but use my time in a position where I can enjoy what I’m doing without needing to get paid for it or supporting other people.

GROTH: Did you have any insight in terms of how Harvey felt about Help! and how he felt about the magazine in relation to the publisher? Was that a good experience?

ELDER: He never really exposed that to me. Harvey was very mysterious. I had no reason to doubt him, because we worked so closely together. We had things to do and we were obligated and it kept us very busy. I never could come up with anything against any of the artists. In fact, Jack Davis was very outgoing when he’d get started, and friendly. These people were so embedded in their work that you can’t approach them. Except when Bill Gaines called a meeting or we’d round up the guys to go on a trip. That’s the only time that we ever did see most of each other. Graham Ingels more or less saw this as… He didn’t care for Mad magazine, I don’t think. He wanted to be an artist. And he did become one who taught a class to young women in Florida. Everyone loved his Copley style.

I never did try to find out what made Harvey do those things. Having the art, that was my main interest. Getting paid didn’t matter to me. I had money from other sources so I didn’t need to go that way.

GROTH: Are you talking about illustration work, things like that?

ELDER: Some of that and some fine-art painting. I spend my time now painting, not as much as I used to. But when I do, I take some of my old paintings out. It’s a release. My old paintings represent the style that I developed through Mad and Humbug and all of the magazines.

GROTH: Were you involved in fine-art painting in the ’50s and the ’60s?

ELDER: Only on occasion. I was too busy to spend most of my time doing that. In fact, that happened in the magazines. When I was given an assignment to make something out of ATT, say for instance. Or bird watchers when they’re running through a man’s garden. [Canadian Clubbed] Do you remember that one?

GROTH: Yes. The ad parody.

ELDER: That was back in the magazine Mad. That should have been realistic, but at the same time it was a farce. The guy was drunk at the end. He was actually sitting in the birdhouse. If I came up with an idea that had some class, I would go to Harvey and ask him what he thinks.

GROTH: So much of what you and Harvey did together was essentially poking holes in American pop culture.

ELDER: Yeah. I would agree with that.

GROTH: Essentially showing how inane some of it is and was. Goodman Beaver, for example. Superman, and TV shows such as Sea Hunt. Harvey’s brand of satire seemed to be obsessed with the fantasy of American pop culture versus reality. Did you share that point of view?

ELDER: I would say to a limit, to a limit. I wouldn’t go that far. What I wanted to see done was young people getting a good break, I mean a lot of young people who are considered second-class citizens no matter what they do. That was wrong. In the first place, it closes the economy. It ruins the economy if you’re going to neglect a very important part of our population. There were times when I thought that I was doing something just for myself. When I started getting mail, I saw that there were other people who were just as much affected by what I did. So I thought I must have been doing something right, and that I understood their problems. Not to a healthy degree, but in general, I understood their problems.

GROTH: I assume you’re talking in particular about the ’60s?

ELDER: The ’60s. That’s when Marilyn Monroe died. A lot of people went berserk because of that. It was a wicked year.

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One Response to The Will Elder Interview

  1. Pingback: Comic Book Greats: Will Elderdraw2d2 | draw2d2

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