Monday, April 08, 2013

MAD Sanity

A cover I loved at age 8, blending my two favorite icons
(Reflection on MAD magazine, after hearing an interview with John Ficarra on Bob Edwards' Weekend radio show.)

"Everyone thinks that MAD was at its best the year they first read it," says John Ficarra, editor of MAD today.  MAD's mission, he says, is "subverting minds."

Truly, MAD was a sane balance for the craziness of the time.  My introduction to MAD was 1968, one of the single most tumultuous years in American history, when national self-confidence was shaken by "generation gap," political assassinations, riots and the exposure in Vietnam of our leaders' dishonesty and incompetence.

My window on all that was Alfred E. Neuman's "What - me worry?" face.  Hippies v. Hardhats, Spy v. Spy, Hawks v. Doves, KKK v. Black Panthers-- MAD's creators found a laughable angle on just about everything but assassinations, and that helped when the world was too scary or depressing.  (Note: NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" serves this way for me today.)

I recall a feature "If Comics Adopt Nudity like the Movies," and take-offs on "Midnight Cowboy" and "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice," making fun of promiscuity, hypocrisy, and Timothy Leary's drug culture.  My introduction to the Ten Commandments was through a feature that juxtaposed images of Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher, et. al. with "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife," and an actress kissing Oscar beside the ban on graven idols.  In a mock advertisement, Adolf Hitler endorses cigarette companies for their success killing more people than he ever dreamed.

Something else that MAD always showed was consistent craftsmanship.  Mort Drucker's caricatures were dead-on target; Sergio Aragones' marginal cartoons were admirably compact, of necessity;  Al Jaffee's fold-ins were ingenious and skillful;  I loved the cover art.  I learned irony from Dave Berg, as in his "lighter side of fitness" cartoon feature, when an older man at a gym asks a younger one why he spends his time on machines that row nowhere, run nowhere, and bike nowhere.  "They get me somewhere," the young man says, "Away from my wife!"  MAD's parodies of poems and songs, meticulously matching original rhyme-schemes and meter, got me started on a life-long hobby, as in this song from MAD's sequel to "The Sound of Music":

You are forty,
Going on forty-one,
Already past your prime.
No man has wed you,
Each man has fled you,
Except for Father Time....

I find online many MAD tribute sites where covers and articles are available for viewing. 

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