Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
MAD is an American humor magazine founded by publisher William Gaines and editor Harvey Kurtzman in 1952. Aimed at young readers, it satirized American pop culture. It deflated stuffed shirts and poked fun at common foibles. Its publisher, Gaines, had suffered greatly from censorship which had literally destroyed his prior line of EC horror comics.
MAD was first published as a comic book entitled Tales Calculated To Drive You Mad (Oct.–Nov. 1952), written almost entirely by Harvey Kurtzman, and concentrated on satirizing popular newspaper comics and comic books. The popular myth is that it was converted into a magazine to escape the strictures of the Comics Code Authority, which was imposed in 1955 following Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency, when it was actually turned into a magazine because Kurtzman wanted Mad to become more like "real" things adults read. The immediate practical result was that MAD acquired a broader range in both subject matter and presentation. Magazines also had wider distribution than comic books.
Throughout the 1950s MAD featured brilliant parodies of American popular culture illustrated by such luminaries as Jack Davis, Bill Elder , and Wally Wood, each with his own style. They combined a sentimental fondness for the familiar staples of American culture—such as Archie and Superman—with a keen joy in exposing the fakery behind the image—see their pieces entitled "Starchie" and "Superduperman."
MAD was noted for its absence of advertising, enabling it to skewer the excesses of a materialist culture without fear of advertiser reprisal. The magazine often featured numerous parodies of ongoing American advertising campaigns. During the 1960s, it satirized such topics as hippies, the Vietnam War, and drug abuse. The magazine gave equal time to counterculture drugs such as pot as well as to mainstream drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. Although one can detect a generally liberal tone, the magazine always slammed Democrats as mercilessly as Republicans.
In a parody of Playboy's "foldout" cheesecake pictures, each issue of MAD from 1964 on featured a "fold-in" on its inside back cover, designed by artist Al Jaffee. A question would be asked, which apparently was illustrated by a picture taking up the bulk of the page. When the page was folded inwards, the inner and outer thirds of the picture combined to give a surprising answer in both picture and words.
Other long-running features included Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of..." which often satirized the suburban lifestyle, and Antonio Prohias' wordless "Spy vs. Spy," the neverending battle between the Black Spy and the White Spy that has lasted longer than the Cold War which inspired it.
The image most closely associated with the magazine is that of Alfred E. Neuman, the curly-haired boy with a gap-toothed smile and the question "What? Me worry?" Alfred's image first appeared on the cover of the magazine within the first few years of its existence. Before that he had appeared inside a small portion of an issue. The original image of an unnamed boy with a goofy grin was a popular humorous graphic many years before MAD adopted it. The character takes his name from Alfred Newman, a member of a well-known family of film composers, who made a series of blackout radio appearances that had amused Kurtzman years earlier.
MAD also provided a showcase for some of the best satirical writers and artists of a generation. Artists such as the aforementioned Davis, Elder and Wood, as well as Mort Drucker, Sergio Aragones, and Don Martin, and writers such as Dick DeBartolo , Frank Jacobs , Tom Koch , and Arnie Kogen appeared regularly in the magazine at various times in its history. Newer contributors include Rick Tulka , Hermann Mejia , Desmond Devlin, Mike Snider , Andrew J. Schwartzberg , John Caldwell , Bill Wray , Anthony Barbieri , Drew Friedman , Tom Bunk , and Barry Liebmann .
Original editor Kurtzman left in 1956 following a business dispute with Gaines, and was replaced by Al Feldstein , who oversaw the magazine during its greatest heights of circulation. Feldstein retired in 1984, and was replaced by the team of Nick Meglin and John Ficarra , who co-edited "MAD" for the next two decades. Meglin retired in 2004; Ficarra continues to edit the magazine today.
