Thursday, April 9, 2020

thanking Mort Drucker

Yesterday I listened to an audio interview with Kim Krans, the artist and author that created THE WILD UNKNOWN tarot deck. It was a beautiful interview (on the Fierce Womxn Writing podcast) where she spoke about her work habits and creative insights. Near the end of the interview the host asked if Kim had a writing prompt, and she shared a simple motivational exercise. Here’s a transcript from the end the interview. Kim said: 
Write a thank you letter to an author or artist—let them just come to mind. Like, what would I do without this person? Where would I be if I hadn’t had those books when I was younger, or now? So let them come to mind, and don’t second guess it. So once you have an author in mind, don’t change it. Stick with the first one that comes to mind, and you are going to write them a one page letter, handwritten, not on the computer. You get a piece of paper and simply thank them for not giving up. You can talk about how their work has helped you, but mostly you’re thanking them for not giving up. And then you sign it with the date. If you just write the letter, that’s wonderful. If you do the next thing, I promise you—you are entering into magical territory.

You put the letter in an envelope, you stamp it, and you address it to yourself. That way the letter becomes certified, they stamp it at the post office, and it goes through the mail and circulate in its own magical way. When it comes back to you, you open the envelope, and you read it again. So you are engaging in the letter both as a writer and as a receiver of the letter. And this will remind us of the bigger arc, the bigger picture—why it’s important to not give up on this much deeper call…
While I was listening to her, I thought I should do this. The very first person that came to mind was Mort Drucker. He’s an illustrator at MAD magazine with a remarkably lively pen and ink technique. He was the one artist who inspired me more than anyone else, and this admiration began when I was about eight years old, and has only gotten stronger in the last fifty years.

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk on a winding trail behind my home, and spent this quiet time composing the letter in my mind. 

Just a few minutes ago, I saw a facebook post from comic illustrator Drew Friedman, and he wrote: 
So sad to hear about the passing of the great Mort Drucker.
He died yesterday at the age of 91, the day I composed a letter in my head, thanking him for not giving up.  

The day before yesterday I sat on a log on the same winding trail, and quietly asked the universe for help. It was raining lightly as I spoke out loud:
Hello Universe, I am asking for help. I feel adrift. I need to get back in touch with the creative part of myself. I know I have more to offer, and I know I can still do good work. I am asking for some sign. I am open and responsive to whatever you have to offer. I thank you in advance.
Seems I got my sign.

More about Mort Drucker. He drew hands and wrinkles so beautifully. His drawings were meant to be funny (and they are) but, but beyond his humor—there is genius in his work. As a boy I would carefully copy his drawings using crummy office pens. He was a traditional “dipper” (dipping a brass nib into India ink). In my 20s I read an article where he spoke about the pen he used, the Gillott 404. I got a box of ‘em and I tired my best to mimic his glorious lines. 

Mort Drucker image from the parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Caricature of jazz pianist Bill Evans drawn by me with a Gillott 404

Portrait of Mort Drucker by Drew Friedman



Red Pill Junkie said...

I think I'd choose to send my letter to Nestor Redondo. He was a Filipino artist that had a huge impact in my life, because my mom used to buy me the Spanish version of the Pendulum Illustrated Classics books each month on our local newspaper stand. To this day I still possess a few of those old booklets, and I still marvel at his gorgeous inking style. Not sure what kind of nibs he used, tho.

Mike Clelland! said...

I wrote this on FACEBOOK when I heard the news that MAD magazine has now closed down. (July 2019)


“I never went to art school, I studied MAD Magazine instead.” That’s the first line of my official bio on my Amazon author page. The power of those illustrations inspired me in ways nothing else ever has.

It has been announced that after 67 years, MAD magazine has now closed down.

All through my youth, when my mom would come home from the grocery store, I would rush to search the brown paper bags in hopes of finding a new MAD magazine. If one was there, the feeling of joy in that moment would be indescribable.

Near the end of my mother’s life she suffered terribly from Alzheimer’s, and lived in an assisted living facility near my sister’s home in North Carolina. My father had died the year before, and she didn’t know he was gone.

It seemed helpful to get my mother out and doing things, so my sister and I drove around and did some errands with her.

When we went to the grocery store and after a little while it was obvious she was confused and upset. I told my sister we should probably leave and take her home, and she agreed. I walked with her to the checkout counter.

We all stood in line together, and I saw a copy of MAD on the magazine stand. I whispered to my sister to give mom a couple of dollars, and then I took her over to the stand.

I said, “Look mom, there’s a new issue of MAD magazine.”

She picked it up, carried it to the checkout and bought it for me.

It would be impossible to convey the sad beauty of that moment. I was 50 years old, and felt the same perfect joy as I did when I was nine.

Brizdaz (Darren) said...

Life is full of tragic and magic Mike.
I met the two actors from '2001: ...' pictured in that drawing above in 2018 at a cinema screening of the movie in my Australian hometown of Brisbane, and wrote a post about it called '9/11 Screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey?' at my blog -

Two days after that screening date the actor who voiced HAL in the movie passed away on November 11th, 2018 (11/11).
It's a small magic and tragic world that we all live and die on ... and maybe more than once, too;-)

Delorus said...

Dear Mike, I too loved Mad and loved every drawing and thrilled to the parodies of the conventional world, subversive thinking not very available in Michigan's UP, unless you could John Birch literature haha.
Every artist was a genius and even tha margins were not wasted. No ads.
I am sending you love and thanks Mike for sharing your story . I saw the unexplainable as a kid too but never documented it, I don't think I wanted to deal with explaining it to others who would be curious and possibly judgmental. When a group of people fired up blogs of helpful heartfelt clearly presented experiences, you were one of them. It is good to know others have been as perplexed as me, with no hope of answers unless they show up and bless us or eat us or gas up.
Be of good heart, owl eyed observer, drawer of the barely seen.
Your longtime reader, Delorus

Brizdaz (Darren) said...

You might find this recent post of mine interesting Mike -

...or not, whatever.
Just keep swimming, and don't drift in the dark waters we are all now swimming through.
Or as Jake Kotze might say ... "sync, don't swim."