ATHENS — The phrase “one of the greatest Bulldogs ever” gets thrown around a lot. But there are really very few for whom it can actually apply, especially when it comes to those who never actually played or coached for any of the Georgia’s sports teams.
Jack Davis is one for whom that phrase aptly applies.
His name may not immediately recognizable to millennials or today’s youth. But to those who have followed the Dogs for more than the last decade or so, his name stands up alongside other off-field greats such as Dan Magill, Larry Munson, Sonny Seiler and Claude Felton.
Davis, who died Wednesday at the age of 91, was an artist, first and foremost. He achieved his fame and fortune as a cartoonist for Mad Magazine and many other national periodicals in the latter half of the last century. But his love of all things concerning the Georgia Bulldogs was unsurpassed, and that manifested itself in works that were created out of sheer joy.
I reached out to Jeff Dantzler, UGA radio broadcast voice, resident historian and a personal friend of Davis, for some perspective.
“Jack Davis is one of the greatest Bulldog icons ever and one of the kindest, most gracious men anyone ever met,” Dantzler told me. “He was a true genius with the pen, with Mad Magazine and the slew of magazine covers he did. As Bulldogs, we had the unimaginable good fortune of enjoying his brilliant and inspiring work for decades.”
Davis drew caricatures of Dantzler twice, which he lists among his “most prized possessions.” But Davis drew Vince Dooley and Herschel Walker and Magill dozens of times each. And, of course, his trademark grimacing Bulldog beating up on helpless opposing mascots hundreds of times at least.
You knew you’d made the big time in Bulldog lore if Davis bothered to put your likeness on paper. And he did it in a style that was truly his own.
Georgia’s Loran Smith gets credit for turning on the Bulldogs to Davis’ art. He said he met Davis in the early 1970s when Davis was in his heyday as a cartoonist in New York City and invited him to do those cartoons for UGA.
“He had a sophomoric enthusiasm about him,” Smith said. “No matter what we asked him to do he’d always say, ‘yeah, man, that’s great!’ He never charged us for his work. But what we’d do is we’d pay his and his wife’s way to the Georgia-Florida game every year, at least for a long time. And that was like we’d given him a new Rolls Royce. He just enjoyed that weekend more than any other.”
Davis loved that weekend so much he eventually left New York and settled on Georgia’s St. Simons Island. From there he continued to produce his works into his 90th year from his home studio.
Davis was born December 2, 1924, in Atlanta and attended UGA on the G.I. bill following his service in the U.S. Navy. While at UGA, he provided artwork for the campus newspaper before serving as a cartoonist intern at the Atlanta Journal.
When Mad magazine launched in 1952, Davis contributed to most of the first 30 issues. During his career he provided artwork and illustrations for a multitude of movie posters, books and magazines including Time and TV Guide.
Davis is survived by his wife, Dena, of St. Simons; a daughter, Katie Davis Lloyd, and her husband, Chris, of Athens, and their two daughters, Sara Lloyd Alias and Molly Lloyd; a son, Jack Davis III, and his wife, Ann Davis, of Atlanta.
The funeral is scheduled for Friday on St. Simons Island.