Harvey Kurtzman (October 3, 1924 February 21, 1993) was an American artist, cartoonist, writer and editor, best known for his work at EC Comics and its MAD magazine. He is considered to be one of the greatest and most influential satirists of the 20th Century.
Born in Brooklyn, New York to Ukrainian Jewish emigres, Kurtzman showed a precocious talent from an early age. He was quite inspired by the great newspaper strips of The '30s and The '40s with his favorite being Will Eisner's The Spirit. He attended the famous High School of Music and Art (now called the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music and Art) and worked professionally on minor gigs before being drafted in 1943 but ended up serving in reserve, stationed in American bases rather than being deployed overseas. In 1949, he found work at Educational Comics, soon relabeled as Entertaining Comics by William "Bill" Gaines with Kurtzman employed as artist and editor.
Kurtzman initially worked on a series of war comics, titles like Frontline Combat or Two-Fisted Tales. As editor/writer, he would lay out and write detailed scripts and insist that artists and collaborators follow it to the letter, which tended to bristle with some of his more independent collaborators. Kurtzman also had moral concerns about the horror content of EC which would prove ironic given the later direction of his career. His major success was Mad which established his reputation as a fearless satirists taking on pop-culture sacred cows. These satires were not like Mel Brooks' Affectionate Parody, rather they were Deconstructive Parody, driven by Kurtzman's genuine dislike and outright hatred for Superman, Popeye, Mickey Mouse and above all else, Archie Comics (which he repeatedly lampooned multiple times in his career). Kurtzman generally disliked the infantile nature of American pop culture of his time, as well as sought to expose the authoritarian, patriarchal, sexist, and consumerist values that lay behind them. They are also, unfortunately for the targets, excellent comics, wonderfully written, hilarious, brilliantly drawn and filled with many experimental and creative touches.
Kurtzman, however, proved too independent and clashed with Gaines. He was also souring on the comics market and he sought out what we would now identify the niche established with the graphic novel. In 1959, Kurtzman published "Jungle Book" which was the first mass-market comics put out by a major publisher (Ballantine Books). It didn't sell well though Kurtzman deserves credit for opening a breakthrough. During this time, Kurtzman worked with Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame (he started out as a former comics artist and publisher) and worked on magazines like Trump, Help! and most famously the strip, Little Annie Fanny, which ran in Playboy's pages. The irony of a man with a moral dislike for American patriarchy and consumerism working for a nudie mag was not lost on Kurtzman and he proceeded to bite the hand that fed him in his work there, with stories such as Young Goodman Beaver satirizing Playboy itself, and the issues of Little Annie Fanny itself. Eventually he and Hefner had editorial disputes and he left. Kurtzman spent his later life as an elder statesman being celebrated and lionized by the likes of Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Alan Moore among many others. Terry Gilliam who worked briefly with Kurtzman before moving to England cited him as an inspiration for his cartoons and the work of his collaborators on Monty Python's Flying Circus. He died 1993 after suffering from Parkinson's disease.
- EC Comics:
- Frontline Combat
- Two-Fisted Tales
- Superduperman! (Issue #4)
- Starchie! (Issue #12)
- Mickey Rodent (Issue #19)
- Goodman Beaver Stories
- Jungle Book
- Goodman Goes Playboy
- Little Annie Fanny
Tropes from his Works
- Betty and Veronica: Kurtzman parodied the Archie love triangle in Starchie in MAD where he basically sees this as a stunt pulled by a pick-up artist to manipulate the emotions of his Love Interest, string along women so he can exploit and use both of them. In this parody, Starchie ends up in jail and laments how he poorly treated Betty and cries when he hears that he got over him and is now Happily Married.
- The Everyman: Goodman Beaver which according to Kurtzman was a more accurate one than Archie, which he saw as an Audience Surrogate for dumb teenage boys and not an example of actual normal average Americans.
- Furry Reminder: The entire point of "Mickey Rodent" which keeps making fun and deconstructing how little Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto and others resemble the animals they represent.
- Loves My Alter Ego: Parodied along with Two-Person Love Triangle and other Silver Age Superman and Lois stuff in his MAD satire where upon realizing that Superduperman is secretly office loser Clark Bent, Lois Pain still rejects him. This was a spoof of the sexist assumptions that girls should be seduced by charismatic personas but ultimately settle for the dull "real guy" who they ignore:Lois Pain: "Once a creep, always a creep!"
- Those Two Guys: Often had this relationship with Will Elder in the early days. The two even returned to MAD for a spell between 1984-88, and all but a couple of their "return" articles were done in tandem.