Tribute: MAD Magazine

Posted on July 5, 2019 at 3:36 pm

MAD Magazine has announced it will stop producing new content after 67 years of indispensable satire that taught generations of kids about the pleasures of snappy answers to stupid questions, the endless battle of Spy vs. Spy, the unexpected juxtapositions of the fold-in, and the subversive humor that inspired everything from “The Daily Show” to “Saturday Night Live” to Roger Ebert, who said he learned how to be a movie critic from reading MAD’s parodies, usually illustrated by the incomparable Mort Drucker. There is not a political cartoonist, stand-up comic, or political commentator who does not owe something to MAD. Like so many others, I subscribed when I was a kid and began to ask questions about the news because I wanted to understand the jokes. It had a huge effect on the way I saw the world, especially the way I saw advertising.

Copyright MAD Magazine 1984

I was lucky enough to interview then MAD art director Sam Viviano, the long-time MAD editor whose “Mrs. Maisel” parody will be in the final issue, back in 2015 for rogerebert.com.

Viviano says that the stars and filmmakers love their parodies, but the problem is the publicists. “Movie press agents are a very nervous bunch. MAD’s whole point is to make fun of it, and that makes them worry. It doesn’t matter that they are working with George Lucas or Steven Spielberg or Frank Darabont, who would do anything to have their properties in the magazine.” Spielberg’s office has framed original art from MAD’s “Jaws” parody and George Lucas also bought art from the parodies of his films. “J.J. Abrams came to the MAD office in New York to look at Hermann Mejia’s art for our parody of ‘Alias.’ They realize that at its best, MAD parodies crystallize what the movie was about and how it was made, the good points and the bad points. These guys are level-headed enough to respect that.” When Viviano put together a book of Mort Drucker’s movie parodies, he went around the publicists and managers to go to the filmmakers directly. He reached out to J.J. Abrams and ended up hearing back from Lucas, Spielberg and Darabont, whose email subject line was “Mort Drucker? Hell, yes!” “He wrote two pages about what Mort Drucker meant to him growing up, how thrilled he was when Mort did ‘The Green Mile,’ and how thrilled he was to be able to buy the original artwork. It isn’t only visual artists like me who were inspired by MAD when they were growing up. It’s creative people of all sorts. The parodies help them see movies in a different way.”

Longtime MAD caricaturist Tom Richmond wrote on his blog about a possible future for MAD, and some thoughts on how it ended up where it did.

In the Washington Post, Michael Cavna wrote an appreciation.

Mad magazine hit a peak of more than 2 million subscribers in the early ’70s, when it memorably satirized shifting social mores and cultural attitudes. Emblematic of that era — when Mad flexed the most pop-culture muscle as a powerhouse of topical irreverence — was a Watergate-era sendup of President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew in a “big con” spoof of the hit Oscar-winning movie “The Sting.”

Copyright MAD 2015

But commercial pressures had changed since the ’90s. To try to survive in more recent years, as circulation dwindled precipitously, the magazine owned by Warner Bros.’ DC division shifted to a quarterly publishing schedule and moved its offices from New York to the Los Angeles area. Now, the Mad brand will mostly endure by simply recirculating its classic vintage material, living on through the appeal of what it once was.

Smithsonian wrote about MAD last year, and there could be no better recognition of its essential role in our cultural landscape. The best of MAD is so much a part of our culture that it will never disappear.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

MAD’s Al Jaffe on More than 50 Years of Cartooning

Posted on March 16, 2017 at 3:39 pm

Vanity Fair pays tribute to MAD’s Al Jaffe, creator of the iconic “fold-in” and the snarky “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” noting that he is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest-running cartoonist. I was happy to see that he told one of my favorite stories, about one of the legendary trips the MAD artists used to take together every year.

The first trip we ever took was to Haiti. All the Mad artists and writers, we went over to Haiti.

That’s a weird place to take a company retreat.

It was, sure. It was ostensibly about bonding as a group, everybody getting to know each other a little better. But the second day we’re there, Bill rents a bunch of Jeeps, and he tells us “We’re going to visit someone.”

That’s all he tells you?

We have no clue what’s happening. So we all get in these jeeps, and we drive out to some neighborhood in Haiti, and pull up in front of a house. Bill knocks on the door, a guy answers, and Bill says to him, “We’ve all come here to find out why you canceled your subscription to Mad.”

No he didn’t!

He really did. This guy was Mad’s only Haitian reader, and Bill didn’t want to lose him. So he brought the entire staff to his doorstep. We all just started begging, “What can we do? Come back to us!” He eventually said yes. And the guy next door, his neighbor, he became a subscriber too. So we left Haiti with two new Mad readers.

