is a monthly American humor magazine
founded by editor Harvey Kurtzman
and publisher William Gaines
The last surviving title from the notorious and critically acclaimed EC Comics line, the magazine offers satire on all aspects of American life and pop culture, politics, entertainment, and public figures. Its format is divided into a number of recurring segments such as TV and movie parodies, as well as freeform articles. Mad's mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, is typically the focal point of the magazine's cover, with his face often replacing a celebrity or character that is lampooned within the issue.
Owned by Warner Bros. Entertainment, the magazine is under the corporate control of subsidiary DC Comics. Over the course of its history, Mad has been published in over 20 countries, and has been adapted into different media including recordings, stage shows, games and a late night sketch comedy television series, Mad TV.
Graydon Carter chose it as the sixth best magazine of any sort ever, describing Mad's mission as being "ever ready to pounce on the illogical, hypocritical, self-serious and ludicrous" before concluding, "Nowadays, it’s part of the oxygen we breathe. Joyce Carol Oates called it "wonderfully inventive, irresistibly irreverent and intermittently ingenious American. Roger Ebert wrote, "I learned to be a movie critic by reading Mad Magazine... Mad's parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin—of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe. Pauline Kael lost it at the movies; I lost it at Mad Magazine. Rock singer Patti Smith said more succinctly, "After Mad, drugs were nothing."
Debuting in August 1952 (cover-dated
began as a comic book
, part of the EC
line published from the Lower East Side
in New York. In 1961, Mad
moved its offices to midtown Manhattan; since 1996 its location has been at 1700 Broadway.
The phrase "Tales Calculated to Drive You" above the title Mad referenced radio's Suspense which often used the opening, "Tales well calculated to keep you in... Suspense!" With wordplay on "jocular," the vertical subtitle, "Humor in a Jugular Vein," hinted at a sinister satirical edge.
Written almost entirely by Harvey Kurtzman
, the first issue also featured illustrations by Kurtzman himself, along with Wally Wood
, Will Elder
, Jack Davis
and John Severin
. Wood, Elder and Davis were the three main illustrators throughout the 23-issue run of the book; Severin, a mainstay of Kurtzman's EC war comics, left the comic book by the tenth issue. Kurtzman included his own finished art only sporadically, primarily on covers. However, he was known as an exceedingly "hands-on" editor and a visual master, and thus many Mad
articles were illustrated in strict accordance with Kurtzman's detailed layouts. A handful of other artists also contributed to the original run, including Bernard Krigstein
, Russ Heath
and most conspicuously among the non-regulars, Basil Wolverton
The first two issues of Mad spoofed only comic books and movie genres of romance, horror, sports and science fiction, without overtly specific references. However, with issue #3, Kurtzman turned to direct parodies, targeting two well-known radio programs with parodies of Dragnet and The Lone Ranger, and he soon began satirizing selected comic strips ("Little Orphan Melvin!"), comic books ("Superduperman!"), books ("Alice in Wonderland!"), films ("Hah! Noon!") and television programs ("Howdy Dooit!").
Expansion and evolution
By mid-1953, Gaines had made plans for expansion. After nine bi-monthly issues, Mad
became a monthly with the April 1954 issue. At that same time, EC Comics launched another satirical bi-monthly, Panic
, edited by Al Feldstein
. Since this new title also used Kurtzman's core trio of artists (Davis, Elder, Wood), the peeved editor felt that Panic
sapped and diminished the creative energy necessary to meet Mad
's production schedule.
In 1955, with issue 24, the comic book converted to magazine format. According to popular myth, this was done to escape the strictures of the Comics Code Authority, which was imposed in 1955 following United States Congressional hearings on juvenile delinquency. Actually, Kurtzman had received a lucrative offer from the publisher of the digest periodical Pageant, and only stayed when Gaines agreed to upgrade Mad. The immediate practical result was that Mad acquired a broader range in both subject matter and presentation. Magazines had wider distribution than comic books, and a more adult readership.
However, the Comics Code Authority had proven fatal to most of Gaines's EC Comics line due to restrictions on title and content. Gaines suffered both financially and creatively from targeted industry censorship and the enmity of his fellow publishers. EC's national distributor, Leader News, was the nation's weakest and did not have the clout to withstand an undeclared industry boycott of EC product: the company's comics were frequently returned still in their original unopened bundles. These factors combined to drive all EC Comics from the stands, except for Mad, which was too profitable to ignore. The company's financial status grew shakier in 1956 when Leader News declared bankruptcy, leaving EC over $100,000 in debt. Only the Gaines family's investment of capital and a fortuitous deal with the much stronger American News distributor kept Mad afloat.
After the bulk of EC's line was canceled in 1954-55, the company was completely reliant on the improving fortunes of Mad. In a creative showdown, Kurtzman insisted on a 51 percent share in the company or else he would quit. When Gaines rejected the demand, EC was without its dominant creative force, and Kurtzman was separated from the magazine that crystallized his talents. Al Feldstein returned to EC and oversaw Mad during its greatest heights of circulation. Taking over with issue #29, Feldstein set to work assembling a phalanx of humor writers and cartoonists. His first issue as editor coincided with the debut of Don Martin: crucial longterm contributors such as prolific writer Frank Jacobs and star caricaturist Mort Drucker quickly followed. Before the classic Mad staff was assembled, Feldstein also relied on celebrity guest contributions to attract attention and fill pages. Some of these pieces, attributed to Bob and Ray, were actually the work of their main writer Tom Koch, who would flourish in Mad for decades under his own byline. By the early 1960s, with notables such as Antonio Prohias, Al Jaffee and Dave Berg well in hand, Feldstein had fully established the format that was to be a commercial success for decades.
Al Feldstein joined Mad
in the same year that Time
described it as a "short-lived satirical pulp". By the time he left 28 years later, the magazine was commonly cited as one of the three greatest publishing successes of the 1950s, along with Playboy
and TV Guide
. The magazine's circulation more than quadrupled during Feldstein's tenure, peaking at 2,132,655 in 1974, although it had declined to a third of this figure by the end of his time as editor. When Feldstein retired in 1984, he was replaced by the team of Nick Meglin
and John Ficarra
, who co-edited Mad
for the next two decades. After Meglin retired in 2004, Ficarra continued to edit the magazine.
For tax reasons, Gaines sold his company in the early 1960s to the Kinney Parking Company. Kinney was in the process of becoming a conglomerate, including acquiring National Periodicals (aka DC Comics) and Warner Bros. by the end of that decade. Though technically an employee for 30 years, the fiercely independent Gaines was named a Kinney board member, and was largely permitted to run Mad as he saw fit without corporate interference.
By early 1978, Mad was obliged to include a UPC symbol on its covers. The magazine responded by devoting the entire front cover of issue #198 to a giant UPC bar code, saying they hoped it would "jam every computer in the country" for "forcing us to deface our covers with this yecchy UPC symbol from now on." For more than two years, subsequent issues labeled the normal-sized symbol with a series of humorous captions, such as "Closeup of the gap in Alfred E. Neuman's teeth" or "Hair of man watching horror movie."
Leaping logos and cavorting centaurs
logo has remained largely unchanged since 1955, save for the decision to italicize
the lettering beginning in 1997. For many years, the mysterious letters "IND" appeared in small type within the logo, between the M and the A. Sometimes the Mad
logo included cavorting centaurs within the lettering, one of whom would be pointing directly at the IND. Though some fans speculated about the secret meaning of the "M-IND" message, the truth was more prosaic: from 1957 on, the magazine was handled by Independent News Distribution.
Following Gaines' June 3, 1992 death, Mad became more ingrained within the Time Warner corporate structure, which did not share Gaines' idiosyncratic ideas about marketing Mad. Time Warner turned the magazine over to DC Comics' publishers Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz, and DC Vice President Joe Orlando became the magazine's new associate publisher. Closely involved with DC licensing, Orlando had also been a staff artist with EC Comics in the 1950s, and a prolific contributor to Mad during the 1960s. Time Warner put a much stronger emphasis on Mad merchandising and licensing, including products for its chain of Warner Studio Stores. Orlando's Special Projects department at DC Comics hired Bhob Stewart to edit a new Mad Style Guide (1994), featuring artwork by Sergio Aragonés, Angelo Torres and George Woodbridge.
Eventually, the magazine was obliged to abandon its long-time home at 485 Madison Avenue (printed as "MADison" Avenue in the masthead), and in the mid-1990s it moved into DC Comics' offices at the same time DC relocated to 1700 Broadway. Although Orlando retired from DC Comics in 1996, he continued to design cover layouts for Mad right up until the month of his death in 1998.
