AS AN ART SCHOOL DROP-OUT, I enjoy many types of art, from the Old Masters to Monet and Matisse, Braque and Picasso, Duchamp and Arp, Rauschenberg and Pollock, and that finest of art teachers, Robert Henri. I also love a good cartoonist, whether it’s teams that made the original Disney and Warner Brothers classics, or those of the modern Ghibli Studio. And I love caricature, hence “Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 1.” 1
I have liked single-panel political/social cartoonists since I was a child. One of my favorite forms of political and social observation and comment is the caricature.
A caricature is a kissin’ cousin to a cartoon. It depicts the features, attire, or mannerisms of its human subject in a simplified or exaggerated way, often to make a point (ala political/editorial cartoons).
Caricatures are usually intentionally demeaning or intentionally complimentary and are most effective when applied to a well-known figure. Politics and related fields probably have produced the most remarkable caricatures.
Despite Presley’s worldwide fame from 1956 on, there were relatively few caricatures of him while he was alive.
A good caricature can allow one to see a prominent figure in a new light—it was difficult to see Richard Nixon the same way after the caricaturists began depicting the man behind Watergate.
The term caricature comes from the Italian caricare, which means “to charge” or “to load.” A caricature is essentially a loaded portrait.
“According to School of Visual Arts caricature instructor Sam Viviano, the term refers only to depictions of real-life people, and not to cartoon fabrications of fictional characters, which do not possess objective sets of physiognomic features to draw upon for reference. Neither does it refer to anthropomorphic depictions of inanimate objects such as automobiles or coffee mugs.” (Wikipedia)
George Grosz depicted the moral and physical degeneracy of the German people and culture under the gross capitalism of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). According to Grosz: “I stood up as best I could to their disgusting stupidity and brutality, but I did not, of course, manage to beat them at their own game. It was a fight to the bitter end, one in which I was not defending ideals or beliefs but simply my own self.”
Observation or statement?
A good caricature is an observation about the subject as he relates to or even reflects current social or political opinions or movements. A good degree of accuracy is necessary in even the grossest exaggerations—that is, the viewer should quickly recognize the subject being caricatured.
While researching this article, I have mistaken caricatures of Antonio Banderas, George Clooney, and Tom Cruise as being caricatures of Elvis. I have also mistaken caricatures of Elvis as being those of Gary Busey, Matt Dillon, and even Christopher Walken.
Artists who don’t like Elvis tend to believe the worst claims about the man and thus tend to make him creepy-looking.
It’s also necessary to accurately understand your subject to make the exaggerations work. Artists who don’t know Elvis—and apparently who don’t like Elvis—tend to believe the worst claims about the man. The tabloid articles that credited Presley’s weight gain of his later years to his diet have inspired many caricaturists to draw Elvis as gross lard-ass, something he never was.
They also tend to make him ugly or creepy-looking, something that seems more a reflection of their taste than reality.
Artists who know that Presley’s bulk was caused by bloating due to his staggering drug intake produce a very different image of the man.
Jack Davis’s caricatures
While few caricaturists can match Hirschfeld (illustration above), there are many remarkable artists still working. I looked for quality of execution (good drawing a BIG plus) and individualistic style. And the art had to radiate good vibrations—there are no nasty takes on Elvis here!
My motivation for this project was finding Bruce Stark’s wonderful drawing of Elvis. It is the first image below. Even if Mr. Stark was not among the very best caricaturists out there, and if he didn’t have a firm and apparently loving grasp of some aspects of ol’ Elvis the Pelvis, he would have my first choice for one reason: he is a student of Jack Davis!
Davis was one of the master artists for the legendary EC Comics horror comics of the ’50s. He is associated with his definitive renditions of the Crypt-Keeper, the host of the company’s flagship title Tales From The Crypt. But he is better known for his work with Mad magazine in the 1960s and ’70s.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Davis at the first (and only) EC Fan Addict Convention in New York City in 1972. He was one of the few men there bigger than me, and he flirted ever so sweetly with my girlfriend Christine. He also graced my program book with an autographed caricature of me!
As someone once famous once said, “La-de-da . . .”
Portrait of Bill Gaines with long-time (and timeless) friend. I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Davis at the first EC Fan Addict Convention in 1972, where he did a quick sketch of me for my fanbook while flirting with my girlfriend.
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 1
Elvis Presley has been the subject of caricaturists since at least 1956. It’s interesting to note that the ’50s Elvis is often rendered as a playful personality, whereas there is a testiness to many of the images of the ’70s Elvis. Excepting the ’68 NBC-TV special, caricaturists have avoided the ’60s Elvis—perhaps due to his blandness.
I have assembled a series of posts collecting my fave caricatures of Elvis that I could find on the Internet. This is the first of what was intended to be three collections here on A Touch Of Gold. But even being judicious in my selection process, I easily found more than 100 images that I wanted to present!
“Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 1” is the first volume of several of Presley rockin’ and shakin’ and rattlin’ and rollin’ the ’50s! Keeping in mind the structure of the classic album ELVIS’ GOLDEN RECORDS (RCA Victor LPM-1707, 1958) that I grew up with that featured fourteen tracks, each volume will feature fourteen images. 2
Each image had the artist’s name beneath it. Each name—and many are first names only followed by the last name’s initial—is hyperlinked to a page that will give you more information on the artist.
Homer Simpson in a white jumpsuit and an Elvis-hair-and-sideburns wig may be funny television, but it’s a cartoon, not caricature. And art by well-intentioned if less than gifted amateur artists who just don’t get their renditions accurate are not caricatures, they’re just incompetent (if often charming) art. A caricature is intentional—it’s an endeavor, not a byproduct.
This is rather important
Finally—and this is very important—with few exceptions, all of the caricatures of Elvis that I found on the Internet are of recent vintage. In fact, most of them were created after the Internet became a household application.
Despite Presley’s worldwide fame from 1956 through his death in 1977, there are very few caricatures of him done while he was alive. There have to be other caricatures of Presley done while he was alive! If you are aware of any, please contact me.
Most of the artists represented in this series of articles are young; they did not live through the years when Presley was alive. Many of them are unaware that the negative things about the man that affects their conceptual judgment of how they see and render Elvis are things that were not known about Elvis while he was alive.
While his fluctuating weight was fair game in the ’70s, the ugly side of the man—the real and the not so real (such as many of Albert Goldman’s “revelations”)—was rarely on public display.
During most of his life, Presley was known for his unfailing politeness, his temperance, his generosity and good deeds, and his good humor. Many of youthful artists who caricature the Elvis of the ’70s seem oblivious to these things.
Oddly, Presley’s countless infatuations with women and his seeming obsession with handguns and police memorabilia are rarely addressed by caricaturists.
Artist: Bruce Stark
This could be Elvis any time in the ’50s. As noted above, Mr. Stark carries on the style, humor, and wit of Jack Davis. If you found this in an old Mad magazine, you would assume it was Davis! A higher compliment to a caricaturist is not easy to imagine.
Artist: Jack Davis
Who better to follow Stark than Davis himself? The December 1956 issue of Mad carried a two-page spoof titled “Elvis Pelvis” in which Davis seems to imply that Presley’s appeal was based on his good looks (of which Davis is rather respectful—possibly because he was a fellow Southerner) and his essential excitement. 3
The following is taken from a New York Times article titled “The Mad Generation” with the rather wordy sub-title, “After 25 years of perpetuating humor in the jugular vein, the magazine that wised up millions of kids is still a crazy hit” (July 31, 1977):
“The skeptical generation of kids [that Mad magazine] shaped in the 1950s is the same generation that, in the 1960s, opposed a war and didn’t feel bad when the United States lost for the first time and in the 1970s helped turn out an Administration and didn’t feel bad about that either.
It was magical, objective proof to kids that they weren’t alone, that in New York City on Lafayette Street if nowhere else, there were people who knew that there was something wrong, phony, and funny about a world of bomb shelters, brinkmanship, and toothpaste smiles.
Mad’s consciousness of itself, as trash, as comic book, as an enemy of parents and teachers, even as money-making enterprise, thrilled kids. In 1955, such consciousness was possibly nowhere else to be found.”
This was written by Tony Hiss and Jeff Lewis. We of this generation have been told for the past four decades that this is self-serving and self-congratulatory and little else.
We usually hear this from rightwingnut commentators, pundits, talk-show hosts, and even politicians—most of whom are far more self-serving and self-congratulatory than we “librulls” ever will or could be!
Artist: Alberto “Sting” Russo
Russo’s painterly image here so exaggerates Presley’s jaw that with the squinty eyes and the nose having a previously broken look to it, this image could as well have been of a good-looking boxer before the years and the blows to the head take their toll. This is how Elvis should have looked for Kid Galahad!
Artist: Kerry Waghorn
Mr. Waghorn is arguably the pre-eminent American caricaturist of the past thirty years. This image of Elvis could be from the Sun years or the November 1955 photoshoot at RCA Studio in New York. My assumption is based on the part in Presley’s hair—not something we associate with Elvis after his rise to stardom.
Artist: You Can Draw
Not only is this a kind of perfect caricature for me—good conception of Elvis with a good sense of play by a good drawer offering a good rendering—but the nameless artist offers a critique of his work:
“I really like the way this version of Elvis turned out, but my timer was clicking down to the end of my drawing session and I was just plain feeling lazy about filling in the hair. You can get an idea of what I was heading for shape and volume-wise with the hair by the directionality of the lines in the hair.
Now note this: even if you draw sloppy, rough lines in the hair like I did here, you can always erase them, lighten them (by a little erasing), or just plain cover them up under layers of pencil that would fill out the hair. In fact, a loose outline of all sorts of lines under a more refined working of the hair adds immensely to texture.
