The Third Day of Xmas: Humbug

Watching so many versions of “A Christmas Carol” (or ‘Scrooge,” “Scrooged,” etc.) on Christmas day caused me to logically think of the Dickensian word “humbug.” By extension it brought to mind Humbug, a humor magazine edited by Harvey Kurtzman, including satires of film, television, advertising and popular culture

It was launched in August 1957 in a black-and-white comic-book size format. Kurtzman’s declaration of editorial principles went like this:

“We won’t write for morons. We won’t do anything just to get laughs. We won’t be dirty. We won’t be grotesque. We won’t be in bad taste. We won’t sell magazines.”

Humbug followed MAD after the comicbook version was suspended owing to the Comics Code. Kurtzman used some of the artists he had previously worked with when he was the editor of Mad, including Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee and Will Elder. The 32-page first issue featured a front cover by Elder (with the announcement “The End of the World Is Coming” inside a border design depicting contemporary life), followed with interior artwork by Elder, Kurtzman, Wood, Davis, Jaffee and Arnold Roth. Elder illustrated Kurtzman’s satire of television’s rigged Twenty One quiz show, and Davis spoofed the Elia Kazan film of Tennessee WilliamsBaby Doll (1956) with Eli Wallach. It ceased publication with Number 11, Oct 1958. Bah! Humbug!

If you were not lucky enough to enjoy the original, go here for a reprint of all the wonderful issues.

(Remembering Abbey Road and John Lennon’s suit in Saturday’s Daily Heller.)

4 thoughts on “The Third Day of Xmas: Humbug

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  2. Vikki

    Thank you for this sparkling bit of educational info! I never saw the magazine, but “humbug” was a favorite expression on my youth, which I learned from reading Dickens. It often was preceded by the much neglected, “bah”, and did not call for punishment from the elders in most cases. Happy New Year!

  3. Lance Miller

    Your chronology is not quite correct. After leaving MAD, Harvey and most of the “usual gang of idiots” produced the very short lived TRUMP (two issues) that was funded by Hugh Hefner. HUMBUG was started after that and was then followed by HELP!
    I agree with your assessment of HUMBUG and highly recommend the Fantagraphics edition you link in your blog. However, it does not quite replace the pleasure of reading the original 11 issues that I have in my Kurtzman collection.

  4. Clive Cochran

    This is so great. I remember reading Humbug when I was a twelve-year old; I am quite sure most of the humor was over my head, but it was a favorite guilty pleasure anyway. It’s good to know the book has been reprinted. Thanks for the info. — CC