In 2001, the magazine broke its long-standing taboo and began running advertising. The outside revenue allowed for the introduction of color printing and improved paper stock. Some black-and-white material, however, remains in each issue.
Though there are antecedents to Mad
’s style of humor in print, radio and film, Mad
became a pioneering example of it. Throughout the 1950s, Mad
featured groundbreaking parodies combining a sentimental fondness for the familiar staples of American culture—such as Archie
—with a keen joy in exposing the fakery behind the image. Its approach was described by Dave Kehr
in The New York Times
Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding on the radio, Ernie Kovacs on television, Stan Freberg on records, Harvey Kurtzman in the early issues of Mad: all of those pioneering humorists and many others realized that the real world mattered less to people than the sea of sounds and images that the ever more powerful mass media were pumping into American lives.
Bob and Ray, Kovacs and Freberg all became contributors to Mad.
In 1977, Tony Hiss and Jeff Lewis wrote in The New York Times about the then 25-year-old publication's initial effect:
- The skeptical generation of kids it shaped in the 1950s is the same generation that in the 1960s opposed a war and didn't feel bad when the United States lost for the first time and in the 1970s helped turn out an Administration and didn't feel bad about that either... It was magical, objective proof to kids that they weren't alone, that in New York City on Lafayette Street, if nowhere else, there were people who knew that there was something wrong, phony and funny about a world of bomb shelters, brinkmanship and toothpaste smiles. Mad's consciousness of itself, as trash, as comic book, as enemy of parents and teachers, even as money-making enterprise, thrilled kids. In 1955, such consciousness was possibly nowhere else to be found. In a Mad parody, comic-strip characters knew they were stuck in a strip. Darnold Duck, for instance, begins wondering why he has only three fingers and has to wear white gloves all the time. He ends up wanting to murder every other Disney character. G.I. Schmoe tries to win the sexy Asiatic broad by telling her, "O.K., baby! You're all mine! I gave you a chance to hit me witta gun butt... But naturally, you have immediately fallen in love with me, since I am a big hero of this story.
Mad is often credited with filling a vital gap in political satire in the 1950s to 1970s, when Cold War paranoia and a general culture of censorship prevailed in the United States, especially in literature for teens. Activist Tom Hayden said, "My own radical journey began with Mad Magazine. The rise of such factors as cable television and the Internet have diminished the influence and impact of Mad, although it remains a widely distributed magazine. In a way, Mad's power has been undone by its own success: what was subversive in the 1950s and 1960s is now commonplace. However, its impact on three generations of humorists is incalculable, as can be seen in the frequent references to Mad on the animated series The Simpsons.
Mad's satiric net was cast wide. The magazine often featured parodies of ongoing American culture, including advertising campaigns, the nuclear family, the media, big business, education and publishing. In the 1960s and beyond, it satirized such burgeoning topics as the sexual revolution, hippies, psychoanalysis, gun control, pollution, the Vietnam War and recreational drug use. The magazine gave equal time, generally negative, to counterculture drugs such as cannabis and LSD, as well as towards mainstream drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. Mad always satirized Democrats as mercilessly as it did Republicans. It also ran a good deal of less-topical material on such varied subjects as fairy tales, nursery rhymes, greeting cards, sports, small talk, poetry, marriage, comic strips, awards shows, cars and many other areas of general interest.
In 2007, the Los Angeles Times' Robert Boyd wrote, "All I really need to know I learned from Mad magazine", going on to assert:
- Plenty of it went right over my head, of course, but that's part of what made it attractive and valuable: Things that go over your head can make you raise your head a little higher. :The magazine instilled in me a habit of mind, a way of thinking about a world rife with false fronts, small print, deceptive ads, booby traps, treacherous language, double standards, half truths, subliminal pitches and product placements; it warned me that I was often merely the target of people who claimed to be my friend; it prompted me to mistrust authority, to read between the lines, to take nothing at face value, to see patterns in the often shoddy construction of movies and TV shows; and it got me to think critically in a way that few actual humans charged with my care ever bothered to.
In 1994, Brian Siano (The Humanist) discussed the eye-opening aspects of Mad:
- For the smarter kids of two generations, Mad was a revelation: it was the first to tell us that the toys we were being sold were garbage, our teachers were phonies, our leaders were fools, our religious counselors were hypocrites, and even our parents were lying to us about damn near everything. An entire generation had William Gaines for a godfather: this same generation later went on to give us the sexual revolution, the environmental movement, the peace movement, greater freedom in artistic expression, and a host of other goodies. Coincidence? You be the judge.
Pulitzer Prize-winning art comics maven Art Spiegelman said, "The message Mad had in general is, 'The media is lying to you, and we are part of the media.' It was basically... 'Think for yourselves, kids.'" William Gaines offered his own view: when asked to cite Mad's philosophy, his boisterous answer was, "We must never stop reminding the reader what little value they get for their money!"
Supreme Court cases
The magazine has been involved in various legal actions over the decades, some of which have reached the United States Supreme Court
. The most far-reaching was Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc.
. In 1961, a group of music publishers representing songwriters such as Irving Berlin
, Richard Rodgers
and Cole Porter
filed a $25 million lawsuit against Mad
for copyright infringement following "Sing Along With Mad
," a collection of parody lyrics "sung to the tune of" many popular songs. The publishing group hoped to establish a legal precedent that only a song's composers retained the right to parody that song. The U.S. District Court ruled largely in favor of Mad
in 1963, affirming its right to print 23 of the 25 song parodies under dispute. An exception was found in the cases of two parodies, "Always" (sung to the tune of "Always") and "There's No Business Like No Business" (sung to the tune of "There's No Business Like Show Business"). Relying on the same verbal hooks ("always" and "business"), these were found to be overly similar to the originals. The music publishers appealed the ruling, but the U.S. Court of Appeals not only upheld the pro-Mad
decision in regard to the 23 songs, it stripped the publishers of their limited victory regarding the remaining two songs. The publishers again appealed, but the Supreme Court refused to hear it, thus allowing the decision to stand.
This precedent-setting case established the rights of parodists and satirists to mimic the meter of popular songs. However, the "Sing Along With Mad" songbook was not the magazine's first venture into musical parody. In 1960, Mad had published "My Fair Ad-Man," a full advertising-based spoof of the hit Broadway musical My Fair Lady. In 1959, "If Gilbert & Sullivan wrote Dick Tracy" was one of the speculative pairings in "If Famous Authors Wrote the Comics".
In 1966, a series of copyright infringement lawsuits against the magazine regarding ownership of the Alfred E. Neuman image eventually reached the Supreme Court. New York's Federal Appellate Court had invalidated all previous copyrights, thus establishing Mad's right to the character. This decision was also allowed to stand.
was long noted for its absence of advertising
, enabling it to skewer the excesses of a materialist culture without fear of advertiser reprisal. For decades, it was by far the most successful American magazine to publish ad-free, beginning with issue #33 (April 1957) and continuing through issue #402 (February 2001).
As a comic book, Mad had run the same advertisements as the rest of EC's line, and the magazine later made a deal with Moxie soda that involved inserting the Moxie logo into various articles. Mad also ran a limited number of ads in its first two years as a magazine, helpfully labeled "real advertisement" to differentiate the real from the parodies. The last authentic ad published under the original Mad regime was for Famous Artists School; two issues later, the inside front cover of issue #34 featured a parody of the same ad. After this transitional period, the only promotions to appear in Mad for decades were house ads for Mad's own books and specials, subscriptions, or promotional items such as ceramic busts or a line of Mad jewelry. Mad often explicitly promised that it would never make its mailing list available to anyone to exploit.
Both Kurtzman and Feldstein had wanted the magazine to solicit advertising; each editor felt this could be accomplished without compromising Mad's content or editorial independence. Kurtzman remembered Ballyhoo, a boisterous 1930s humor publication that made an editorial point of mocking its own sponsors. Feldstein went so far as to propose an in-house Mad ad agency and produce a "dummy" copy of what an issue with ads could look like. But Bill Gaines was intractable, telling 60 Minutes, "We long ago decided we couldn't take money from Pepsi-Cola and make fun of Coca-Cola." However, Gaines' primary motivation in eschewing ad dollars was less philosophical than practical:
- "We'd have to improve our package. Most advertisers want to appear in a magazine that's loaded with color and has super-slick paper. So you find yourself being pushed into producing a more expensive package. You get bigger and fancier and attract more advertisers. Then you find you're losing some of your advertisers. Your readers still expect the fancy package, so you keep putting it out, but now you don't have your advertising income, which is why you got fancier in the first place--and now you're sunk."
