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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