December 30, 2008

The Greatest Photograph of the 20th Century

An obituary in the New York Times for comic artist Bill Elder (1921-2008) featured this, the greatest photograph of the 20th century.
The 1939 photo shows future MAD magazine writer/artists Bill Elder (above right) and Al Jaffe. The two schlubs are seemingly just clowning around in their Brooklyn high school cafeteria. But there’s something more here than mere comic perfection. Elder and Jaffe grew up during the Depression, an era when law dictated that every American be photographed in somber mien (right).

And yet here’s these two goofballs.

Elder and Jaffe could have gone into dry cleaning or retail, but they were destined to be comic artists. In that capacity, Elder squeezed an astounding density of humorous details into his illustrations, like this one from his 1954 MAD piece, “Restaurant!” (Full page layout below.)

Elder was also the artist who began wedging funny doodles in the marginalia of each page of MAD. His sophomoric humor was so charmingly unfettered that it leads me right back to that photo at the top. Now those are two unfettered kids. God love 'em.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The Greatest Photograph of the 20th Century"?

Hmm, that seems a bit pretentious.

Bart King said...

I guess it's a good thing I scaled back a bit when I amended this blog entry's original title, namely:

"Inarguably the Greatest Two-Dimensional Image of the 13th-21st Centuries"