Each issue of Mad
from 1964 onward featured a Fold-in, usually on the inside back cover (issue #320 featured a Fold-in front cover), designed by artist Al Jaffee
. A question would be asked, often of a topical nature, which apparently was illustrated by a picture taking up the bulk of the page. When the page is folded inward, the inner and outer fourths of the picture combine to reveal an alternate answer in both picture and words. Until 1967, Fold-ins were presented in black-and-white.
"The Lighter Side of…"
From 1961 to 2002, Dave Berg
produced "The Lighter Side of…", which often satirized the suburban lifestyle, capitalism
and the generation gap
. Subjects commonly lampooned include medicine
and other everyday activities. Although this feature eventually became notorious for its corny gags and garishly outdated fashion choices, the Mad
editors reported that it was the magazine's most popular feature. "The Lighter Side" was more pointed in its early years, providing the sort of Americana-based humor that standups such as Shelley Berman
and Alan King
performed successfully onstage. The feature was retired with Berg's death.
Four months after the last Berg artwork was published, his final set of gags, which Berg had written but not penciled, appeared as a tribute. These last "Lighter Side" strips were divided among 18 of the magazine's regular artists, including Jack Davis' last original work for Mad. In 2007, an occasional feature called "The Darker Side of the Lighter Side" debuted. These consist of reprinted Berg strips, with rewritten word balloons that change the gags to references about disease, sex offenders, corpse disposal and other unsavory, un-Berg-like topics.
"Spy vs. Spy"
's wordless "Spy vs. Spy
," the never-ending battle between the iconic Black Spy and White Spy, ended up outlasting the Cold War
that inspired it. Except for the respective black/white color of their clothing, the two spies were identical in appearance and intent. The strip was a silent parable about the futility of mutually-assured destruction, with various elaborate deathtraps designed in Prohías' thick line. Typically, the trap would boomerang back on whichever spy had concocted it. There was no pattern or order dictating which spy would be killed in a particular episode. A female "Grey Spy" occasionally appeared; unlike her two adversaries, she always prevailed. Although Prohías retired from doing the strip in the late 1980s, "Spy vs. Spy" continued in a series of different hands until 1997, when Peter Kuper
took over as the fulltime writer-artist. However, the original Morse Code
byline "by Prohias" remains in each strip's title.
Don Martin gags
, billed as "Mad's Maddest Artist," drew gag cartoons, generally one page but sometimes longer, featuring lumpen characters with apparently hinged feet. Martin's absurd sight gags were frequently punctuated by an array of onomatopoeic
sound effects such as "GLORK" or "PATWANG-FWEEE", coined by Martin himself (or by frequent ghost writer Don Edwing
). Martin's wild physical comedy would eventually make him the signature artist of the magazine.
When Martin first joined Mad, he employed a nervous, scratchy art style, but this developed into a rounder, more cartoony look. Many of his cartoons used similar titles (e.g., "One Exceedingly Fine Day at the Beach"), and these titles became increasingly elaborate (e.g., "One Night in the Acme Ritz Central Arms Waldorf Plaza Statler Hilton Grand Hotel," "One Hot Sunny Afternoon in the Middle of the Ocean," or "One Fine Day at the Corner of South Finster Boulevard and Fonebone Street").
Martin's 31-year association with Mad ended in some rancor over the ownership of his original artwork. Not long after leaving Mad, Martin ended up working at Mad's competitor Cracked, which, unlike Mad, allowed creators to keep their pages. In 1994, Martin left Cracked and published a handful of issues of his own self-titled publication.
"A Mad Look at…" and "Drawn-Out Dramas"
has written and drawn his "A Mad Look At…" feature for over 40 years. Each is a series of gag strips with a common theme. Aragonés' Mad
cartooning is notable for the fact that it almost never uses word balloons; when they occur at all, they will most often feature a drawing of whatever is being discussed. Aragonés will periodically bend this rule for a store window sign, a stray "Gesundheit," or some other dialogue vital to the punchline.
Aragonés also provides the "Mad Marginals" or "Drawn-out Dramas", which are small gag images that appear throughout the magazine in the corners, margins or spaces between panels. Aragonés debuted the feature in Mad #76 (January 1963), and it has appeared in every issue of the magazine since, except for Mad #111. According to Aragonés, his work for that issue was lost in the mail.
"Monroe" is an ongoing storyline about an angst-filled teenaged loser. It depicts his travails in school, his dysfunctional home and his relentless troubles elsewhere. Written by Anthony Barbieri
, it was illustrated by Bill Wray
from 1997 to 2006. The previously black-and-white feature was colorized in 2005 and went on hiatus for much of 2006. When it returned, it was drawn by Tom Fowler
with Barbieri remaining the writer.
Movie and TV show parodies
A typical issue will include at least one full parody of a popular movie or television show. The titles are changed to create a play on words; for instance, The Addams Family
became The Adnauseum Family.
The character names are generally switched in the same fashion.
These articles run for several pages, and are presented as a sequential storyline with caricatures and word balloons. The opening page or two-page splash usually consists of the cast of the show introducing themselves directly to the reader. In some parodies, the writers sometimes attempt to circumvent this convention by presenting the characters without such direct exposition. Many parodies end with the abrupt deus ex machina appearance of outside characters or pop culture figures who are thematically tied in to the nature to the movie or TV series being parodied, or who comment satirically on the theme. For example, Dr. Phil arrives to counsel the psychologically damaged Desperate Housewives, or the former cast of Sex and the City are hired as the new hookers for another HBO series, Deadwood.
The parodies frequently make comedic use of the fourth wall, breaking character, and meta-references. Within an ostensibly self-contained storyline, the characters may refer to the technical aspects of filmmaking, the publicity, hype or box office surrounding their project, their own past roles and clichés.
Several show business stars have been quoted to the effect that the moment when they knew they'd finally "made it" was when they saw themselves thus depicted in the pages of Mad. Many celebrities parodied by the magazine have posed for photographs which were printed in Mad's letters column, holding up the copy of the magazine they appeared in, and reacting in some comical way. an example came from Guns N Roses guitarist Slash, who told Mojo, "The magazine cover that has meant the most to me was probably when I appeared in Mad Magazine, as a caricature of Alfred E. Neuman (#330, 1994). That was when I felt that I'd arrived.
premises have been successful enough to warrant additional installments, though not with the regularity of the above. These include:
- The Mad Academy Awards for ____ – typically written by Stan Hart, these would mimic the Oscar telecast by showing nominated "performance clips" in non-film areas of life (such as parenting or small business ownership).
- Advertising parodies – too numerous to catalog, though many have been written by Dick DeBartolo; these have ranged from TV ad spoofs to national print campaigns to home marketing and have long provided one of the most durable sources of the magazine's humor. A separate paperback of original material titled Madvertising was published in 1972, and an extensive reprint collection appeared with the same title in 2005.
- Alfred's Poor Almanac – written by Frank Jacobs, this text-heavy page featured quick one-liners, puns, faux anniversaries and other arcana, supposedly matched to each day of that month.
- Badly-Needed Warning Labels for Rock Albums – written by Desmond Devlin, this series of articles mocked both the ongoing Parental Advisory labelling controversy, as well as the musicians of the day, with specifically-written warning labels for particular recordings.
- Behind the Scenes at ____ – written and illustrated by various, these frequently take a bird's eye view of a scene, such as a television studio or office. Various vignettes and conversations play out simultaneously, showing the reader how the participants "really" think and behave.
- Believe It Or Nuts! – written and illustrated by various (though most often drawn by Wally Wood or Bob Clarke), this parody of the print version of Ripley's Believe It Or Not depicted alleged marvels and mundanities of the world. In the late 1950s, Mad also published regular installments of "Kovacs' Strangely Believe It!", another Ripley's parody written by Ernie Kovacs.
- Celebrity Cause-of-Death Betting Odds – written by Mike Snider, this long-running feature listed and "ranked" possible methods of future death for one well-known person at a time. It usually contained a tombstone with a caricature of the celebrity (usually drawn by Hermann Mejia). A shorter version later ran in the "Fundalini" section, illustrated by Jack Syracuse.
- Celebrity Wallets – usually written by Arnie Kogen, this was a series of peeks at the notes, photographs and other memorabilia being carried around in the pockets of the famous.
- Cents-less Coupons – written by Scott Maiko, these imitate the giveaway coupon packets found in Sunday newspapers but promote ludicrous products such as "Inbred Valley Imitation Squirrel Meat".
- Chilling Thoughts – written by Desmond Devlin and illustrated by Rick Tulka, these featured observations or predictions about both the culture and everyday life that had supposedly dire implications.
- A Day in the Life of… – written by Scott Maiko, these articles depict the purported hour-by-hour activities of a particular celebrity, such as George Lucas, Dick Cheney, Adam Sandler, or Dane Cook.
- Mad Deconstructs Talk Shows – written by Desmond Devlin, these take on one show at a time and purport to reveal the minute-by-minute format breakdown of America's not too spontaneous chat programs.
- Do-It-Yourself Newspaper Story – written by Frank Jacobs, these are short text news items containing a number of blank spaces. Each space has a corresponding list of numbered fill-in-the-blank options, which grow increasingly absurd. The premise is that with appropriate mixing and matching, the article can be read in a vast number of permutations. The same format has also been applied by Jacobs to other areas as poetry, press releases, or speechmaking.
- Duke Bissell's Tales of Undisputed Interest – written and illustrated by P.C. Vey, these absurdist one-page strips presented a series of non sequiturs and bizarre references in the guise of a linear storyline.
- 15 Minutes of Fame – written by Frank Jacobs, it consists of short poems about lesser celebrities and news figures.
- The 50 Worst Things About ____ – written and illustrated by various, this is an annual article format which has thus far dealt with large catch-all topics such as "TV," "comedy," or "sports."
- The Mad Hate File – written and illustrated by Al Jaffee, these contained a series of observational one-liners about common irritations.
- Hawks & Doves – written and illustrated by Al Jaffee during the Vietnam War era, this was a shortlived series of cartoons in which the autocratic Major Hawks is exasperated by the rebellious Private Doves, who keeps finding unexpected ways to create the peace symbol on his military base.
- Horrifying Clichés – illustrated by Paul Coker Jr. and often written by Phil Hahn, these articles visually depicted florid turns of phraseology such as "tripping the light fantastic", "racking one's thoughts" or "laboring under a misconception"; the verbs are taken literally, and all the nouns are characterized as bizarre horned, scaled or otherwise unusual creatures; Mad also published a separate paperback of these.
- The Mad Library of Extremely Thin Books – written by Frank Jacobs, these two-page articles were laid out to look like a bookshelf in which only the spines of the books were visible. The various titles would suggest books that couldn't possibly contain much content, such as "Making It On Your Own" by Nancy Sinatra, "Wonderful Things That a Nickel Will Still Buy", "Out-Spoken Feminists in the Arab World", or "Prominent Black Yachtsmen".
- Mads ____ of the Year' – written and illustrated by various, these 4-to-6-page articles would enact an interview with a fictional representative of a particular practice or element of society (i.e. "MAD's Summer Camp Owner of the Year"; "MAD's Movie Producer of the Year").
- Melvin and Jenkins' Guide to _____ – written by Desmond Devlin and illustrated by Kevin Pope, these "guides" present the behavioral or attitudinal "do's and don'ts" on a variety of topics, as demonstrated by the titular pair. An abbreviated version runs in the "Fundalini" section.
- Movie Outtakes – these are screen captures of upcoming films (generally taken from the movie trailer), given new word balloons; MAD typically times these pieces to coincide with the movie's general release, either in advance of the full parody or in lieu of it.
- The Mad Nasty File – typically written by Tom Koch and illustrated by Harry North or Gerry Gersten, these insult articles caricatured a variety of public figures and proceeded to abuse them verbally.
- Obituaries for ____ Characters – generally written by Frank Jacobs, these alleged newspaper clippings detail the appropriate demises for fictional characters from a genre such as comic strips, advertising, or television.
- People Watcher's Guide to ____ – often written by Mike Snider and illustrated by Tom Bunk, these articles used a scenario such as "the mall" or "a cemetery" to mock specific observed behaviors.
- Planet Tad!!!!! – written by Tim Carvell and illustrated by Brian Durniak, this purports to be the LiveJournal-like webpage of a teenaged loser's blog, which inadvertently reveals his various personal traumas and general idiocy.
- Pop-Off Videos – written by Desmond Devlin and illustrated with music video screen captures, these one-page articles mimicked the VH1 series "Pop-Up Video," which enhanced music videos with small bits of information. Mad also published a separate standalone special issue of these.
- The Mad _____ Primer – written and illustrated by various, Mad Primers mimicked the writing style of Dick and Jane and dealt with a wide variety of subjects from bigotry to hockey to religion; Mad also published a "Cradle to Grave Primer" as a separate paperback, showing the complete misery-filled life of one man.
- ____ Revisited – "conceived" by Max Brandel according to his credit, these photographic pieces would take a long-established piece of text, such as the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, or the Ten Commandments, and systematically illustrate the text with ironically-chosen photo images.
- Scenes We'd Like to See – written and illustrated by various, these were generally one-page vignettes which inverted the common conventions of moviemaking, advertising, or the culture at large, ending with a cliched character in a cliched setting, acting cowardly or saying something atypically honest.
- Six Degrees of Separation Between Anyone and Anything – written by Mike Snider and illustrated by Rick Tulka, this feature exploited the Kevin Bacon-based game of links to humorously connect various items or people in thematic or painstakingly phrased ways rather than proximity.
- Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions – written and illustrated by Al Jaffee, this long-running series reproduces unnecessary questions (i.e., "Hot enough for you?" "Did that hurt?") and supplies three sarcastic responses for each, along with a blank box for the reader to supply their own snappy answer. A mini-version of this feature occasionally appears in the magazine's "Fundalini" section, consisting of just one question. Mad has also published several separate, standalone paperbacks of these.
- Seven Periods Closer to Death – written and illustrated by Ted Rall, this one-page strip takes a satirical look at life in high school.
- What Is A ____? – written by Tom Koch, these text-heavy articles would describe the characteristics of a personality type, such as an introvert, a "big man on campus," or a party-pooper.
- When ____ Go Bad – written and illustrated by John Caldwell, each article depicts the outrageous behavior allegedly found within the worst element of a certain culture or profession (i.e. "When Nuns Go Bad"; "When Clowns Go Bad"; "When Veterinarians Go Bad").
- The Year in Film – written by Desmond Devlin, these ironically juxtaposed movie titles of the past calendar year with photographs of topical news events or celebrities.
- You Know You're Really ___ When… – written and illustrated by various, these took a common condition ("You're Really Overweight When…") and presented several one-liners on the theme.
Besides the above, Mad has returned to certain themes and areas again and again, such as fullblown imaginary magazines, greeting cards, nursery rhymes, Christmas carols, song parodies and other poetry (including several versions of "Casey at the Bat"), comic strip takeoffs and others.
Table of Contents
The first page of each issue lists all the articles to follow, including their "Department" headings, which are plays on words
. For example, a parody of a pizza chain's menu appeared under "The Passion of the Crust Department," while an article entitled "William Shakespeare, Sports Commentator" was part of the "The Play-By-Play's the Thing Department." Long-running features had equally long-running headers: Spy vs. Spy
is filed under the "Joke and Dagger Department," Dave Berg
's "Lighter Side of..." always ran within the "Berg's Eye View Department," and many of Frank Jacobs
' articles come under the "Frank on a Roll Department." Most of the magazine's other recurring features have had their own continuing "Department."
Each Table of Contents cites one article that does not actually exist. Examples of these imaginary listings have included "Santa Claus, Porn Star"; "What if Cap'n Crunch Was Brought Before a Military Tribunal?"; "If Bobby Knight Coached the Special Olympics"; "Only the Assistant Undersecretary of Transportation Would Possibly Believe..."; and "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions During the Bombing of Belgrade." In one instance, the fake title listed, "If Chickens Could Time Travel," showed up as a genuine article in the next issue.
Each Table of Contents also includes a quote or aphorism attributed to Alfred E. Neuman. With a handful of exceptions, this is the only time the character ever "speaks."
Letters and Tomatoes Dept.
An esoteric version of the standard "Letters to the Editors," this commonly runs three pages and includes correspondence from readers, reader drawings or craft projects, celebrity photos, references to Mad
in other media, and so forth. All letters are typically answered in a snide and insulting manner.
There have been a few recurring sub-departments, including the "Make a Dumb Wish Foundation" which promises to make readers' stupid requests come true (a parody of the Make a Wish Foundation); "Antiques Freakshow with Hans Brickface", in which photographs of readers' bizarre household items are appraised by the slightly psychotic Hans; absurd one-sentence observations called "MAD Mumblings", which are typically non sequiturs posted online by the readers; and celebrity "Two-Question Interviews" which are essentially over before they begin, thus revealing nothing.