MAD is often credited by social theorists with filling a vital gap in political satire in the 1950s to 1970s, when Cold War paranoia and a general culture of censorship prevailed in the United States, especially in literature for teens. The rise of such factors as cable television and the Internet seems to have diminished such influence of MAD somewhat, although it remains a widely distributed magazine. In a way, MAD's power has been undone by its own success; what was subversive in the 1950s and 1960s is now commonplace. However, its impact on three generations of humorists is incalculable, as can be seen in the frequent references to MAD Magazine on the animated series The Simpsons.
For tax reasons, Gaines had sold his company in the early 1960s to the Kinney Corporation , which also acquired Warner Bros by the end of that decade. Though technically an employee for 30 years, the fiercely independent Gaines was largely permitted to run MAD without corporate interference. Following Gaines' death in 1992, though, MAD became more ingrained within the AOL Time Warner conglomerate.
In 1980, following the success of the National Lampoon-backed Animal House, MAD lent its name to a similar risque comedy entitled Up the Academy . It was such a commercial and critical failure that MAD successfully arranged for all references to the magazine (including a cameo by Alfred E. Neuman) to be removed from future TV and video releases of the film.
In 2001, the magazine broke its long-standing taboo and began running advertising. A TV show was introduced in 1995 based on the magazine: MAD TV, which aired comedy segments in a fashion similar to Saturday Night Live and SCTV. There is no editorial connection between the sketch comedy series and the magazine, though the characters from "Spy vs. Spy" featured in animated vignettes. Meanwhile, MAD-related merchandise, which was scarce during the Gaines years, has appeared regularly.
Today, the magazine is published by a branch of DC Comics and in recent years has, along with allowing advertising, increased the use of color. The MAD logo has remained virtually unchanged since the late 1950s, save for the decision to italicize the lettering beginning in the late 1990s.
Imitators and variants
MAD has had many imitators through the years. The three most durable of these were Cracked, Sick, and Crazy. Most others were short-lived exercises, such as Zany (4 issues), Frantic (2 issues), Ratfink (1 issue), Nuts! (2 issues), Get Lost (3 issues), Whack (3 issues), Wild (5 issues), Madhouse (8 issues), Riot (6 issues), Flip (2 issues), and Eh! (7 issues). Even MAD's own company, E.C., joined the parade with a sister humor magazine called Panic, which was produced by future MAD editor Al Feldstein. Most of these productions aped MAD's format right down to choosing a synonym for mad as their title. Most also featured a cover mascot along the lines of MAD's Alfred E. Neuman.
In 1967, Marvel Comics produced the first of 13 issues of Not Brand Ecch! , which parodied their own superhero titles, and owed its entire inspiration and format to the original "MAD" comic books of a decade earlier. From 1973-1976, DC Comics published Plop! which was much the same but relied more on one-page gags and horror-based comedy.
But as it carries on past its 50th year, MAD has outlasted them all, save Cracked, which has appeared infrequently for years but still bobs in and out of production.
Other humor magazines of note include former MAD Editor Harvey Kurtzman's Humbug and Trump, the National Lampoon, and Spy Magazine, but these cannot be considered direct ripoffs of MAD in the same way as the others mentioned here. Of all the competition, only the National Lampoon ever threatened MAD's hegemony as America's top humor magazine, in the early-to-mid-1970s. However, this was also the period of MAD's greatest sales figures. Both magazines peaked in sales about the same time. The Lampoon topped one million sales once, for a single issue in 1974. MAD crossed the 2-million mark with an average 1973 circulation of 2,059,236, then improved to 2,132,655 in 1974.
Gaines reportedly kept a voodoo doll in his business office, into which he would stick pins labelled with each of MAD's imitators. He would only remove a pin when the copycat had ceased publishing. At the time of Gaines' death in 1992, only the pin for Cracked remained.
Some of the Usual Gang of Idiots
- Sergio Aragones
- Dave Berg
- Paul Coker, Jr.
- Jack Davis
- Mort Drucker
- Frank Kelly Freas
- Al Jaffee
- Don Martin
- Antonio Prohias
- Wally Wood
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