Look Here: “Cigar Store Indian, 1957,” by Jack Davis

Here’s a JPEG of Jack Davis’s original artwork for “Cigar Store Indian, 1957″ (with the note “HUMBUG #3″ at the top), along with a scan of the piece as it was printed in Humbug #4:

[CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE]

What is immediately evident when one compares the two images above is how much detail was “lost in translation” from the original artwork to the printed page. In the original, Davis’s precisely crosshatched shadows are alive with atmosphere and reflected light. In the reproduction, however, the ink has sunk into the cheap paper to such an extent that Davis’s linework is made to appear a lot more heavy handed that it really is, with carefully designed tonal values congealing at the darker end of the scale into unintended masses of inky blackness. The loss of crucial detail is nowhere more obvious than on the plinth of the statue, which actually contains a lot more text — text that is integral to the joke that the drawing is intended to convey — than was visible to the readers of Humbug (see above), or even to the readers of the two-volume, slip-cased Humbug reconstruction that was published by Fantagraphics Books in 2009. However, unlike the fine folks at Fantagraphics, who clearly didn’t have the original artwork for “Cigar Store Indian, 1957,” on hand when they produced their magnificent tribute to the genius of Harvey Kurtzman and his co-conspirators at Humbug, Kurtzman and Davis would have been painfully aware what sort of damage the dodgy reproduction of Humbug #4 had inflicted on the gag on page three.

UPDATE (16 March 2011):

In an interview with Jeffrey H. Wasserman published in the fanzine Inside Comics #2 (Summer 1974), Kurtzman explained how Humbug came into being and why, in his view, the project was fatally flawed from the first:

KURTZMAN: HUMBUG was a very sentimental undertaking. We all sat around the day after TRUMP was dropped… wondering whether to slash our wrists. Arnold Roth was the only one who kept his head about him. I was sitting with Jack Davis and Al Jaffee and Harry Chester and Arnold was the only one who could think constructively. He went down and got some booze. And in our subsequent drunken state, we decided to carry on and we came out with HUMBUG.

WASSERMAN: TRUMP was a super-slick effort, obviously intended to be well-financed. But HUMBUG was different. It retailed for 15 cents and…

KURTZMAN: HUMBUG was an attempt to work with 15 cents and publish a sensitive cartoon satire magazine. It was a disaster because it wasn’t a realistic effort at all. It totally ignored fundamental business sense. We were carried away by our talent and camaraderie and went ahead with HUMBUG anyway. But I think we turned out some of the most charming stuff that’s ever been done. The format was just so bad. It was like a fart in the wind.

It was a teeny-tiny book in black and white. It had nothing going for it except talent — at least that’s what we told ourselves. We were satisfied with that, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

You can read the entire interview here.

One thought on “Look Here: “Cigar Store Indian, 1957,” by Jack Davis

  1. On 15 March 2011, Mike Baehr over at the Fantagraphics FLOG! blog kindly linked to the above post. Here’s what he had to say:

    Ragged Claws Network posted this scan of an original Jack Davis page from the 3rd issue of Humbug — unfortunately we didn’t have this original when we were compiling our complete Humbug collection [which confirms my speculation above -- RC], but we have a scan on file now and it’s certainly a candidate for inclusion in the Jack Davis art book we’re putting out late this summer, Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture!

    While I definitely agree that “Cigar Store Indian, 1957″ is a beautiful piece of work, whoever is in charge of selecting the art for Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture!, please note: although the drawing is labelled “Humbug #3,” it was actually published in Humbug #4. I did note this in my post, but perhaps I wasn’t clear enough.

    For a little more info about the upcoming Jack Davis art book, along with several nice scans of album covers with art by Jack Davis, see my post Heads Up: “Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture: A Career Retrospective.”

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