The magazine solicits reader photos of famous people posing with a copy of Mad. A reader who sends in such a photo gets a free three-year subscription (provided that the celebrity is touching the issue). Once a year, Mad publishes "The Nifty Fifty," listing 50 famous people they hope to see in upcoming "Celebrity Snaps". The magazine was delighted to publish a photo of Dan Quayle unwittingly holding the "PROOFREADER WANTED" cover of Mad #355, on which the magazine's logo appeared as "MAAD." During a photo op in 1992, Quayle incorrectly "corrected" an elementary school student about how to spell the word "potato."
The Fundalini Pages
Beginning with its February 2004 edition, Mad
has led off its issues with this catch-all section of various bits, which are far shorter or smaller than normal Mad
articles. They often appear as many as three to six per page. Some of these pieces are produced in-house; others are the work of freelancers. All contributors for each month are credited en masse, as "Friends of Fundalini." For this reason, it is not always apparent which contributor is responsible for which item, particularly the writers. Most Fundalini features are one-shot gags that never appear again, some have appeared multiple times, and a few have become regular features. Among the recurring elements in the Fundalini section are:
Created for Fundalini
- Bitterman, a short comic strip by Garth Gerhart about a hateful slacker;
- Classified ads; these frequently deal in absurdity and non sequiturs;
- The Cover We DIDN'T Use, purporting to be the "second choice" for that issue's front cover;
- The Fast 5, a Top 5 list similar to David Letterman's Top 10 lists;
- Foto News, in which topical photographs are given word balloons (similar to fumetti, though without that genre's narrative storyline aspect);
- Gag panels by cartoonists such as Tom Cheney ("Pull My Cheney!"), or P.C. Vey ("Vey to Go!").
- The Godfrey Report, a small 3x 3 grid showing three classes of objects and their current cultural status, which is arbitrarily rated as "In," "Five Minutes Ago," or "Out." (e.g. Stoolies: In, Squealers: Five Minutes Ago, Turncoats: Out);
- Graphic Novel Review, written by Desmond Devlin, which analyzes fictional comic collections and graphic novels such as "The Anally Complete Peanuts" or "Tintin in Fallujah";
- The Kitchen Sink, a lengthy barrage of spoof titles for topics such as "Reality Shows Currently Under Development" or "Proposed Star Wars Sequel Titles";
- Monkeys Are Always Funny, by Evan Dorkin, showing famous news photographs with the image of a monkey Photoshopped in (e.g. the raid on Elian Gonzalez's closet, or the Hindenburg explosion);
- The NFL's Ref Report, written by Kiernan P. Schmitt, which illustrates a topic by using generic drawings of a referee's hand signals;
- The Puzzle Nook, a multiple choice fill-in-the-blank phrase;
- Saddam Sez, which reused the same photograph of Saddam Hussein speaking at his 2006 trial. A word balloon was added, making a random reference having nothing to do with Hussein or Iraq. The March 2007 issue of Mad contained a statement that "Due to circumstances beyond our control" the Saddam Sez feature would be put on "indefinite hiatus." Fidel Castro later replaced Saddam with "Castro Comments";
A Wikipedia parody has appeared twice, first called "Wonkypedia," and then "Wakipedia." Both entries featured a convoluted assortment of unrelated facts, in the style of an inaccurate or vandalized Wikipedia page (e.g. the "article" on Pearl Harbor discussed Mao Tse-Tung's surprise attack and how it led to the bombing of Chernobyl). Wonkypedia is now an actual website.
Truncated versions of two preexisting features, *Celebrity Cause of Death Betting Odds" and *Melvin and Jenkins' Guide to..." have been moved to Fundalini.
The Strip Club
An assortment of short gag comic strips drawn by various artists, it has appeared roughly every other month since its debut in the July 2005 issue. It typically runs three pages, and is a combination of one-shot gags and recurring features. Among the repeated strip characters are an omnipotent superhero called Fantabulaman; a hero robot named Santon; Rob, the Evil Backstabbing Robot Temp; and Father O'Flannity, a priest who conducts his business in a hot tub.
Blurring the line between advertising and content was Go Fetch!, a 2005-06 list of newly-released media products such as videogames, DVD releases, music albums and books. Each product listing had The Hype
and The Snipe
, in which its good and bad qualities were expounded. Each Go Fetch! also promoted "the Must Have", an idiosyncratic (but real) product which no Mad
reader should be without, such as cold galvanizing spray, or a pneumatic jackhammer. Go Fetch! was an odd cross between the wise-ass Mad
mentality and the sort of product ratings generally associated with Rolling Stone
. It was an overtly commercial feature, with some one-liners thrown in with the apparent hope of making it more palatable. As such, Go Fetch! was heavily criticized by many of the magazine's loyal readers as a betrayal of the magazine's original satiric mission. In its year of existence, Go Fetch! appeared in eight of 12 issues, but the feature has been defunct since June 2006.
"The Mad 20"
Since 1998, in every January issue, Mad
has commemorated the "20 Dumbest People, Events and Things" of the year. These emphasize the visual motif above all else, parodying such things as movie posters, famous paintings, or magazine covers, though one or two text-heavier takeoffs are usually sprinkled into each year's assortment. The feature is reminiscent of the old Spy Magazine
's "Spy 100" list, which purported to catalogue "Our Annual Census of the 100 Most Annoying, Alarming, and Appalling People, Places and Things."
Though the "20 Dumbest People, Events and Things" are numbered 1-20, the "rankings" appear to be essentially random. The "20th dumbest" slot of 2001 was awarded to Mad itself for its "slide down the slippery slope of greedy commercialism" in finally permitting advertising in its pages.
Keeping in mind the indiscriminate positioning, these were the "#1" selections for the various years:
- 1998: "Starr Wars," a movie poster parody of the partisan Kenneth Starr investigation, depicting Starr as Darth Vader, and Bill Clinton holding a cigar instead of a light saber;
- 1999: "Y2K Panic," a chaotic cartoon showing a crashing airplane displacing the Times Square New Year's Ball, sending it careening into a terror-stricken crowd;
- 2000: A rewritten Presidential oath of office. The issue went to press one week after the disputed 2000 election; the editors had thought they could plug in the winner, but were obliged to publish two versions of the image, one with Al Gore being sworn in, the other depicting George W. Bush.
- 2001: "A.I. Asinine Ideology," a movie poster parody of the Steven Spielberg film A.I. highlighting Jerry Falwell's placing blame on the 9/11 attacks on gays, feminists, abortionists and the ACLU;
- 2002: "Martha Stewart Lying," a magazine spoof of Martha Stewart's insider trading scandal;
- 2003: "Term Eliminator," a movie poster parody of the third Terminator film mocking Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory in the California recall election;
- 2004: "Donny Rumsfeld and the Prisoners of Abu Ghraib," a book cover in the style of the third Harry Potter jacket, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
- 2005: "Where's W?", a book parody in the style of the "Where's Waldo?" series. The cover shows a tableau of the crowded, flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with George W. Bush completely impossible to find.
- 2006: "The Iraqi Quagmire Chess Set," in the style of a Franklin Mint collectable. Literal chess pieces were sculpted and photographed, depicting such figures as Dick Cheney, Joseph Lieberman, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi and Muqtada al-Sadr.
- 2007: "Michael & Me," a faux "feel-good" book in the vein of "Tuesdays with Morrie" and ostensibly written from the perspective of one of Michael Vick's illegal fighting pitbulls. The book cover depicts Vick strangling a dog.
Running gags and recurring images
Mad has made frequent use of esoteric words, including potrzebie, furshlugginer, veeblefetzer and axolotl, and humorous names such as Melvin, Bitsko, Kaputnik, Cowznofski, and Fonebone. Mad used the word "ecch" or its cousin "blecch" as an all-purpose expression of disgust so often that even The Simpsons made passing references to the practice, showing Mad covers with the unseen parodies "Beauty and the Blecch" and "NYPD Blecch". The word "hoohah" was an early running gag, often exclaimed by excited characters in the comic book issues written by Harvey Kurtzman; the very first story in the first issue of Mad was titled "Hoohah!". Its Eastern European feel was a perfect fit for the New York Jewish style of the publication. (The word's precise origin is unknown, although it may have sprung from the Hungarian word for "wow," which is hűha ). "It's crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide" was a non sequitur-ish phrase that found its way into Mad on several occasions in the 1950s; this was dated British slang meaning "it is foolhardy to bribe a policeman with counterfeit money."
