What, Me Worry? Not Anymore.

Media

So after all these years MAD magazine is closing down (except for a few back-catalogue-trawling specials). Of course it was never very funny, just beautifully put together in its earliest days, with an amazing roster of artists from the greatest-ever caricaturist Mort Drucker to Frank Kelly Freas (above) and Don Martin.

As the dominant English-speaking country in the world at the time, the USA had a big influence on me as a kid (and I imagine most writers of my age). America seemed to fit adolescent aspirations. It was everything we were not – big, brash, loud and exciting. It was one of the first American magazines I could get my hands on with any regularity and its obsessions (Madison Avenue, cars, movies) became mine.

Mad magazine was founded in 1952 as a comic book, the first issue written almost entirely by its editor Harvey Kurtzman. It became a magazine in 1955 and soon began building up influence and readership with its satire and silly parodies. Its readership peaked at more than 2 million in 1974.

I especially found Don Martin’s grotesque characters delightful (they don’t seem so bizarre now – why is that?), hated Dave Berg’s suburban family cartoons, loved the Drucker movie parodies. A lot of it was entry-level stuff, but having discovered this at the right time, it was exactly what I needed. I now look back at certain artists like Bill Elder and John and Marie Severin with awe and affection, and realise I tried to draw like Elder for years after.

Mad was aimed at kids, but could you imagine a kids’ magazine putting someone like Fidel Castro on a cover nowadays? What happened to make even Mad magazine look sophisticated now? It was not the first magazine to pull apart the media and lifestyles to see what made them tick – that was done by Harvey Kurtzman’s earlier ‘Help!’ magazine, with the aid of a young Terry Gilliam (I still own some copies) and it was not the last. Inferior versions like ‘Cracked’ tried to capture the Mad audience. But Mad was the best.

Loud but never crude, it was a great way to get an overview of US culture, its key years of influence 7 – 12 years old. The world moved on around it to darker fare, and gentle observational ribbing was no longer enough to sell a magazine. National Lampoon combined political outrage with cartoons (see the shocker below), Spy Magazine crossed Enquire with Mad’s sensibilities. But all who came after respected MAD as the starting point of their own journeys. RIP Alfred E Neuman.

 

9 comments on “What, Me Worry? Not Anymore.”

  1. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    I wasn’t allowed to have American comics, so I used to visit the boy next door and read his. I preferred Alfred E. Neuman to any of the superheroes.
    It’s a furshluginner shame.

  2. Diane Englot says:

    Downcast since hearing the news. When most kidlings were reading Winnie the Pooh & Charlotte’s Web, my brother and I were reading MAD. God love our parents for giving us the money to buy it.

    Wish we had kept all of our issues.

  3. Trace Turner says:

    I spent a lot of my youth reading and re-reading my older brother’s MAD magazines. Even my parents read and enjoyed them. I once convinced my mother to pose for photo dressed like the Statue of Liberty holding a MAD magazine. I post that on Facebook every few years on July 4th. I didn’t see a lot of movies in the 70’s but I felt like I did from the parodies.

  4. Peter Dixon says:

    MAD was the favourite magazine for my school chums around 1969/70. We had well thumbed copies which were swapped around at break time. Punch we could read in the library (but only after 5 teachers had read it first).
    This was the era of great Jewish humour – Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, MASH, Get Smart, Neil Simon, as well as stand-ups with bullet-fast delivery – it seemed that a certain style, wit, playful language and pithy wisecracks and language took over, resulting in such greats as ‘Blazing Saddles’ , ‘High Anxiety’ and ‘Young Frankenstein’ which were the old Mort Drucker parodies turned into reality. Simon would write ‘The Odd Couple’ and a series of movies with the great Walter Matteau which are never shown now.

    In latter years the styles and situations were taken over by the likes of Billy Crystal and Danny De Vito ( Throw Momma From a Train, City Slickers). There’s a strange lineage with American entertainment that starts with the Marx Brothers and was nurtured by MAD, giving the chance for for us all to parody and question all of society around us.

    The demise of MAD, Punch and other journals tells us that humorous observation and no longer exists within the printed press, but I can’t find any online presence that fits the gap.

    Our stalwart new ruler, Boris Johnson shows us that everyone can see the Emperors New Clothes and most of his supporters are willing to spend TV time carefully describing them and how well he wears them.

    MAD eh?

  5. J F Norris says:

    My brothers and I were never without the current issue of MAD when we were teens growing up in the 1970s. I loved the movie parodies the most and then the TV show parodies. I also enjoyed hunting the page margins looking for Sergio Aragones’ weird miniaturized doodles. I learned how to draw cartoons by imitating Don Martin and Aragones characters. I truly can’t believe it lasted as long as it did. I thought for sure it had died sometime in the 90s. I was always taken aback if I came across a copy in a supermarket over the past decade or so when I was certain it had disappeared..

  6. Stephen Winer says:

    Actually HELP Magazine was published from 1960 to 1965. It was the most successful magazine helmed by Harvey Kurtzman after he left MAD.

  7. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Digital media is replacing print here two. McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Onion are examples. I bought Mad in the 60s and later for my kids but not for years.. But Walt Kelly’s daughter has been reprinting the complete daily strips of Pogo in hard back volumes, up to #5 so far and their political satire remains relevant today, while their humor is wonderful. I expect hard back reprints of Mad will come, followed by doctoral dissertstions!

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    I still have an old paperback of Don Martin’s culled from MAD. Spy vs. Spy was always fun. To my mind it always looked funnier than it was, if that makes sense.

    Wayne.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Thank you for the info, Bruce. I keep my eye out for Pogo pieces and have a couple of collections but if the dailies are coming out I’m heading for Abebooks.
    My brother always had Mad around and my husband, it turned out, was a big fan.

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