Al Feldstein (born October 24, 1925) is an American painter of Western wildlife and an influential author-editor who wrote, drew and edited for EC Comics, followed by a lengthy career as the editor of Mad Magazine. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2003.
Born in Brooklyn, Al Feldstein grew up in Flatbush on East 31st Street between Avenue L and Avenue M. He attended P.S. 191, and when he was eight years old, he won a third place medal in the annual John Wanamaker art competition. After winning an award in the 1939 New York World's Fair poster contest, he decided on a career in the art field and studied at the High School of Music and Art in upper Manhattan. When he was 15 years old, he was hired by Jerry Iger to work in the Eisner & Iger shop, an art service for the comic book industry. At Eisner & Iger, he earned three dollars a week running errands, inking balloon lines, ruling panel borders and erasing pages. When he began inking backgrounds, his salary jumped to five dollars a week.
With his graduation, he received a scholarship to the Art Students League. He began a rigorous schedule of studying at Brooklyn College during the day, followed by night classes at the Art Students League. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Air Force in July, 1943, as an aviation cadet and began his basic training in Blytheville, Arkansas. His cadet class was held in reserve, and he was assigned to Special Services, creating signs and service club murals, decorating planes and flight jackets, drawing comic strips for field newspapers and painting squadron insignias for orderly rooms.
After his discharge, Feldstein freelanced art for comic books, arriving in 1948 at Bill Gaines' Entertaining Comics, where he began as an artist but soon combined art with writing and became editor of the majority of EC's comics. Although he originally wrote and illustrated approximately one story per comic, in addition to doing many covers, Feldstein eventually focused entirely on his editing and writing duties, and his artwork was mainly displayed only on covers. From late 1950 through 1953, Feldstein edited and wrote the stories for seven different comic magazines.
As EC's editor, Feldstein created a literate line, balancing his genre tales with potent graphic stories probing the underbelly of American life. In creating stories around such topics as racial prejudice, rape, domestic violence, police brutality, drug addiction and child abuse, he succeeded in addressing problems and issues which the 1950s radio, motion picture and television industries were too timid to dramatize.
While developing a stable of contributing writers that included Otto Binder, Jack Oleck, Carl Wessler and Daniel Keyes, he published the first work of Harlan Ellison. EC employed the comics industry's finest artists and published promotional copy to make readers aware of their staff. Feldstein encouraged the EC illustrators to maintain their personal art styles, and this emphasis on individuality gave the EC line a unique appearance. Distinctive front cover designs framing those recognizable art styles made Feldstein's titles easy to spot on crowded newsstands.
Those well-remembered comic magazines, known as EC's New Trend group, included Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, Piracy, Panic, Crime SuspenStories and Shock SuspenStories. After the New Trend titles folded in 1955, Feldstein edited EC's short-lived New Direction and Picto-Fiction titles.
Feldstein then moved to Mad, replacing Harvey Kurtzman in 1956 (the same year that Time described it as a "short-lived satirical pulp)." By the time he left, 28 years later, the magazine was commonly cited as one of the three greatest publishing successes of the 1950s, along with Playboy and TV Guide. The magazine's circulation more than quadrupled during Feldstein's tenure, peaking at 2,132,655 in 1974, although it declined to a third of that figure by the end of his time as editor.
Many new cartoonists and writers surfaced during the early years of Feldstein's editorship. This process leveled off in the 1960s as the magazine came to rely on a steady group of contributors. Feldstein's first issue as editor (#29) was also the first issue to display the twisted work of cartoonist Don Martin. A few months later, he hired Mort Drucker, who quickly established himself as their premier caricaturist. By 1961, with the introduction of Antonio Prohias and Dave Berg, he had fully established the format that kept the magazine a commercial success for decades.
After he retired from Mad in 1984, he began painting again, commenting, "Since my retirement, I have returned to my first love, fine art. I do landscapes, wildlife and Western paintings. I also do 'cover-revisited' paintings of my old EC science-fiction, horror and crime covers for collectors."
He left Connecticut and relocated in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he spent three years painting the Teton Range and its wildlife. Two of his paintings from that period placed in the Top 100 of Arts for the Parks, a competition created in 1986 by the National Park Academy of the Arts.
Feldstein moved in 1992 to Paradise Valley, Montana near Livingston, finding new approaches to depict the Western way of life in his superbly rendered acrylic paintings. In 1999, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts degree by Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, and that same year, he once again ranked in the Top 100 of the Arts for the Parks' Competition. In 2000, he was invited to give the Commencement Address to the new century's first graduating class at Rocky Mountain College.
Today, he is represented by numerous Northwest galleries, and he continues to create his Western, wildlife and landscape paintings at his 270-acre ranch north of Livingston and south of Yellowstone National Park.
Images Attributed to Al Feldstein
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Links and References
- Al Feldstein Fine Art and Landscapes
- 1999 Arts for the Parks Top 100
- Jenn Dlugos 2003 interview with Al Feldstein
- Who's Who of American Comic Books: 1928-1999
- Wikipedia:Al Feldstein