Some of the magazine's visual elements are whimsical, frequently appearing in the artwork without context or explanation. Among these are a potted avocado plant named Arthur (reportedly based on art director John Putnam's personal marijuana plant); a domed trashcan wearing an overcoat; a pointing six-fingered hand; the Mad Zeppelin (which more closely resembles an elongated hot air balloon); and an emaciated long-beaked creature who went unidentified for decades before being dubbed "Flip the Bird." In late 1964, Mad was tricked into purchasing the "rights" to an optical illusion in the public domain, featuring a sort of three-pronged tuning fork whose appearance defies physics. The magazine dubbed it the "Mad poiuyt" after the six rightmost letter keys on a QWERTY keyboard in reverse order, not realizing that the existing image was already known to engineers and usually called a blivet.
Mad cartoonists have regularly drawn themselves, fellow contributors and editors, and family members into the articles, most famously Dave Berg's self-caricature "Roger Kaputnik." Al Jaffee sometimes incorporates a self-caricature into his signature. The magazine's photo spreads have typically featured Mad's own staff. Originally, the magazine tried hiring models for its photo shoots, but found that many were unwilling to make the exaggerated faces the magazine wanted. While trying to prompt the reluctant outsiders with demonstrations, the magazine soon decided that they were better suited for foolish posing than the professionals, and more cost-effective.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the magazine has made periodic references to "the monkey juice," generally in the context of overimbibing with same. Many letter column responses are punctuated with the breezy interjection "Fa fa fa!" The mysterious name "Max Korn" has popped up for years; reader requests to clarify Korn's true identity have been greeted with increasingly outlandish explanations.
Alfred E. Neuman
The image most closely associated with the magazine is that of Alfred E. Neuman, the boy with misaligned eyes, a gap-toothed smile and the perennial motto "What, me worry?" Mad first used the boy's face in November, 1954, on the cover of the comic book's first reprint paperback, The Mad Reader. His first Mad cover appearance was in miniature, amid the novelty products parodied on the front of issue #21 (March 1955). From #24 through #30, Neuman was a part of the ornate border design on each cover. His first iconic full-cover appearance, in which he was identified by name and sported his "What, me worry?" motto, was as a supposed write-in candidate for the 1956 presidential election on the cover of issue #30 (December 1956).
The original image was a popular humorous graphic for many decades before Mad adopted it. It had been used for all manner of purposes, from U.S. political campaigns to Nazi racial propaganda to advertisements for painless dentistry. In the 1950s and 1960s, the magazine was sued by multiple claimants over the copyright to the image but prevailed by producing similar images dating back to the late 19th century.
Harvey Kurtzman first spotted the image on a postcard pinned to the bulletin board of Ballantine Books' editor. "It was a face that didn't have a care in the world, except mischief," recalled Kurtzman. The name "Alfred E. Neuman" was derived from the 1940s radio show of comedian Henry Morgan, which included a running gag trumpeting the imminent arrival of Hollywood composer Alfred Newman, which was supposed to create intense excitement, after which Newman would appear for mere seconds, then vanish. According to Kurtzman, Morgan used "the name Alfred Newman for an innocuous character that you'd forget in five minutes." Later, Morgan was a contributor to Mad.
The face is now permanently associated with Mad. With the "What, me worry?" motto, Neuman has often appeared in political illustrations as a shorthand for unquestioning stupidity or naive innocence, as in publications such as The Nation. and National Lampoon.
In 1958, Mad published letters from several readers noting the resemblance between Neuman and England's Prince Charles, then nine years old. Shortly thereafter, an angry letter under a Buckingham Palace letterhead arrived at the Mad offices: "Dear Sirs No it isn't a bit – not the least little bit like me. So jolly well stow it! See! Charles. P." The letter was authenticated as having been written on triple-cream laid royal stationery bearing an official copper-engraved crest. The postmark indicated it had been mailed from a post office within a short walking distance of Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, the original disappeared years ago while on loan to another magazine and has never been recovered.
For many years, Mad sold prints of the "official portrait" of Alfred E. Neuman through a small house ad on the letters page of the magazine (claiming that these prints were also useful for wrapping fish). In the early years the price was one for 25 cents; three for 50 cents; nine for a dollar; or 27 for two dollars. A female version of Alfred, named Moxie Cowznofski, appeared for a very brief time in the late 1950s.
Two of Mad's most memorable covers have omitted Neuman's face. The highest-selling issue in history, #161 (September 1973) featured a survivor of a sinking ship - presumably Neuman - submerged upside-down in a life preserver with only the feet visible. The following year brought the controversial cover to #166, which declared Mad to be "The Number One Ecch Magazine," illustrating the claim with a human hand giving the profane "middle finger" gesture. Some newsstands that normally carried Mad chose not to display or sell this issue. To date, only a dozen Mad covers have not depicted Alfred E. Neuman since his appearance on issue #30. Two issues featuring Alfred have depicted him without his trademark gap tooth: the 1982 issue featuring the parody of the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which featured the titular alien on the cover healing the gap in Alfred's tooth with his finger; and the first issue to be published following the September 11, 2001 attacks, which featured a closeup of Alfred's smile, but with an American flag motif in the place of the gap.
Contributors and controversy
has provided an ongoing showcase for many long-running satirical writers and artists and has fostered an unusual group loyalty. Although several of the contributors earn far more than their Mad
pay in fields such as television and advertising, they have steadily continued to provide material for the publication. Among the notable artists were the aforementioned Davis, Elder and Wood, as well as Mort Drucker
, George Woodbridge
and Paul Coker
. Writers such as Dick DeBartolo
, Stan Hart
, Frank Jacobs
, Tom Koch
, and Arnie Kogen
appeared regularly in the magazine's pages. In several cases, only infirmity or death has ended a contributor's run at Mad.
Within the industry, Mad was known for the uncommonly prompt manner in which its contributors were paid. Publisher Gaines would typically write a personal check and give it to the artist upon receipt of the finished product. Wally Wood said, "I got spoiled... Other publishers don't do that. I started to get upset if I had to wait a whole week for my check." Another lure for contributors was the annual "Mad Trip," an all-expenses-paid tradition that began in 1960. The editorial staff was automatically invited, along with freelancers who had qualified for an invitation by selling a set amount of articles or pages during the previous year. Gaines was strict about enforcing this quota, and one year, longtime writer and frequent traveller Arnie Kogen was bumped off the list. Later that year, Gaines' mother died, and Kogen was asked if he would be attending the funeral. "I can't," said Kogen, "I don't have enough pages." Over the years, the Mad crew traveled to such locales as France, Kenya, Russia, Hong Kong, Monte Carlo, England, Amsterdam, Tahiti, Morocco, Italy, Greece, and Germany.
Although Mad was an exclusively freelance publication, it achieved a remarkable stability, with numerous contributors remaining prominent for decades. Critics of the magazine felt that this lack of turnover eventually led to a formulaic sameness, although there is little agreement on when the magazine peaked or plunged. It appears to be largely a function of when the reader first encountered Mad. Like Saturday Night Live or The Simpsons, proclaiming the precise moment that began the magazine's irreversible decline has long been sport. Mad poked fun at this dynamic in its "Untold History of Mad Magazine," a self-referential faux history in the 400th issue. According to the Untold History:
- The second issue of Mad goes on sale on December 9, 1952. On December 11, the first-ever letter complaining that Mad "just isn't as funny and original like it used to be" arrives.
Among the most frequently-cited "downward turning points" are: creator/editor Harvey Kurtzman's departure in 1957; the magazine's mainstream success; adoption of recurring features starting in the early 1960s; the magazine's absorption into a more corporate structure in 1968 (or the mid-1990s); founder Gaines' death in 1992; the magazine's publicized "revamp" in 1997; or the arrival of paid advertising in 2001. Mad has been criticized for its overreliance on a core group of aging regulars throughout the 1970s and 1980s and then criticized again for an alleged downturn as those same creators began to leave, die, retire or contribute less frequently. It has been proposed that Mad is more susceptible to this criticism than many media because a sizable percentage of its readership turns over regularly as it ages, as Mad focuses greatly on current events and a changing popular culture. The magazine's art director, Sam Viviano, has suggested that historically, Mad was at its best "whenever you first started reading it."
