Art History: Basil Wolverton


A few years ago I was at a used book store and ran across a coffee table book of Mad Magazine covers. I was always attracted to the illustrations in Mad and to a lesser extent Cracked. The crude jokes and surprisingly good illustrations totally drew me in, not to mention the foldover pages. I started flipping through the book and was mesmerized by this cover…



I bought the book just to spend more time looking at that cover. The grotesque nature of it combined with the amazing detail and skill blew me away. I started trying to find more and more about this illustrator. The problem is there wasn’t much about him to be found. It seemed his work had been lost to time. Buried and overshadowed by Robert Crumb and so many others that seemed to be influenced by this man’s work.



It turns out he did some short runs for Timely Comics, which would one day become Marvel, as well as short stories for magazines like Weird Tales of the Future and Weird Mysteries. In his later life he found Jesus and became very religious. He went on to illustrate various chapters of the Old Testament, way before Jack T Chick’s Chick Tracks.



He has gained more recognition and his work is more accessible now. Fantagraphics has started reprinting some of his works and some are available on Amazon. His work has started popping up in various art shows too.



His technical skill is superb and his imagination for disgusting imagery is unique. His use of composition and detail make his illustrations dramatic and awe inspiring… if you dig that type of thing. You can see his footprint in so many underground artists including the aforementioned R Crumb.