Paul Coker Jr., a prolific illustrator and character designer known for his work on Mad Magazine and the iconic stop-motion and animated Rankin/Bass holiday specials, has passed away at the age of 93. The news was broken on Friday through a confirmation from his stepdaughter, Lee Smithson Burd, who revealed that he died following a brief illness at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Saturday, July 23rd. In a statement, Smithson Burd said that "Paul was lucid and had his remarkable sense of humor until the end."
Born on March 5, 1929 in Lawrence, Kansas, Coker studied painting and drawing at the University of Kansas, ultimately joining Hallmark as a greeting card designer in the 1950s. His first drawing with Mad arrived in 1961, and he went on to illustrate over 375 articles for the iconic humor magazine, including film and television parodies of projects like Star Trek, Jurassic Park, Twister, Frasier, Sabrina: Teenage Witch and Caroline In The City. Coker also freelanced for publications such as Esquire, Good Housekeeping, and Playboy, contributing a NSFW parody of the Peanuts comic strip to the latter magazine.
On the animation side, Coker's work with Rankin/Bass began with an uncredited involvement in The Wacky World of Mother Goose in 1967, He later contributed as either a character designer or production designer to projects such as Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Frosty's Winter Wonderland, and Jack Frost. He helped create many beloved character designs for the studio, including Snow Miser and Heat Miser, and Kris Kringle.
Coker's final onscreen work included the 2001 movie Santa, Baby!, as well as the pilot of the 2002 series Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones?.
Coker is survived by Rosemary Smithson, his wife of 33 years, as well as his stepdaughters Lee Smithson Burd and Carol Burd.
Our thoughts are with Coker's family, friends, and fans at this time.