Chicken Fat

This morning my brother Bill got me thinking about Will Elder, the fantastic illustrator behind legendary MAD Magazine art and Little Annie Fannie as well as others. Here’s a link to his bio, I’m not going to attempt to fill in all the details: WILL ELDER

What made his stuff so great (other than the sheer brilliance of his style itself)  was the addition of what he called “Chicken Fat”, a myriad of sight gags nestled within the illustration that was there for no reason but to make it a joy to pour your eyes over the page. Often, a series of panels depicting the same scene would change dramatically in regards to signs on the wall. critters scurrying about, you name it. It seems that I’m always in a rush to get a cartoon finished and have no time for such lofty goals. It’s a shame. I’d be a hell of a better cartoonist if I made the time!

Here’s a couple off examples of Elder’s shenanigans.

In this one, just spend a little time on the details. This is from Goodman Beaver Meets S*perm*n.

He stated that his intentions with his drawings were to keep the viewer busy for a week. Folks would tell him in his later years that they were still finding new gags in his work.

You need to see to pages in a row to get the idea of how Elder would juggle elements around in a scene. Here are two consecutive pages from Goodman Beaver meets T*rz*n.

Is that dome under their feet the top of the Empire State building?

Great stuff, eh? I’m hoping to get a copy of the new boxed set of Humbug available now. I haven’t seen much of that stuff.

Later on, as MAD transitioned into a Magazine and Elder had left, Mort Drucker did his best to continue with the chicken fat tradition. A master himself, Mort didn’t hold a candle to the king of chicken fattiness himself  but he still kills.  Here’s a panel from 1965’s Son of Mighty Joe Kong. I love the way Drucker drew Doris Day’s freckles.

You can see the many spaces Elder might have slipped something in here and there. Drucker adds just a couple, for example this little dude in the jet. What I like about Drucker is his obvious style of character and the way he would shift to a far more cartoony style with certain characters like the little jet dude.

Anyway, there you have a glance at some chicken fat! If you’re just learning about these guys, check them out! I envy your upcoming experience!

Rich Powell

I'm an artist/illustrator residing in a small, North Carolina town. I worked for a few years as a conceptual artist and art director in the computer game industry but set off on my own to freelance. I currently do humorous illustration and cartoons for publications such as MAD Magazine and Highlights for Children.

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