Among the loudest of those who insist the magazine is no longer funny are supporters of Harvey Kurtzman, who had the good critical fortune to leave Mad after just 28 issues, before his own formulaic tendencies might have become oppressive. This also meant Kurtzman suffered the bad financial timing of departing before the magazine became a runaway success. However, just how much of that success was due to the original Kurtzman template that he left for his successor, and how much should be credited to the Al Feldstein system and the depth of the post-Kurtzman talent pool, can be argued without resolution. During Kurtzman's final two-plus years at EC, Mad appeared erratically (ten issues appeared in 1954, followed by eight issues in 1955 and four issues in 1956). Feldstein was less well regarded creatively, but kept the magazine on a regular schedule, leading to decades of success. (Kurtzman and Will Elder returned to Mad for a short time in the mid-1980s as an illustrating team.)
Many of the magazine's mainstays began slowing, retiring or dying in the 1980s. Although the magazine had always been open to new talent in theory, the influx increased from this stage onward. Newer contributors include Anthony Barbieri, Scott Bricher, Tom Bunk, John Caldwell, Desmond Devlin, Drew Friedman, Barry Liebmann, Kevin Pope, Scott Maiko, Hermann Mejia, Tom Richmond, Andrew J. Schwartzberg, Mike Snider, Greg Theakston, Rick Tulka and Bill Wray.
On April 1, 1997, the magazine publicized an alleged "revamp," ostensibly designed to reach an older, more sophisticated readership. However, Salon 's David Futrelle opined that such content was very much a part of Mad's past:
- The October 1971 issue, for example, with its war crimes fold-in and back cover "mini-poster" of "The Four Horsemen of the Metropolis" (Drugs, Graft, Pollution and Slums). With its Mad Pollution Primer. With its "Reality Street" TV satire, taking a poke at the idealized images of interracial harmony on Sesame Street. ("It's a street of depression,/ Corruption, oppression!/ It's a sadist's dream come true!/ And masochists, too!") With its "This is America" photo feature, contrasting images of heroic astronauts with graphic photos of dead soldiers and junkies shooting up. I remember this issue pretty well; it was one of the ones I picked up at a garage sale and read to death. I seem to remember asking my parents what "graft" was. One of the joys of Mad for me at the time was that it was always slightly over my head. From "Mad's Up-Dated Modern Day Mother Goose" I learned about Andy Warhol, Spiro Agnew and Timothy Leary ("Wee Timmy Leary/ Soars through the sky/ Upward and Upward/ Till he's, oh, so, high/ Since this rhyme's for kiddies/ How do we explain/ That Wee Timmy Leary/ Isn't in a plane?"). From "Greeting Cards for the Sexual Revolution" I learned about "Gay Liberationists" and leather-clad "Sex Fetishists." I read the Mad versions of a whole host of films I never in a million years would have been allowed to see: Easy Rider ("Sleazy Riders"), Midnight Cowboy ("Midnight Wowboy"), Five Easy Pieces ("Five Easy Pages.") I learned about the John Birch Society and Madison Avenue.
Mad has continued to receive complaints from fans and foes alike, sometimes over its perceived failings, sometimes because of controversial content, but generally over its decision to accept advertising. These accusers sometimes invoke the late publisher Bill Gaines, asserting that he would "turn over in his grave" if he knew of the magazine's sellout. The editors have a ready answer, pointing out that such protests are completely invalid – because Gaines was cremated.
Some of the Usual Gang of Idiots
is known for the stability and longevity of its talent roster, with several creators enjoying 30-, 40- and even 50-year careers in the magazine's pages.
According to the "Mad Magazine Contributor Appearances" website, close to 700 contributors have received bylines in at least one issue of Mad but fewer than three dozen of those have contributed to 200 issues or more. Al Jaffee has appeared in the most issues (445 as of October 2008). The other six contributors to have appeared in more than 300 issues of Mad are Sergio Aragones, Dick DeBartolo, Mort Drucker, Dave Berg, Paul Coker Jr. and Frank Jacobs. (The list calculates appearances by issue only, not by separate articles; e.g. if two "Spy vs Spy" episodes by Prohias appeared in a given issue, his total would have increased by one.)
Each of the following contributors (including those noted above) has created over 150 articles for the magazine:
The editorial staff, notably Charlie Kadau, John Ficarra and Joe Raiola, also have dozens of articles under their own bylines, as well as substantial creative input into many others.
Other notable contributors
Among the irregular contributors with just a single Mad
byline to their credit are Charles M. Schulz
, Chevy Chase
, "Weird Al" Yankovic
, Andy Griffith
, Will Eisner
, Kevin Smith
, J. Fred Muggs
, Boris Vallejo
, Sir John Tenniel
, Jean Shepherd
, Winona Ryder
, Thomas Nast
, Jimmy Kimmel
, Jason Alexander
, Walt Kelly
, Barney Frank
, Tom Wolfe
, Steve Allen
, Jim Lee
, Jules Feiffer
, and Richard Nixon
, who remains the only President credited with writing a Mad
Contributing just twice are such luminaries as Tom Lehrer, Gustave Doré, Danny Kaye, Stan Freberg, Mort Walker and Leonardo da Vinci. (Mr. da Vinci's check is still waiting in the Mad offices for him to pick it up.) Frank Frazetta (3 bylines), Ernie Kovacs (11), Bob and Ray (12), and Sid Caesar (4) appeared slightly more frequently. In its earliest years, before amassing its own staff of regulars, the magazine frequently used outside "name" talent. Often, Mad would simply illustrate the celebrities' preexisting material.
In the 2000s, the magazine ran occasional guest articles in which notables from show business or comic books have participated. In 2008, the magazine got national coverage for its article "Why George W. Bush is in Favor of Global Warming." Each of the piece's ten punchlines was illustrated by a different Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist.
Reprints and foreign editions
Beginning in 1955, William M. Gaines began presenting reprints of material for Mad
in black-and-white paperbacks, the first being The Mad Reader
. Many of these featured new covers by Mad
cover artist Norman Mingo. This practice continued into the 2000s, with more than 100 Mad
paperbacks published. Gaines made a special effort to keep the entire line of paperbacks in print at all times, and the books were frequently reprinted in new editions with different covers.
Mad also frequently repackaged its material in a long series of "Super Special" format magazines, beginning in 1958 with two concurrent annual series entitled The Worst from Mad and More Trash from Mad. Various other titles have been used through the years. These reprint issues were sometimes augmented by exclusive features such as posters, stickers and, on a few occasions, recordings on flexi-disc, or comic book-formatted inserts reprinting material from the 1952-55 era.
One steady form of revenue has come from foreign editions of the magazine. Mad has been published in local versions in many countries, beginning with the United Kingdom in 1959, and Sweden in 1960. Each new market receives access to the publication's back catalog of articles and is also encouraged to produce its own localized material in the Mad vein. However, the sensibility of the American Mad has not always translated to other cultures, and many of the foreign editions have had short lives or interrupted publications. The Swedish, Danish, Italian and Mexican Mads were each published on three separate occasions; Norway has had four runs cancelled. United Kingdom (35 years), Brazil (33 years), and the Netherlands (32 years) produced the longest uninterrupted Mad variants.
Current foreign editions
Past foreign editions
- United Kingdom, 1959-1994; UK edition cover images; (read about MAD UK)
- Sweden, 1960-1992, 1996-2002;
- Germany, 1967-1995, 1998-
- Denmark, 1962-1971, 1979-1997, 1998-2002;
- Netherlands, 1964-1996;
- France, 1965, 1992;
- Canada (Quebec), 1991-1992 (Past material in a "collection album" with Croc, another Quebec humor magazine);
- Argentina, 1977-1982;
- Norway, 1971-1972, 1981-1993, 1995, 2002-2003;
- Italy, 1971, 1984, 1992;
- Mexico, 1977-1983, 1984-1986, 1993-1998;
- Caribbean, 1977-1983;
- Greece, 1978-1985, 1995-1999;
- Iceland, 1985;
- Taiwan, 1990;
- Israel, 1994-1995;
- Turkey, 2000-2003.
Some of the foreign editions have spoofed material that is completely unfamiliar to American audiences, or is not in keeping with Mad's general avoidance of obscenity (for an example of both, see the Swedish Mad parody of Fucking Åmål (known in English-speaking countries as Show Me Love).
In 2005, the magazine published the first issue of Mad Kids,
a spinoff publication aimed at a younger demographic. Reminiscent of Nickelodeon
's newsstand titles, it emphasizes current kids' entertainment (i.e. Yu-Gi-Oh
, High School Musical
), albeit with an impudent voice. Mad Kids
contains much reprinted Mad
material that is in keeping with a grade schooler's mentality and interests. The quarterly magazine also includes newly-commissioned articles and cartoons, as well as puzzles, bonus inserts, a calendar, and the other activity-related content that is common to kids' magazines.