Concerning shadows: Look at the lip, the upper lids of the eyes, the side of the nose and even the chin and see if you can’t spot the cylindrical and almost spherical underlying primitive shape—and it’s light/shadow pattern at work.”
Artist: You Can Draw
Yes, this is the same artist as the drawing above, and again offering criticism, insight, and instruction concerning his work and caricaturing in general:
“At first I really disliked this version—at least how it started, but I’ve trained myself to keep barging on and not get overly judgmental when I’m off to a bad start. And what happened? I like this one the best!
This turned into the bratty, angry, spoiled-rotten-looking version—not what the real Elvis was like at all! I liked it enough to finish the hair somewhat and there’s something in the mouth and teeth that really jumps out. I think it’s the contrast of shadow, highlight, and white teeth placed pretty close to the shadow under the nose.
Look close into the hair: see the unruly, even sloppy lines underneath the hatching? To me, they just add depth, character, and texture to the hair. (Though really neat, tight hatching can look even better over a tattered under ’painting’).”
This same nameless artist offers a mini-course on how you too can do your own caricature of Elvis the Pelvis: “What Makes Any Face Caricaturable? How About Elvis Presley?”
Artist: Roger H.
This was inspired by one of several photos taken at RCA’s New York recording studio in November 1955, when Elvis flew to the Big Apple to sign on the dotted line. Photos from this session were used on the back cover of his first album, ELVIS PRESLEY (RCA Victor LPM-1254, 1956).
Artist: Rich Conley
This was how Presley was dressed for his appearance on the Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956. During this live show, Elvis was presented with not one but two of Billboard magazine’s Triple Crown Awards: Heartbreak Hotel had topped the sales, jukebox, and disc-jockey surveys in both the country and the pop fields. That’s #1 on six charts at once!
Artist: Dan Adel
Presley on the Milton Berle Show again, holding his female fans in the palm of his hand . . .
Artist: Don P.
This cartoonish drawing is most likely Elvis ’56 but could be almost any time—including the early ’60s
This was inspired by the inspired choreography of Alex Romero in Presley’s third movie, Jailhouse Rock (1957). Supposedly, Elvis worked with Romero to adapt his moves to a style of dance that wouldn’t embarrass him on-screen. Needless to say, it worked.
Artist: Jota Leal
I was beside myself that I wouldn’t find a decent caricature of Elvis in his famous Nudie gold lamé suit. Then I stumbled across this amazing piece by Jota Leal—and he had posted two variations! Now I am no longer beside anyone but my wife! 4
FEATURED IMAGE: The fantastic painting at the top of “Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 1” is by David O’Keefe: “The Elvis painting is actually based on one of the first color photographs of Elvis taken at a concert in 1956 or so. He had that teal jacket on and sang to the screaming girls. He was the king of rock & roll and I wanted to show him at the height of that early popularity before he became an icon but definitely on the road to being one.”
Compositionally, there’s a nice rhythm leading from the lower-left corner up Presley’s right leg into his left arm and moving into the outstretched hands of the fans in the lower right corner.
This rhythm is emphasized by the placement of objects: the light-colored guitar, the aquamarine jacket, and his light-colored head, all also moving from left to right—the figure threatening to tip over, again into the hands of the fans in the lower right. The coarse, brash red backdrop holds the whole thing together!
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, I have planned four volumes of caricatures of Elvis in the ’50s, and two each for the ’60s and the ’70s. There are at least two artists who have done enough high-quality caricatures of Presley to merit a volume of their own, Al Hirschfeld and Alberto “Sting” Russo. Here are links to the volumes:
• The First Published Caricature of Elvis Presley
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 1 (Rockin’ the 50s)
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 2 (Rollin’ the 50s)
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 3 (Rattlin’ the 50s)
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 4 (Shaggin’ the 50s)
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 5 (Stuck on the 60s)
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 6 (Wild in the 60s)
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 7 (Elvis by Hirschfeld)
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 8 (Love Letters from the 70s)
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 9 (Aloha from the 70)
• Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 10 (Elvis by Russo)
1 Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film studio known for its anime feature films and has also produced several short films. Eight of Studio Ghibli’s films are among the 15 highest-grossing anime films made in Japan. Four of their films have won the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year; five have received Academy Award nominations. In 2014, Ghibli announced it was temporarily halting production following the retirement of its brilliant and innovative chief director, Hayao Miyazaki.
2 There are more than fourteen images in this post, but I only count those of Elvis and I don’t count duplicates, like the original and finished art of Jack Davis above.
3 To see the entire piece, click over to “Humbug! – Elvis In A MAD, CRAZY And CRACKED World!” by Ger Rijff on the Echoes of the Past website.
4 The idiomatic phrase beside myself or beside oneself means simply to be overcome with worry or concern—to be distraught. So to write “I was beside myself with concern about the reception to Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 1” would be redundant and grammatically incorrect.