MAD Magazine’s New Facial Recognition
Notice anything different? No, it’s not that $5.99 is no longer “cheap!” Even the hilariously venerable MAD Magazine—the magazine that influenced my own so-called wit and humor—begins a new era today with its new logo design. The magazine’s newly published “another issue #1” that comes out NOW, April 17th (again, if you already forgot, that’s today), includes the new logo and layout, an evolution that has occurred over the past 60+ years. I spoke to Bill Morrison, executive editor, Doug Thomson, MAD design director and Suzy Hutchinson, MAD art director about this new incarnation of probably the oldest American humor and parody magazine.
After all these decades of MAD as is, why the change now? Bill Morrison: We felt it was time for a change. Starting with a new team in Burbank, California, and a new issue #1, it gave us the perfect opportunity to break some long-standing rules, take some chances and freshen things up.
It appears to return somewhat to the original Kurtzman logo. Is that the intent? Doug Thomson: Absolutely. I worked at MAD for over 10 years in New York, so I know the history, and how special and important MAD is to so many people. Changing the logo after a 63-year run was daunting, and I knew we had to get it right. I also knew that the change had to have a purpose, a reason for being. Also, when MAD began it was a comic book, and we’re now featuring a comic book section within the magazine. Returning to the original Kurtzman logo—even a modern, updated version—works on several levels. We’re relaunching with a new #1, and it was Kurtzman’s logo that started it all back in 1952.
I think fans have been relieved to see that the new logo references MAD’s history and honors it. Plus, it just looks cool.
Who reads MAD now? Will this redesign jar them? Bill Morrison: MAD has a loyal legion of readers; ages range from around 11 to 65. We believe there are six things that are essential to MAD: the movie and TV parodies, “Spy vs Spy,” “A MAD Look At…(topic of the issue),” the Marginal Drawings, the Fold-In and, of course, Alfred E. Neuman. These are important to MAD fans and will remain in the magazine. We felt that with these pillars of the magazine intact, MAD fans would be willing to accept a different look for the magazine. So far, we’ve been proven right.
I’m old enough to remember the first shift. Which was actually a changeable logo. How many iterations did you do? Doug Thomson: Before I began working with the new staff in Burbank, I created several mock-ups of cover ideas, all featuring an oversized, cartoonish logo very reminiscent of Kurtzman’s original. The idea was there from the beginning. I brainstormed logos for several months with Suzy. Together we produced a few dozen options. But it was the Kurtzman version that always felt right, the one we kept going back to.
To create the final version, I actually traced Harvey’s logo in Illustrator and began modifying it. His ‘M’ is completely crooked—the center points don’t line up. Some fans have noticed the other anomalies that I intentionally added—the hole in the ‘A’ is wider than it should be, the hole in the ‘D’ is too low. This is all on purpose (to make sense of that darn ‘M’), and I think it lends an oddness to the whole thing.
I couldn’t have arrived at the final version without our art director, Suzy Hutchinson. She helped me tweak it to perfection, pulling out a corner here and there, determining the heights of the letters (the ‘M’ and ‘A’ are taller than the ‘D’), getting the spacing just right. It was her brilliant idea to lower the hole in the ‘D’. I spent hours laboring over every detail, then she said, “Lower your ‘D’-hole,” and immediately improved it by 1,000%. We make a great team.
Are you pleased? Would you have done anything else? Suzy Hutchinson: We’re super happy with the look of everything, the logo, the general graphic design of the magazine … I don’t think there’s anything we would have done differently, but we also want the design to continue to evolve. The beauty of working on a periodical is that we create a new issue every two months; if we decide something needs a tweak or two, we can always do that.
Are the changes inside, too? Doug Thomson: From a design standpoint, there are several changes. I had always wanted to expand the table of contents to a two-page “wow” moment. The first issue’s two-page contents spread features a fantastic photo of MAD founder Bill Gaines, paired with artwork from Harvey Kurtzman’s cover for the original MAD #1. I wanted to inject new life into the magazine, making it cooler and hipper, but still honoring its past. It was Suzy who suggested making Gaines’ glasses pink and green, once again elevating it to the next level.
We moved “Shorts & Briefs” (formerly known as “The Fundalini Pages”) and letters to the back of the magazine. Now readers get to the meatier, iconic content sooner. The letters pages have been completely redesigned. I’m a typography nerd, so this was a real opportunity to have fun and try new things.
There is no fixed color palette for the new MAD. As a designer, I can get bored repeating the same thing, so I wanted to build in versatility from the get-go. Our first issue is primarily black, with pops of hot pink and acid green. But issue #2 is in the works with all-new colors. (They’re a secret.) The contents pages up front and the recurring features in the back of the magazine use the same colors, creating bookends to each issue, adding cohesion.
The logo can be presented four different ways as well—a solid fill with contrasting stroke, no stroke, stroke and fill the same color and an outline only—so there again is the versatility that I like. I’ve insisted on a moratorium on the use of “MAD Red,” as we call it. Red is the classic MAD color, the color historically used in our logo most often. But to distinguish ourselves as something different, something new, we’re giving red a rest. (Of course, it will come back someday in a big, spectacular way.)
There are several design changes. The team created a fun, beautiful, interesting hybrid that fans will love. It feels like MAD, it sounds like MAD. It looks great, too—we’ve increased our paper quality. The first issue is a real knockout. I’m proud to have been a part of it. Now go buy a copy. Buy two! –
Mr. Neuman is not touched, or is he? Suzy Hutchinson: No, but before our first issue came out we had some fun with our fans and made them believe we had given Alfred a makeover. We asked regular MAD cover artist Mark Fredrickson to play plastic surgeon and paint an image of Alfred with his teeth fixed, his eyes evened up, his ears pushed back, etc. He even gave him a stylish haircut and a cool suit. He looked a bit like Rick Astley! Fans saw the image on the Internet, and many were outraged that we would dare to change him. It was a prank, of course, and we never had any intention of changing him. But it was fun to see the reaction. MAD fans are very passionate!
The deadline for the Regional Design Awards has been extended, but only until April 30.
Your judges: Sagi Haviv, Rebeca Méndez, Nancy Skolos, Alexander Isley, Chad Michael, Gail Anderson and Justin Peters.
About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →