So Long, MAD Magazine

A post-war American institution, really… MAD taught the entire boomer generation irony & satire (along with Rocky & Bullwinkle, I guess) and became a regular staple of American popular culture.

And now it’s going away.

A few more issues of new material, then they’ll rerun old material until all existing subscriptions run out, then…. they are done. Over. Kaput.

Partly due to the declining readership of print magazines in general, partly due to over-dilution of their brand among far too many other outlets for their younger target audience, and saddest of all, partly due to the overall dearth of satire and cancer of hypersensitive offense and humorlessness pervading our zeitgeist.


MAD started out strong in comic book form under Harvey Kurtzman – the throw-everything-at-the-wall style of satire from those early issues holds up beautifully today. While some of the genre parodies are dated, the comic art and execution of the jokes still hit their marks. When MAD transitioned post-Kurtzman’s fallout with William M. Gaines into the b/w magazine format, the types of pieces varied somewhat, though the direct parodies of movies and television shows remained. The “usual staff of idiots” each stood out in their regular pieces for the magazine in the days I grew up with it – the observational humor of Dave Berg, the weirdness of Don Martin, the offbeat dark humor of Al Jaffe, the distinctive comic art variances of Antonio Prohias’ Spy vs Spy juxtaposed against the boxiness of Paul Coker’s people… the magazine was always well designed and very rich visually.

Before the age of video and before they got bought out by Warners for even more access, they’d parody movies a few months after they hit theaters, with uncanny reproductions of specific scenes by brilliant artists like Mort Drucker.

And the jokes came from the same borscht-belt GI-generation mentality that basically was the culture of the comedy TV of Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, Mel Brooks and so forth. A lot of MAD’s writers who worked in the movie/tv satires doubled as writers for film and television, like Arnie Kogen, Stan Hart, Dick DeBartolo and others.

My favorite gag from the Dirty Harry parody
This one has everything! From “Rosemia’s Boo-Boo,” Mort Drucker’s obligatory “Peanuts” character and a Sinatra/Mia Farrow marriage joke.

There’d be no Airplane! without MAD. The early days of boomer sketch comedy shows MAD’s influence, though as with my own comedy reading tastes, as times went on into the 1970s and the culture got a little more in-your-face nasty when it came to humor, I and others graduated from MAD to the National Lampoon, Richard Pryor, Animal House and so forth. It seemed more necessary to satirize the immediate hypocrisies of that era than to re-mine the same “take that, Madison avenue phonies!” early 1960s vibe that MAD still had.

At some point, we all outgrew reading MAD… but not to have it around as an institution to teach the upcoming generations the art of wiseassery? For a while I guess The Simpsons and South Park served that function, but they’ve been around a loooong time… and there’s something about print satire that provides more permanence than video. We have no adult humor magazine in America. The Lampoon is long gone, the overly New York-centered Spy sorta took on that role in the early 90s, but faded… and the vast majority of what purports to be satire online overwhelmingly is in the phony news headline/story format of The Onion. Cut to Jo Anne Woorley: “BOOOOOORRRRRRRINNNNG!”

That’s a big loss, since it seems there really isn’t anything out there ready to replace that role as a common shared generational experience in such a vital lesson. And comedy itself is under attack by a multifrontal assault of everything-offends-me on one side, and the pandering-for-clapter of the post Jon Stewart non-comic preacher on the other. In the future, every comedian will be reading Lenny Bruce’s trial transcripts on stage for fifteen minutes.

Face it, late night comedy is DEAD!

And now so is MAD.

Even if the online comedy hits the mark every so often, it’s still very one-nore. Where is the gathering place for the current “gang of idiots” who could showcase dramatically different styles of comic art and joke tone the way that MAD did with Don Martin followed by Dave Berg followed by Al Jaffe followed by a movie parody drawn by Mort Drucker and written by Arnie Kogen?

I like Don Martin’s earlier late 50s-early 60s style of art, slightly even weirder than his later work.
The simplest gags are often the most brilliant

MAD can also be a wonderful treasure trove of cultural artifacts. The topics of satire mark time through the last several decades of popular culture. Like this item from 1961:

While other humor is timeless and observational.

Some things never change.

I’ll miss MAD just being out there & will continue to go back and look at old issues either in the boxed up old hard copies I still have since I never throw anything away, or from the PDFs I have courtesy the excellent DVD collection of their first 300 issues or so that came out back in 2006 (my source for all those pix).

But I think popular culture and comedy in general will miss MAD a lot more, as yet another little light goes out in the world.

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