Several years ago, I was on a local PBS show called Chicago Tonight with host Bob Sirrott. I was there to discuss the preservation/restoration process of a railway station I had become involved with in nearby Skokie, IL. As an introduction, Bob was giving an overview of projects I’d done and then proceeded to describe how much he saw the influence of “Mad Magazine” in my work.
I had never articulated this myself, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how spot on he was. I’ve since come to the conclusion that “Mad” and later “National Lampoon” were indeed the most influential publications I’d read growing up. The sensibility and parody, the illustrations and artists … heaven! I can also confidently say that I’m not alone. Generations before and after me have shown how this groundbreaking whacked out periodical is in their comic DNA. I honestly cannot think of any other publication between the early 1950’s and 1970’s that infiltrated the minds of youngsters like “Mad.” At a time before cable television and the internet, “Mad” truly ruled and paved the way for “National Lampoon” and Saturday Night Live. I’ve moved on from “Mad” and haven’t even seen a copy in at least 25 years, but I’m forever indebted to the rag for totally corrupting me.
When it came to “Mad Magazine”, a kid had the periodical and the various “Specials/Annuals” that compiled reprinted articles—plus you had the paperbacks. These 60 cent little softcover books compiled the stories and jokes in a volume often with a common theme or by a particular cartoonist. Sometimes covers were taken from the issues and sometimes they’d do a new piece of art especially for the paperback, but in any case you got to see all your favorites like Kelly Freas, Norman Mingo and Jack Davis. Having these little books added a very effective back up support system to my elementary through high school humor needs—they fit conveniently into my back pocket and I could take’em with me wherever I wanted to. I can proudly say I never had one confiscated in class or otherwise, and of course, I still have them all…
It was the first five paperback books that introduced me to the work of Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder and Wally Wood. Up to that point I had no idea that “Mad” had originally been a conventional (of sorts) full color comic book. But once I DID find out, I was able to look for the older issues.
As of issue #24 in 1955, “Mad Magazine” was converted into a B&W magazine format. Even though the “turn of the century clip-art boy” was now in the cover’s illustrated frame with the familiar “What Me Worry ?” caption, he was not yet called Alfred E. Neuman. In this issue, he’s the respected scientist, Melvin Coznowski. Alfred E. Neuman was officially introduced to the world on the cover of “Mad Magazine” #30. Norman Mingo answered a Mad Magazine want ad for illustrator posted by editor Al Feldstein and the rest is history. . .
But I digress, (as usual) so here are some paperback covers. You’ll notice that some of the coolest humorists of the day were happy to be associated with “Mad.” Bob & Ray and Stan Freberg to name a few. . .
The above cover by Jack Davis is a parody of his poster art for the 1963 Stanley Kramer film “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.
Probably my favorite Mad cartoonist was Don Martin – see below. I got to work with Don on a campaign of spots for VH-1 thanks to Fred Seibert and Fred/Alan. I was totally psyched and it was everything I could have hoped for. Don was a blast to collaborate with !
Go here to see one of the Don Martin VH-1 spots (animation by Tony Eastman. Tom Pomposello F/A producer) !
Sergio Aragones (below) had his own line of Mad paperbacks, but was primarily known for doing the random little cartoons running like a river between the Mad Magazine comic panels. He later got into animation and did the sequences seen on “Dick Clark’s TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes” from 1984-98.
I got to visit the offices of “Mad Magazine” soon after moving to New York from Madison, WI in the Spring of 1979. My dream then was to do comic books, and I was hoping that there might be SOMEthing I could do there just to be in the midst of greatness. I showed up for my appointment and met with the art director (can’t remember who it was) who proceeded to take me through all the offices. He asked me for my portfolio. I handed it to him. Without opening it he held it in his hands and looked at it as if it might contain something hazardous. He asked, “Is this your portfolio—it’s got your best work in it?” I said, “Well, yes.” He then proceeded to toss it in the giant garbage drum next to him and then said, “Sorry. We’ve got nothing for you here.” I cracked up, and so did he. Then he said I was free to go through their original art files if I wanted, which I took full advantage of.
Before I left, I asked if I could use the bathroom and wandered over to it down the hall. I passed Bill Gaines office and said hello. There was a small zeppelin suspended from the ceiling and a giant King Kong relief sculpture filling one of his windows as if it was peering in from outside. There were framed pieces of art on the hallway walls, which had miniscule cartoons by Sergio Aragones drawn on the walls in between the frames as if they were a comicstrip in the magazine. Regardless of not being able to find a job there, it was still one of my all time favorite interviews ever—and totally in keeping with the craziness I’d been accustomed to from the “usual gang of idiots.”