NCS Spotlight on: Jack Davis

October 21st, 2010

Below, from the book “The Art of Jack Davis”, the legendary cartoonist’s first album cover, from 1957.

(You can view a scan of the actual album cover here)

AoJD author, Hank Harrison wrote, “With his first black and white album cover… Davis started an avalanche of top quality album art which no single artist has been able to match.”

Harrison lists nearly a hundred albums featuring Jack Davis art – and that’s not including movie soundtracks like the example below.

(click the image to go to a larger, right-reading scan)
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Davis is quoted as saying, “I remember when I picked up my first album cover for RCA. [They] paid about $300 per cover. I enjoyed doing them all.”

This quote gives us a potential clue to what labels typically paid per cover at that time. If $300 was typical, it shows us the dilemma faced by many of the top name magazine illustrators of the day. Though hardly a pauper’s wage, $300 must have seemed pretty spare when compared to the $1,000 to $2,000 many illustrators and cartoonists were used to getting from their editorial and advertising clients.

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Even paperback covers would have been substantially more lucrative. When I spoke to Mitchell Hooks about his career illustrating paperbacks he told me the publishers had been paying around $300 when he first entered the field in the early ’50s… but through the efforts of the Graphic Artists Guild the price was pushed up to around $800 per cover within a few years. Harry Borgman remembered getting about $900 per cover in the mid-’60s to early ’70s.

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Of course money isn’t everything – and we’re fortunate Jack Davis enjoyed doing album covers to the extent that his output was so prolific. Today, thanks to album art enthusiasts on Flickr, many of these obscure old covers are being scanned and archived for the benefit of all.

* I’m very grateful to Glen Mullaly for allowing me to include the scan directly above from his Vintage Vinyl set. Be sure to check it out for many rare treats, including some beautiful Jim Flora covers and another Jack Davis piece.

* Also thanks to Flickr member anyjazz65 for the Mad, Mad, etc. scan. His Record Jackets set has more mid-century visual delights in it than you can shake a stick at. I encourage you to peruse it.

* And of course, if you’re enjoying this series, please visit my own Illustrated Album Covers set for many more examples by a wide variety of artists.