Will Elder:
The Mad Playboy of Art

by Will Elder
(Fantagraphics, 2004)

This comprehensive sampling of the work of zany master cartoonist Will Elder is simply magnificent. It is so because of the size, format and quality of reproduction of this 391-page trade paperback that reprints this artist's groundbreaking and influential work from the early 1930s to the present. A extensive biographical essay and the inclusion of "paintings, portraits, still lifes, caricatures, and sketches," certainly recommend the volume as well. But this retrospective is simply magnificent for one primary reason. There is no cartoonist, living or dead, better than wacky Will Elder.

Whoa, there, Nellie. Gushing a bit?


So, what distinguishes a great cartoonist from a competent one? Including a grasp of artistic technique and visual storytelling, there is:

1) Versatility: Elder mastered any style required by its subject, from "big-foot" cartooning to abstract painting to photographic realism.
2) Unique personal style: His is instantly recognizable.
3) Unique viewpoint: There is no other way to write it: Elder drew crazy funny, and was extremely influential for his "eye-pops" -- little visual and verbal puns peppered everywhere in his work.
4) Mastery of many media, including pencil, ink, wash, watercolor and acrylic or oilpaints.
5) Influence: In comics, television, editorial cartoons and motion pictures -- in a nutshell (his natural habitat), there is only one "Villie" Elder, and the history of comics is much richer because of his great gift.

The Mad Playboy of Art receives the highest recommendation for adult readers (because of nudity) in my 17-year history of reviewing comics.

by Michael Vance
15 July 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.