Driving MAD Mad

Those of you who grew up on the early MAD magazine—first edited by Harvey Kurtzman in 24 issues as a comic book format and then, after the Comics Code Authority censored the ribald wit and humor of the original, in William Gaines’ magazine version with editor Al Feldstein—may recall its great influence on the market.

“The many MAD magazine imitators were indebted to MAD, but not always respectful of their elder,” writes Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe in Behaving Madly, a first-of-its-kind anthology of copy-cat mags. This collection shows how the otherwise dreary ’50s were invigorated by a renaissance in satiric and comic publishing—and reveals how closely (sometimes using the same artists) that magazines like Crazy, Man, Crazy, Cuckoo, Lunatickle, This Magazine is Crazy, Thimk, Panic, Frantic, Zany and more captured the growing market, if only for a few issues. Moreover, it provides a direct link to the mid-’60s Underground newspapers that followed in their footsteps.

Much of the content was comprised of cultural parodies of TV, film and art, featuring characters like Groucho Sparks, Marlon Brandy and Davey Crockhead. Some features were just plain silly, others more bitingly satiric.

“When Bill Gaines reacted angrily to other publishers edging in on his success,” adds Apeldoorn and Yoe, “he himself often became the target of mockery. … And these wannabes were right to defend their little patch of satire history. Now that MAD showed the way, many talented people flocked to this new form of humor.”

Behaving Madly: Zany, Loco, Cockeyed, Rip-Off, Satire Magazines is a unique collection of long-lost examples of an under-represented yet significant American genre (think of “SNL” and all its imitators—including “MAD TV”).









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5 thoughts on “Driving MAD Mad

  1. Ger Apeldoorn

    As the writer of this book I have to agree with David. It all started with Harvey Kurtzman. His immense personal talent and the way he discovered and shaped the talent of others is where it all started. And even though Trump and Humbug were hugely flawed projects, the complete collections of both should be on any Mad fan’s bookshelve. The main reason to write this book is to shine a light on a forgotten bit of social and comic magazine history. The reviewer of this piece saw that. These magazines were out there and were part of the satirical landscape of that time. I think that is why I liked that Craig found that Lichtenstein rip-off of a Bob Powell Panic cover. And, frankly, that cover in itself is proof of the fact that Mad wasn’t the only magazine out there that took chances or scored big once in a while. In fact, apart from all the names you mention, Feldstein’s Mad also had Bob Clarke and George Woodbridge. I will take Russ Heath, Joe Maneely, Bill Everett, Joe Albistur and a couple of others in Behaving Madly over them any day. I did mention several times in my text that the editing in these magazines is what let them down the most. If there is anything good in Behaving Madly, it is because someone managed to sneek it in because of the lack of editing. I had to pick and choose, but Gary Belkin and Jack Mendelsohn were two writers who very often got it just right. No surprise they both worked at Mad as well. So thanks for the comment and thanks too for buying the book (since you obviously read it). I hope we have filled in a bit of unknown history and managed to provide some enjoyment along the way. I run a blog called the Fabulous Fifties where I do the same, shed light on forgotten work from that pre superhero part of comic and newspaper strip history. I started that, because I found most of the fifties to be unjustly underwritten in most books out there. Behaving Madly is just my little way of righting that wrong.

    1. melvin_m_melvin

      Ger – I get your point, but you’re a little harsh on Clarke and Woodbridge. While I agree that these would have had less of a profile had they not been in MAD, both were generally very capable, to the extent that they were pulled in to cover more generic topics that came less easily to the more specialised pens. For example, items in the ‘Why I quit my job’ genre I cannot envisage being drawn more appropriately by any of George’s contemporaries. I agree with you about Belkin, possibly my favourite MAD writer, and Mendelsohn, both of whom rank with Sy Reit (as well as Jacobs and Siegel, but I understand that you mean writers who appeared in non-MAD doppelgangers). A nod, too, towards Paul Laikin, whose quantity sometimes impaired quality, but whose JFK colouring book was a classic – Great book, BTW (yours, that is) – Best wishes – MmM

  2. llens8

    The great disparity in talent between MAD and its imitators is a testament to the genius of Kurtzman and others at the core of MAD. MAD consistently had artists such as Drucker, Wally Wood, Frank Frazetta, Paul Coker, Don Martin, Jack Davis, Will Elder etc. Its competitors, featured in this book, could occasionally snag the prolific (and indiscriminate) Davis, or could hire Elder after the great falling out with Gaines, but for the most part their pages were filled with fairly perfunctory work. The examples featured here reinforce my impression that the art direction in MAD remained light years ahead of its competitors.

    Working with Kurtzman was apparently no picnic, but he had a talent for spotting and motivating the best artists.

    David A.

    1. melvin_m_melvin

      I respect your view, but this reads as though Kurtzman was responsible for bringing Drucker and Martin to MAD. It was the ridiculously underrated Al Feldstein who not only recruited these, but also developed them – Best regards – MmM

      1. llens8

        Hi, MmM– Sorry, I did not mean to suggest that Kurtzman was responsible for Drucker or Martin, only that he set the tone for the magazine that followed. It took decades before MAD began to shed that New York Jewish wise guy humor that Kurtzman put in MAD’s DNA.

        By the way, I have to disagree with you about Feldstein. I think he made the trains run on time, and Gaines desperately needed an accountant / business type after Kurtzman left, to keep the magazine from folding. But Feldstein was famously humorless, tasteless and territorial. I know from Drucker’s own lips that Feldstein had nothing to do with recruiting Drucker (who was recruited by Nick Meglin) and I’ve never heard that he had anything to do with recruiting Don Martin.