Remembering Mad Magazine

I had intended to do a post on Mad Magazine on some upcoming birthday of William Gaines, the magazine’s heroic publisher. But Gaines rates his own post and his legacy was greater than Mad, at any rate, though during the years I worshipped the mag he especially looked the part of a Holy Man:

That’s the look of a guy I could warm up to. At any rate, the post comes now because word has come down that going forward Mad will be ceasing to produce new content. And there’s something appropriate about paying the magazine tribute on the Fourth of July. In case the reason is not self-evident, see the cover at the top of this page. Mad is like the cherry on the sundae of the First Amendment. Do you remember the infamous “middle finger” cover from 1974? That was the ACME of its shenanigans, a literal middle finger to EVERYBODY. That is the 70s, New York, and memories of my childhood all wrapped up in one sweet package. Angry, joyful, heedless, and breaking taboos all at the same time.

As far as people of my generation were concerned, Mad had already stopped producing new content decades ago. Mad TV, in the 90s, was a wonderful reincarnation, but as far as anyone knew, the print mag was pretty moribund. Whereas Cracked somehow had snuck up from behind and bested its vastly more original competitor in the internet age, Mad floundered to find a relevant voice in the 21st century. I had explored contributing to it a few times, and was dismayed to find that the editors wanted none of the kinds of material most of us loved about the magazine during its heyday, e.g. parodies of movies and tv shows. “What is the point of Mad Magazine without THAT?” I wondered. To be fair, the magazine had reinvented itself in the past. Us 70s kids later learned to appreciate reprints of the classic Mad of the 1950s, which had been a completely different publication entirely, more like a comic book, with an entirely different comic voice.

But the Mad of my own kidhood! Just the mention of the names of the writers and illustrators, the vaunted “Usual Gang of Idiots”, brings a smile to my face: Don Martin, Al Jaffee, Dave Berg, Sergio Aragones, Antonio Prohias, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Dick DeBartolo, Frank Jacobs, Lou Silverstone, etc etc, ect. Now that was a stable! There were usually two parodies, plus regular features like Prohias’ Spy vs Spy, Berg’s The Lighter Side Of…, Jaffee’s fold-in at the back. Aragones’ cartoons were normally very small and placed in the spaces around the other features. There were the regular issues, plus annuals, and all sorts of regular repackagings including paperback books. Though I didn’t start having spending money until the mid 70s, I caught up with a lot of the older issues via these reprints, and was pretty much exposed to the whole Mad schmear from circa 1970 through the early 80s. I still remember the dialogue in a lot of the spoofs by heart. It set me on a path of writing my own parodies, thus entire aspects of my creative life in a way are an ongoing tribute to Mad. And whenever I meet someone who loves Mad, I say to myself, “Ah, they’re okay“.

Among them, my wife! I got rid of my old Mads years ago — the curse of living in small New York City apartments. Fortunately, I now have these on hand to assist in reminiscing.