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Paul Coker Jr., Designer of Iconic Rankin/Bass Characters, Dies at 93

The artist, who began his career as an illustrator for ‘Mad Magazine,’ cemented his legacy by creating the heroes and villains of many stop-motion holiday classics.

Paul Coker Jr., the artist responsible for the character and production designs featured in the Rankin/Bass stop-motion holiday classics, has died at 93.

Coker’s contributions to those animated specials include the characters of Kris Kringle (voiced by Mickey Rooney), Winter Warlock (voiced by Keenan Wynn), Burgermeister Meisterburger (voiced by Paul Frees), Snow Miser (voiced by Dick Shawn), and Heat Miser (voiced by George S. Irving). Over the course of four decades, he worked as both a character and production designer on Cricket on the HearthFrosty the SnowmanSanta Claus Is Comin’ to TownHere Comes Peter CottontailThe Year Without a Santa ClausRudolph’s Shiny New YearFrosty’s Winter WonderlandNestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ to TownJack FrostPinocchio’s ChristmasThe Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold, and Santa, Baby!.

Coker began his career in 1961 as an illustrator for “Mad Magazine,” where he would provide art for countless articles, as well a popular panel called “Horrifying Clichés,” which featured extremely literal, macabre depictions of overused English idioms and turns of phrase. He also illustrated some of the magazine’s most famous satires of pop culture phenomena, including Star Trek, Jurassic Park, Frasier, and Sabrina: The Teenage Witch.

Coker went on to freelance for Esquire, Good Housekeeping, and Playboy - the latter of which featured his illustrations for an adult parody of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip - before eventually starting his working relationship with Rankin/Bass. His first involvement in one of the company’s productions came in 1967, when he served in an uncredited capacity on the animated musical fantasy The Wacky World of Mother Goose.

Coker’s death was confirmed to Deadline by his stepdaughter, Lee Smithson Burd, who said that leading up to his passing, “[he] was lucid, and [he] had his remarkable sense of humor until the end.”

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Max Weinstein is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He is the Editor-at-Large of 'Dread Central' and former Editorial Director of 'MovieMaker.' His work has been featured in 'Cineaste,' 'Fangoria,' 'Playboy,' 'Vice,' and 'The Week.'