From the TCJ Archives

The Will Elder Interview

Will Does the Funnypages

GROTH: In general, I thought your most successful strips were the newspaper parodies.

ELDER: Yeah. I would say that there are so many that come close that I dare not say any one in particular is my favorite. They're all my favorite, because I put whatever I could into all of them.

GROTH: What I thought was so amazing was just how closely you were able to ...

ELDER: Copy the style?

GROTH: Yes. What kind of preparation did you do?

ELDER: Well, there's this philosophy behind that. If you don't make the thing look like the actual living undisturbed, unprecedented thing, you're not making your point. The point being if it's so close to the original artwork that it could fool any reader, then your gag is much stronger.

GROTH: Yes, it is, right. Because you're putting these exact likenesses into completely different contexts.

ELDER: You fool the reader. I do that with my wash in the advertisements.

GROTH: And you did many of them. You did Bringing Up FatherLi'l AbnerGasoline Alley, Katzenjammer KidsWash Tubbs —

Sequence from "Bringing Back Father" in Mad #17,

ELDER: You're naming them all. Those are my favorites.


GROTH: What kind of preparation did you have to do before you drew the strip itself? Did you sit down and study the original strips and work up sketches?

ELDER: Oh, yeah. That's a must. You must study them and see where he makes a certain expression and his linework is of a certain type. And his drama, his lighting in the cartoon has to be a certain original type. And I tried to capture the inner feeling of that particular strip.

GROTH: That sounds like an enormous amount of work before you even start drawing a strip.

ELDER: Yeah. It's like anything in life; you want something decent, you have to really rehearse. You find that a lot of good plays have a tremendous rehearsal period. And when they actually put the show on, it's just about a few minutes of the time that you had at first. Preparation is everything.

GROTH: So how long did it take you to prepare, on average, for parodying a strip?

ELDER: It's hard to say exactly how much time I had, but I would say about two or three days of steady work. Eight-hour, nine-hour, ten-hour days on and off. You know, many people comment on my ability to imitate the style without realizing what I really put into it. I wouldn't expect them to know, but I always had the impression that the fans thought I was up in my studio with a rubber stamp or something, and I was just able to punch this stuff out, but I put in a tremendous amount of time, research and effort in every story I did. I don't see how I could have done it any other way.

GROTH: How exactly would you go about doing that? Would you do sketches and drawings over and over again to get the feel of the strip and the artist's style and approach?

ELDER: Yeah. I would work in pencil very lightly so if I made a mistake it would be easily erased. But I would do pencil because it's flexible.

GROTH: Did you do a lot of preliminary sketching and drawing of the characters?

ELDER: Well, I did a minimal amount of sketching and drawing, because I thought, depending on the strip, something was very simple looking like Popeye. You know, he's a very original looking guy. A typical guy, with a round chin and his corn pipe, his one eye squinting. That sort of thing is very typical of Popeye.

GROTH: I assume you never kept any of your preliminary sketches and drawings you did?

ELDER: I try to, but I'm not sure how much survived. I'm going to keep looking, too, because I have a mess of stuff here in my studio.

GROTH: Did you and Harvey discuss what you wanted to do beforehand or did he simply say, "Let's do Joe Palooka this month," and you were open to whatever he proposed, or did you have preferences?

ELDER: Well, you hit it on the head the first thing you mentioned. We went over it, and he would describe it. He was very much in favor of having each artist according to his own ability and observations do a strip that he thought was right up their alley. And that, to me, was good captainship, if you want to call it that. He knew exactly what each artist was capable of doing. And if it was something zany or wacky and full of garbage, he'd hand it to me. He would hand straight comedy to Johnny Severin, Jack Davis, and Wally Wood.

GROTH: Did he ever suggest parodying a strip that you just didn't like? That is, where you simply weren't interested enough in the original strip to enjoy parodying it?

ELDER: Believe it or not there was a strip in Panic I didn't care for. It was with the young ladies. One was a brunette and one was a blonde. I forgot what it was called.

GROTH: "Mary Worthless"?

ELDER: No. No. It's not that. It's these two very beautiful women who live in a basement and their dad tells them to be careful going out with men.

GROTH: There was "The Heartaches of Joliet's Groans!"

ELDER: That's it. That's the one. Heartaches of Juliet something. Whatever.

GROTH: Who was the original artist on that one? Was that —

ELDER: A very good artist. I think his drawings were beautifully done. I never followed those stories very closely, but I just thought that they were a waste of time. They were very unexciting.

GROTH: So why were you less interested in doing that? Was it because it was so stylistically vapid that it wasn't a sufficient challenge?

ELDER: They never moved out of their space. They were always there, and they were talking about the men and they had Li'l Abner appear one time as one of the dates. It was a bunch of clichés that he did over and over again.

GROTH: And your drawing is noticeably less manic and more static.

ELDER: Right. It was just redoing the beautiful women. That could be done anywhere and anyplace. Lack of excitement.

GROTH: Some of the strips were really uncanny the way you caught them, like Alley Oop and Bringing Up Father.

ELDER: I had to do that, because it was a case of the ego in me. I figured, if he could do it, I could do it. In fact, it was a lot easier for me than it was for him, because he's got it laid out in front of me. All I do is use that same character and make him twisted. Do something ridiculously funny unexpectedly. So I had all of the advantages.

GROTH: The George McManus parody, which Krigstein contributed to...

ELDER: That was one of the better ones.

GROTH: Whose idea was it for you and Krigstein to sort of collaborate on that?

ELDER: That was Harvey.

GROTH: Do you think that worked?

ELDER: No. I didn't think ... They were very glum and dark and very disillusioned.

GROTH: Krigstein's part of it. Yeah.

ELDER: Krigstein may be a fine artist, but it just didn't work in this area. Because the whole thing was a parody to begin with, and to suddenly throw cold water on it is very disappointing.