Imitators and variants
has had many imitators through the years. The three longest-lasting of these were Cracked
, and Crazy
. However, most were short-lived. Some of the early comic book competitors were "Nuts!" , "Get Lost", "Whack", "Riot", "Flip", "'Eh!", "From Here to Insanity", and "Madhouse"; only the last of these lasted as many as eight issues, and some were canceled after an issue or two. Many of these titles appeared in the mid-to-late 1950s, but as the decades went by, more imitators surfaced and vanished, with titles such as Wild
Most of these productions aped the format of Mad right down to choosing a synonym for the word Mad as their title. Many featured a cover mascot along the lines of Alfred E. Neuman. Even EC Comics joined the parade with a sister humor magazine, Panic, produced by future Mad editor Al Feldstein.
In 1967, Marvel Comics produced the first of 13 issues of Not Brand Echh, which parodied their own superhero titles as well as DC's; the series owed its inspiration and format to the original "Mad" comic books of a decade earlier. From 1973–1976, DC Comics published Plop! which featured Mad stalwart Sergio Aragonés and frequent cover art by Basil Wolverton, but was less slavish in its Mad mimicry, relying more on one-page gags and horror-based comedy.
Other U.S. humor magazines of note include former Mad editor Harvey Kurtzman's Humbug, Trump and Help!, as well as the National Lampoon, Spy Magazine, and The Onion. However, these titles had their own distinct editorial approach, and did not directly imitate Mad. Of all the competition, only the National Lampoon ever threatened Mad 's hegemony as America's top humor magazine, in the early-to-mid-1970s. However, this was also the period of Mad's greatest sales figures. Both magazines peaked in sales at the same time. The Lampoon topped one million sales once, for a single issue in 1974. Mad crossed the two-million mark with an average 1973 circulation of 2,059,236, then improved to 2,132,655 in 1974.
Gaines reportedly kept in his office a voodoo doll into which he would stick pins labeled with each imitation of his magazine, removing a pin only when the copycat had ceased publishing. At the time of Gaines' death in 1992, only the pin for Cracked remained.
Over the years, Mad
has branched out from print into other media. During the Gaines years, the publisher had an aversion to exploiting his fanbase and expressed the fear that substandard Mad
products would offend them. He was known to personally issue refunds to anyone who wrote to the magazine with a complaint. Among the few outside Mad
items available in its first 40 years were cufflinks, a T-shirt designed like a straitjacket (complete with lock), a small ceramic Alfred E. Neuman bust, and a picture of Neuman, suitable for framing, that was for decades regularly advertised on the letters page with misleading slogans such as "Only 1 Left!" (The joke being that the picture was so undesirable that only one had left their office since the last ad.) After Gaines' death came an overt absorption into the Time-Warner publishing umbrella, with the result that Mad
merchandise began to appear more frequently. Items were displayed in the Warner Bros. Studio Stores, and in 1994 The Mad Style Guide
was created for licensing use.
has sponsored or inspired a number of recordings. In 1959, Bernie Green "with the Stereo Mad-Men" recorded the album Musically Mad
for RCA Victor
, featuring music inspired by Mad
and an image of Alfred E. Neuman on the cover; it has been reissued on CD. That same year, The Worst from Mad
#2 included an original recording, "Meet the Staff of Mad," on a cardboard 33 rpm record. Two additional albums of novelty songs were released in 1962-63: "Mad 'Twists' Rock 'N' Roll" and "Fink Along with Mad." The latter album featured a song titled "It's a Gas," which punctuated an instrumental track with belches (along with a saxophone break by an uncredited King Curtis
). Dr. Demento
featured this gaseous performance on his radio show in Los Angeles
in the early 1970s. Mad
included some of these tracks as plastic-laminated cardboard inserts and (later) flexi-discs with their reprinted "Mad Specials." A number of original recordings also were released in this way in the 1970s and early 1980s, such as "Gall in the Family" (a parody of All in the Family
), a single entitled "Makin' Out," the octuple-grooved track "It's a Super Spectacular Day," which had eight possible endings, the spoken word Meet the Staff
insert, and a six-track, 30-minute Mad Disco
EP (from the 1980 Special of the same title) that included a disco
version of "It's a Gas." The last turntable-playable recording Mad
packaged with its magazines was "A Mad Look at Graduation," in a 1983 Special. A CD-ROM containing several audio tracks was included with issue #350 (October 1996). Rhino Records
compiled a number of Mad
-recorded tracks as Mad Grooves
A successful off-Broadway
production, The Mad Show
, was staged in 1966, featuring sketches written by Mad
personnel (as well as an uncredited assist by Stephen Sondheim
). The cast album is available on CD.
In 1979, a very successful board game
was released. The Mad Magazine Game
was an absurdist version of Monopoly
in which the first player to lose all his money and go bankrupt was the winner. Profusely illustrated with artwork by the magazine's contributors, the game included a $1,329,063-bill that could not be won unless one's name was "Alfred E. Neuman." It also featured a deck of cards (called "Card cards") with bizarre instructions, such as "If you can jump up and stay airborne for 37 seconds, you can lose $5,000. If not, jump up and lose $500." In 1980 a second game was released: the Mad Magazine Card Game
by Parker Brothers
. In it, the player who first loses all their cards is declared the winner. The game is fairly similar to UNO
Film and television
Also in 1980, following the success of the National Lampoon
-backed Animal House
lent its name to a similar risque comedy film, Up the Academy
. It was such a commercial debacle and critical failure that Mad
successfully arranged for all references to the magazine (including a cameo by Alfred E. Neuman) to be removed from future TV and video releases of the film. Mad
also devoted two pages to an attack on the movie, titled Throw Up the Academy
. The spoof's ending collapsed into a series of interoffice memos between the writer, artist, editor and publisher, all bewailing the fact that they'd been forced to satirize such a terrible film.
An early 1970s Mad television pilot using selected material from the magazine was not picked up. In 1995, a sketch TV show produced by Quincy Jones using the magazine's logo and characters debuted: MADtv, which aired comedy segments in a fashion similar to Saturday Night Live and SCTV. However, there is no editorial connection between the sketch comedy series and the magazine, which are unrelated in style. Don Martin's cartoon characters and the "Spy vs. Spy" cartoons were animated as bumpers during the show's early years. "Spy vs. Spy" sequences have also been seen in TV ads for Mountain Dew soda.
In the 1980s, three Spy vs. Spy computer games, in which players could set traps for each other, were made for various computer systems such as the Commodore 64. While the original game took place in a nondescript building, the sequels transposed the action to a polar setting and a desert island. In 1996, Mad #350 included a CD-ROM featuring Mad-related software as well as three audio files.
In 1999, Broderbund Software/The Learning Company released Totally Mad, a Microsoft Windows 95/98 compatible CD-ROM set collecting the magazine's content from #1 through #376 (December 1998), plus over 100 Mad Specials including most of the recorded audio inserts, thus becoming one of the first magazines to make a comprehensive archival release available in digital form (others such as National Geographic, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker have done the same). The seven discs of Totally Mad were divided chronologically, from "The Earliest Years: 1952-1960" and "The Early Years, but Not the Earliest: 1961-1968" through "The RELATIVELY Late, but not as Late as, the Latest Years: 1988-1994" and "The Latest Years: 1995-1998." The product's "Totally" claim was misleading, since it omitted a handful of articles due to problems clearing the rights on some book excerpts and text taken from recordings, such as Andy Griffith's "What It Was, Was Football." Some of this deleted material can be viewed at Collect Mad.
In 2006, Graphic Imaging Technology's DVD-ROM Absolutely Mad updated the original Totally Mad content through 2005. A single seven-gigabyte disc, it includes more than 600 issues and specials, and is missing the same deleted material from the 1999 collection. It differs from the earlier release in that it is Macintosh compatible. All the printed content can be read on any platform for which a PDF viewer is available, whereas Totally Mad had used a special viewer program that was compatible only with Microsoft Windows. Absolutely Mad also includes numerous video clips including interviews with the editorial staff, several "Spy vs. Spy" segments from MADtv and the "Spy vs. Spy" Mountain Dew commercials. It is missing the audio music files that had been included on Totally Mad.
- Evanier, Mark, Mad Art, Watson Guptil Publications, 2002, ISBN 0-8230-3080-6
- Reidelbach, Maria, Completely Mad, Little Brown, 1991, ISBN 0-316-73890-5