Bob Clarke, R.I.P.

Bob Clarke, one of the most prolific and versatile artists in MAD magazine, died yesterday from complications of pneumonia. He was 87.

Clarke began his career as a professional cartoonist at the age of 15, assisting and eventually drawing much of the popular syndicated panel, Ripley's Believe it or Not. He would later draw parodies of it for MAD. While serving in the army, he contributed artwork to Stars and Stripes, then upon discharge found gainful employment as an advertising illustrator. Among other accounts, he is said to have designed the label on Cutty Sark whisky.

He was stagnating (he felt) in all that advertising work in 1956 when he heard MAD might be looking for artists. MAD was. Its original editor Harvey Kurtzman had departed and taken two of the publication's most valuable cartoonists, Jack Davis and Will Elder, with him. New editor Al Feldstein needed folks who could draw and when he saw Clarke's samples, he instantly knew he had a godsend. Clarke had a knack for working in other artists' styles and was especially skilled at replicating the look and feel of commercial illustrators and advertising artists. Whatever MAD wanted to spoof in print, Clarke could make the spoof look like the original.

His work first appeared in #30 (December, 1956) and he had four articles in the next issue, four in the one after, etc. For a long period, he rarely had less than two. He did covers (including the famous 1960 flip covers congratulating both Nixon and Kennedy on their victories) and when Spy Vs. Spy creator Antonio Prohias became unable for health reasons to draw his famous feature, Clarke took it over. He began to cut back in the nineties and only made a few cameo reappearances in the publication after 1997.

He was a great talent, much loved by his compatriots. Tom Richmond, who's part of the current Usual Gang of Idiots contributing to MAD, has some thoughts about him here.