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Behind the Scenes Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Comic-Con 2016: MAD and Timeless

Posted on July 22, 2016 at 11:02 am

On the first full day of San Diego Comic-Con, I:

Copyright 2016 Nell Minow
Copyright 2016 Nell Minow

Ran into a “Sharknado 4” parade with Elvises on stilts,

Talked to CBS television series stars, including James Wolk of “Zoo,” Tyler James Williams of “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders,” Eddie Kaye Thomas and Jaydn Wong from “Scorpion,” Wilmer Valderrama of “NCIS,” and Megan Ketch of “American Gothic,”

Saw directors Oliver Stone and Luc Besson in their first-ever Comic-Con appearances, to talk about their upcoming films “Snowden” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,”

Heard a fascinating discussion about Mormon comic artists,

Visited an interactive experience inspired by the new television series, “Timeless,” that involved being swirled around in a Gravitron and exiting into a hallway showing that past historical events had been altered and being so dizzy it seemed like they might be true, and

Attended one of my favorite annual events, the Mad about MAD — MAD Magazine panel. There were jokes about the current political candidates, of course. When asked if they weren’t secretly hoping Trump would win because he provides such good material, they said that they were sure whoever got elected would give them plenty to make fun of. MAD has a free ebook on Donald Trump and some of its most popular artwork is now available on Zazzle. They have a forthcoming parody book called Goodnight Batcave. I was delighted to hear that “MADtv” is returning to television, Tuesday nights on the CW. In response to questions, John Ficarra said that yes, they’ve been sued (by Irving Berlin), and that the stories that produce the most hate mail are when they make fun of boy bands. And I love to hear the stories of the legendary trips the entire staff used to take together. On one cruise to Bermuda, they played a joke on MAD founder Wiliam Gaines by re-enacting the famous stateroom scene from “A Night at the Opera.” By the time the room was filled with MAD writers and artists, crew members, and random strangers, he was roaring with laughter. And so, as they told the story, was the audience, still MAD about MAD.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Comic-Con 2008, Part 2 (Spaced, MAD, and Lynda Barry)

Posted on July 29, 2008 at 8:00 pm

More highlights, observations and pictures from Comic-Con 2008
Most of the presenters mentioned that their name cards had a cautionary note on the back reminding them that they should be careful about what they said because there would likely be children in the audience. And then they ignored it. If there is an overall theme of Comic-Con it is, as Jack Black said in “School of Rock,” sticking it to The Man. Even if The Man is Comic-Con itself.
Like connoisseurs of all kinds, whether wine, art, movies (we should say “cinema”), or sports, there is a specialized and a little pretentious vocabulary for talking about comics. I heard a lot of great terms, including “orchestral” and “meta-paneled.” IMG_5828.JPG
In addition to the people listed previously and below, Comic-Con appearances included Deepak Chopra, Paris Hilton, Triumph the insulting dog puppet, Robert Culp and William Katt of “The Greatest American Hero,” Dan Ackroyd (there’s a new “Ghostbusters” computer game), the new Aston Martin from the forthcoming James Bond movie, and cast members from “Lost,” “Chuck,” “Knight Rider,” the new HBO vampire series “True Blood,” created by Alan Ball of “Six Feet Under” and “American Beauty,” and, speaking of vampires, the much-anticipated upcoming film, “Twilight.”
I hardly think that coming as Silent Bob qualifies as a costume. Same with Hancock. But for some very impressive costumes, you can see my photos here. And I also wrote a piece for the Association of Women Film Journalists about Comic-Con posted on their site.

  • I interviewed Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Jessica Stevenson about the DVD release of their first project together, a British television show called Spaced. Wright and Pegg went on to make “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” and Pegg will play Scotty in the new film version of “Star Trek.” Jen Chaney of The Washington Post reported that they were actually filming, too — “Daytrippers” director Greg Mottola is making a movie featuring Pegg and frequent co-star Nick Frost that begins and ends at Comic-Con.
    Wright spoke about his American influences, including “Arrested Development,” the plotting of “Seinfeld,” “Flight of the Conchords,” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” “‘Larry Sanders’ was not all that popular but it was one of the most influential series. It led directly to the UK ‘The Office.’ And we wanted to make an associative, clever, original comedy show like ‘Arrested Development.'” They were also influenced by the British sit-com “The Young Ones.” “It changed the lives of the people of our generation. It spoke to us so personally. It was punk for comedy. It helped give us permission to share experiences like our lives. Like us, the characters sat around, procrastinated, played PlayStation, smoked weed, and had adventures. It was a message for the geek community throughout the world: ‘We are taking over the world.'”
    Wright also described getting the commentary tracks together for the DVD. “It all came together at the last minute and we did it all in one day in LA. Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody, Matt Stone, and Quentin Tarantino did it all for free, driving themselves. I did have to get Kevin Smith out of bed, though.”
    Stevenson talked about her “strong and unique female character. She is different but equal to the male. She’s not intended to be any sort of archetype of stereotype — just an original and authentic character and that was the interesting perspective and because I am female it was strong. The fan base is equally strong in both genders,” she noted. ” That is because it is not escaping into a fantasy world of no gender boundaries; it’s a real world of real people.”
  • Swamp_Thing_v.2_6.jpgOne of the highlights of a panel discussion on comics in the 1970’s was the raucous recollections of the struggles with the censors. Like the movies, comics had been subject to a code that covered (literally in some cases) what could be depicted. Bernie Wrightson recalled that after six issues of “Swamp Thing,” the censors noticed that he wasn’t wearing any pants. Wrightson explained that (a) no one had objected in the first six issues, (b) this was a creature who emerged from the swamp, where pants are not easily obtained, and (c) he is a plant.
    IMG_5860.JPGAnother great panel was the reminiscences from the MAD Magazine editor and staff about their experiences in the 1960’s. They had especially fond memories of the annual vacation trips the staff would take together to locations all over the world. One year, they went to Haiti and found out ahead of time that MAD had only one subscriber on the island, an American teenager. The entire staff went over to his house and rang the doorbell to ask him to renew.
  • It was fun to run into the crew from Rotten Tomatoes — here interviewing Bender the robot from “Futurama”

IMG_5918.JPG

(more…)

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Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Festivals Media Appearances Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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