William (Bill or Will) Elder
was born as Wolf Eisenberg in New York City in 1921 and attended the New York High School of Music and Art, as did many comic book artists. There, he met Harvey Kurtzman, with whom his career would show more than one remarkable parallel. He subsequently studied at the Academy of Design, before joining the army in 1942. He was present at the disembarkation in Normandy in June 1944, and participated in the liberation of Cologne. Back in civil life in 1946, he began a studio together with Harvey Kurtzman and Charles Stern. Elder’s first comic job was ‘Rufus Debree’, a story for they Toy Town comic in 1947.
During the early years of his comics career, he worked mainly as the inker of John Severin. Between 1948 and 1951, they produced ‘American Eagle’ in Prize Comics Western for Crestwood, and did occasionally comic book art for National and Nedor. In late 1950, they joined EC Comics, where they cooperated on stories for ‘Two-Fisted Tales’, ‘Frontline Combat’ and ‘Weird Fantasy’. Elder illustrated two Al Feldstein scripted stories on his own for ‘Weird Science’ issues 14 and 19. From 1953, he also contributed some stories to EC’s horror and crime titles, sometimes in collaboration with Jack Kamen.
Elder was one of the original artists of Harvey Kurtzman’s ‘Mad’ from its first issue in October/November 1952. He specialized in parody and satire, making fun of established characters like ‘Mickey Mouse’, ‘Mandrake’ and ‘Archie’. From 1954 to 1956, he was also present in EC’s other humor title, ‘Panic’. Elder left EC together with Kurtzman in 1956, and Elder went on to satirize commercial illustrators in Trump, Kurtzman’s shortlived magazine financed by Playboy’s Hugh Heffner. Elder also worked for the other Kurtzman titles, Humbug and Help!, in which he parodied ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ and ‘Tarzan’. For Help!, Elder and Kurtzman also created the character ‘Goodman Beaver’.
In 1962, Elder and Kurtzman gave ‘Goodman Beaver’ a gender change, and turned him into ‘Little Annie Fanny’, whose stories were published in Playboy. They worked on ‘Little Annie Fanny’ until September 1988, sometimes assisted by Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, Russ Heath and other Mad artists. From 1959, Elder was also a versatile illustrator. He illustrated book covers, movie posters and advertisements for television programs in TV Guide (1976-1985). From 1985 and 1987, Elder and Kurtzman made a comeback in Mad magazine.
Elder and Kurtzman’s collaboration lasted until 1988, the year Elder retired. Elder – the clown of the couple – always added small extra jokes in the panels when Kurtzman had finished scripting and penciling them (Chinese restaurant ‘Few Men Chew’). Later, top underground comix artists like Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman remembered the team of Bill Elder and Harvey Kurtzman as a major influence on their comix. Elder died on May 15, 2008 from complications due to Parkinson’s disease