Posts Tagged ‘oldest artist’

Photo: Gage Skidmore.
Cartoonist Sergio Aragonés speaking at the 2017 WonderCon in Anaheim, California.

I always feel admiration for people who love their work so much that they keep doing it well into their advanced years.

In today’s post, Michael Cavna of the Washington Post writes about the staying power of Mad Magazine’s oldest active artist.

“Sergio Aragonés had long read Mad magazine back in Mexico by the time he first landed in New York, toting fresh artwork and hope. He stepped through the humor outlet’s front doors 60 years ago, expecting to find the place as wild in spirit as the publication’s satirically hip pages. This was, after all, the home of the staff’s self-anointed ‘Usual Gang of Idiots.’

“Instead, the recent college student was introduced to a relatively staid Madison Avenue office. Where was the whimsy? The Mad-cap frivolity? This was no clubhouse of high jinks.

“ ‘I thought it was going to be a lot of jokes on the walls,’ Aragonés says by Zoom from his home in Ojai, Calif., where he celebrated his 85th birthday last month. After he was hired that day he walked in to sell his work, he suggested to publisher William Gaines, ‘Why don’t we paint one of the doors to make it look like an elevator, putting fake numbers at the top?’ and befuddling visitors attempting to exit. Or perhaps better yet: ‘Why don’t we put a bomb in the roof with the sound effect “tick-tock-tick-tock”?’

“ ‘Bill looked at me like: “Sergio, this is an office of working people.” He wanted the office to be very functional.’

“What cartoonists cannot create in life, however, they are armed to imagine on the canvas. So for a new comic, Aragonés has drawn busy Mad office workers momentarily donning character masks … to entertain kid visitors taking phone photos.

“That strip is among a selection that Aragonés contributed to a special edition of Mad [that] marks the magazine’s 70th anniversary. Although the outlet has predominantly reprinted past material since it ceased regular publication in 2019, most of this special edition will be original content, including a Johnny Sampson back-page ‘fold-in,’ a film parody of Robert Pattinson as ‘The Batman,’ and a mini-essay by fanJordan Peele, whose film Nope features a fictional Mad cover.

“The special edition also spotlights Aragonés’s status as the oldest artist currently drawing for Mad. … He says he has been blessed with six fruitful decades at the iconic magazine, which reached millions of monthly readers at its 1970s peak and influenced writers at such shows as The Daily Show and The Simpsons, as well as Judd Apatow and ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.

“Aragonés’s high standard for consistent creativity is legendary. For decades, he only missed contributing to a single issue, and that was because the mail from Europe was slow in the 1960s. The cartoonist, who also produces the fantasy comic book series ‘Groo the Wanderer,’ attributes his mental fertility to mixing things up creatively, from narrative stories to the wordless art for the Mad margins, his signature domain. ‘The variety of my field,’ he says with gusto, ‘allows me to never get tired of it.’ …

“ ‘I suspect if Sergio were to go and donate blood, ink would come out of him,’ says John Ficarra, former Mad editor in chief. ‘He is incapable of not drawing.’

“Aragonés acknowledges that he does not suffer writer’s block because cartooning is second nature: ‘Drawing has become like walking.’ …

“Aragonés was born in the Spanish province of Castellón, in Sant Mateu, but within six months, his mother fled the Spanish Civil War — Sergio in tow — while his father fought for the Republic. The family reunited a few years later, but by 1942 they were World War II refugees in Nazi-occupied France. They headed to the North American nation that would take them in: ‘I have a debt with Mexico I will never be able to repay.’ …

“In high school, Aragonés drew his own cartoons (a creative ‘form of escape,’ he says), which a classmate submitted to a humor periodical unbeknown to him. They were purchased and published, sparking his self-belief. …

“ ‘The humor that I do wasn’t popular in the United States because American humor is always based on words, the British inheritance of the punchline,’ he says. Pantomime humor lacked such respect in the States. …

Mad editors, though, valued Aragonés’s work immediately. They bought his cartoons featuring astronauts and asked for a piece on motorcycle cops. …

“ ‘When Mad accepted me, that was a change of life, a change of mind, a change of everything. Somebody liked what I did.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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