Friday, May 23, 2008

R.I.P. Artist Will Elder

Will Elder: Comic-book artist who drew for 'Mad' magazine and co-created 'Little Annie Fanny' for 'Playboy'
One of the sacred cows the pair parodied was Archie Comics, a firm whose comic books were ultra-family and ultra-pure. Kurtzman and Elder had recognisable Archie Comics characters attending a Roman-style orgy in what looks suspiciously like the Chicago Playboy mansion, having signed a pact with the Devil (who bore a remarkable resemblance to Hugh Hefner). This would have been acceptable if the strip had been left in Help!, but Kurtzman and Elder included it in a paperback collection, Executive's Comic Book (1962). Hefner guffawed; Archie Comics sued. And won.

Out of this débâcle Elder and Kurtzman dreamed up the perfect meal ticket: "Little Annie Fanny" – a comic strip featuring a beautiful blonde innocent-at-large: a grown-up version of Harold Gray's "Little Orphan Annie" but with staggeringly colossal breasts whose clothes fell off at the slightest puff of wind, and whose lot it was to suffer the most outrageous and hilarious sexual indignities and misadventures in each episode's final panels. A delighted Hugh Hefner bought the strip for Playboy, where it ran pretty well monthly for over 25 years.

Elder was born Wolf William Eisenberg in the Bronx, New York in 1921. He attended the New York High School of Music and Art; fellow alumni included Kurtzman, John Severin and Al Jaffee (later a cartoonist on Mad). He studied at the National Academy of Design in Manhattan before being drafted into the US Army, serving with the 668th Topographical Engineers. One of his tasks was drawing maps for the 1944 D-Day landings in Normandy.

After the war he changed his name to Elder, and set up (with Kurtzman and another artist, Charles Stern) as a freelance art studio supplying comic-strips to various publishers.

He left us May 14th, but this long obit is the first I've heard.

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