The Art of Harvey Kurtzman at the Museum of American Illustration: exclusive preview

Kurtzman's ground-breaking color rough for the cover of MAD #1 along with the printed cover (1952).

“I think Harvey’s MAD was more important than pot and LSD in shaping the generation that protested the Vietnam War. . . . Kurtzman was the single most significant influence on a couple of generations of comics artists.” — Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus

“In many ways Harvey was one of the godparents of Monty Python… [he] was one of the great idols of my generation of cartoonists.” — Terry Gilliam, director

“The covers of MAD #11 and Humbug #2 changed the way I saw the world forever!. . . Even though I’ve made a name in my own right, I still feel like a worshipful fanboy.” — R. Crumb

“After MAD, drugs were nothing!” —Patti Smith

“Had he not existed, I’d be a dull, humorless lout working in a muffler shop somewhere, and so would practically everyone I know. I shudder to think how horrible the world would be today without that which Harvey Kurtzman begat!” —Dan Clowes, creator of Ghostworld

My friends Monte Beauchamp and Denis Kitchen have curated a 120-piece exhibition showcasing the work of MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman. It opens March 8, 2013 at the Society of Illustrators in New York. It looks incredible.

The Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators is proud to present "The Art of Harvey Kurtzman," a diverse exhibition spanning the career of the man who created MAD and who had a broad and profound influence on American popular culture. This eight-week exhibit showcasing over 120 works will be on display March 6th through May 11th in the museum’s two-floor gallery in New York City’s Upper East Side.

Co-curators Monte Beauchamp (founder, editor, and designer of the comic art/illustration anthologies Blab! and Blab World), and publisher/cartoonist Denis Kitchen (co-author of The Art of Harvey Kurtzman and representative of the estate) have assembled the most comprehensive assemblage of Kurtzman art to date, culled from select private and family collections. Highlights include: Kurtzman life drawings from 1941; rarely-seen late '40s strips done for the New York Herald-Tribune as well as for Marvel's Stan Lee; key covers, strips and full stories Kurtzman created for MAD, Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, Humbug and Help!, sometimes in collaboration with fellow comics geniuses Will Elder and Jack Davis. In addition, "Kurtzmania," numerous rare artifacts and ancillary publications seldom seen by the public, will be on display.

Classic Kurtzman cover art to Frontline Combat #7 (1952)

Cartoonist, writer, and editor Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993) was the founding editor and creator of the most important comics satire magazine in twentieth century America — MAD. He later founded the satire publications TRUMP, HUMBUG, and HELP!, and created "Little Annie Fanny" for PLAYBOY, considered the most lavish comic strip ever assembled. The New York Times called Kurtzman “one of the most important figures in postwar America.”

Splash page to Kurtzman's "Corpse on the Imjin" (Two-Fisted Tales #25, 1952).
Kurtzman's thoughtful, more realistic and human depictions of war were in stark contrast with the competing gung-ho war comics of the day that glorified war

In MAD, starting in 1952, and later in other platforms, Kurtzman vigorously and fearlessly lampooned such American institutions as advertising, comic strips, government, movies, radio, and television — a medium then in its infancy. He was responsible for MAD’s moronic gap-toothed mascot Alfred E. Neuman, who became a national icon. Kurtzman created the magazine’s distinctive logo, drew many of the early covers, and wrote and laid out nearly all of the material for the historic first 28 issues, then he left abruptly in a bitter dispute over equity with E.C. publisher William M. Gaines in 1956.

Little Annie Fanny (cover to first collection, 1966).
In the pages of Playboy, editor Hugh Hefner enabled Kurtzman (with artist and key collaborator Will Elder) to lavish Little Annie Fanny with lush, hand-painted color on slick paper. The work was so time-consuming barely a half-dozen, three-five page Annie adventures appeared each year.

During his tenure at EC, Kurtzman also wrote and edited two ground-breaking war comics that refused to glorify war — Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. Following MAD and the short-lived Trump (published by Hugh Hefner), Kurtzman started Humbug in 1957, an experimental publication with Al Jaffee, Arnold Roth, Will Elder, Jack Davis, and Harry Chester. Humbug was the first creator-owned publication of its kind, but the naive partners lost their shirts on the ill-fated venture.

Cover to Trump #1 (January, 1957).
With Mad co-horts Will Elder, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, and Al Jaffee, Kurtzman created a first-class, full-color humor magazine, the likes of which had never been seen before. Backed by Playboy's Hugh Hefner, the series was short-lived. After only two issues, cash flow problems at Playboy put this venture to rest.

In his last magazine HELP! (1960-1965), Kurtzman gave national exposure to such fledgling cartoonists as Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Joel Beck, Jay Lynch, and Skip Williamson who would soon pioneer the Underground Comix movement of the late 1960s and early 70s. Kurtzman's first editorial assistant at HELP!, Gloria Steinem, would later become the founder of Ms. magazine and a feminist icon. Steinem’s replacement was an equally unknown college drop-out Terry Gilliam.

Cover to Humbug #1 (August 1957).
The former Trump artists rebounded and set forth to self-published their own humor magazine Humbug. The two-color series, printed on cheap newsprint, exhausted Kurtzman financially and after eleven issues, the title was abandoned.

Kurtzman spent the last quarter century of his career laboring with Will Elder over "Little Annie Fanny," a topical and sexy satiric strip for Playboy. He received both his highest visibility and harshest criticism for this feature. Fans who hated the sexist and formulaic nature of "Annie" urged him to create a contemporary variant of MAD, but four high stress magazines were enough for Kurtzman. His career was cut short by illnesses in the 1980s. When he died in 1993 glowing obituaries appeared in prominent publications throughout America and Europe, including a four-page tribute in The New Yorker.

EVENT: The Art of Harvey Kurtzman
OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION: Friday, March 8th, 2013, 7-11 PM
WHERE: Society of Illustrators, 128 East 63rd Street, NYC



  1. I love his work on the “war comics”. It is so free; like a cross between Jack Kirby and Hugo Pratt. All dynamism and shadows. If only Rob Liefeld would follow his lead.

    Great lettering too. Kudos to whoever was responsible.

  2. I have a couple of SVA student comic books from the era when Kurtzman was teaching at SVA in the 80s and editing the school comic publication. I always wondered if they were worth anything. They have some pieces by Boing Boing fav Drew Friedman in them too. Some of the comics are not good, but many are very interesting. Drew’s stuff was brilliant, even back then.

    I should scan some of it and post it to the g+ stream.

  3. A great American artist and visual innovator.  Mad, starting with the original paperbacks, were my bible growing up in the 50’s. 

  4. I was thrilled to meet Kurtzman in ’84, a quiet, polite shell of himself (at least that’s how he appeared). I got to ask him a stupid question at a panel — presumably, the answer was out there already in fanzines, and I should have known already — and he kindly signed an Executive’s Comic Book (“Where did you get this?”). Robert Crumb was there, and I think he sat in the audience like everybody else to watch his idol speak. Right there he was, the man who generated the most potent, powerful, mind-altering, concentrated doses of personality-altering comic books ever. It was a superb convention in many ways, but just seeing Kurtzman was the greatest honor.

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