Elvis caricature 56 OKeefe2 1500 crop

elvis’ golden caricatures volume 1 (rockin’ the 50s)

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)

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: drawing by George Grosz "Toads."

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.

 

Elvis caricature 56 Hirsch header600 copy 2
The first artist of renown to ’do’ Presley was Hirschfeld, per­haps the most el­e­gant and fa­mous car­i­ca­turist in the world! This drawing was pub­lished on July 6, 1956, in re­sponse to Pres­ley’s me­te­oric rise to fame and for­tune. It may have been the first na­tion­ally cir­cu­lated car­i­ca­ture of Elvis.

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 CryptBut 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 …”

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: drawing of Bill Gaines and the Cryptkeepr by Jack Davis.

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.

 

HomerSimpson Elvis Vegas 1000

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.

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Bruce Stark.

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.

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Jack Davis from 1956 (finished art).

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Jack Davis from 1956 (unfinished art).

Artist: Jack Davis

Whom better to follow Stark that 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 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 rightwing(nut) 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! 

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Albert Sting Russo.

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!

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Kerry Waghorn.

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Kerry Waghorn (colored).

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.

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature #1 of Elvis by You Can Draw.

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, or 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.”

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature #2 of Elvis by You Can Draw.

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?

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Robert H.

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).

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Rich Conley.

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!

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Dan Adel.

Artist: Dan Adel

Presley on the Milton Berle Show again, holding his fe­male fans in the palm of his hand …

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Don P.

Artist: Don P.

This car­toonish drawing is most likely Elvis ’56 but could be al­most any time—including the early ’60s.

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Manohead.

Artist: Manohead

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.

 

 

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Jota Leal (gold background).

Golden Caricatures Volume 1: caricature of Elvis by Jota Leal (gray background).

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

A good car­i­ca­ture can also allow one to see a promi­nent figure in a new light, whether it’s Elvis Presley or Donald Trump. Click To Tweet 

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!

 

Elvis 1957 goldsuit standup 1000

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)

 


FOOTNOTES:

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 on 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.

 

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