Mad Magazine, Irreverent Baby Boomer Humor Bible, Is All but Dead


Alfred E. Neuman finally has a reason to worry.

Mad magazine, the class clown of American publishing, is being shuffled off to the periodical equivalent of an old-folks home at the age of 67.

After the next two issues, a publication that specialized in thumbing its nose at authority will no longer include new material, except in year-end specials, according to two people with knowledge of the decision. Instead, the “usual gang of idiots,” as the staff has long called itself on the masthead, will fill the magazine’s pages with old material.

A giddy creation of the staid 1950s, Mad hit a circulation peak of 2.8 million in 1973. Since then, it has steadily lost readers and relevance, a victim of its own success, as its skeptical, smart-alecky sensibility became dominant in American popular culture. “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and The Onion can be counted among its heirs, and the magazine influenced a generation of comedians and comic artists, from the late-night host Stephen Colbert to the comics writer Art Spiegelman.

“Mad was, ‘The entire adult world is lying to you, and we are part of the adult world. Good luck to you,’” Mr. Spiegelman said in an interview on Friday. “I think that shaped my entire generation.”

Alfred E. Neuman, the magazine’s freckle-faced, tooth-deficient mascot, has served as the magazine’s cover boy from the Eisenhower years to the present, appearing in various guises, including Barbra Streisand, Rosemary’s baby and both President Bushes. His motto was “What, me worry?”

As the magazine settled into its classic format — 48 black-and-white newsprint pages fronted by an attention-grabbing cover — Alfred E. Neuman became a cultural touchstone. An evil double of sorts to the clean-cut comic-book protagonist Archie Andrews (spoofed in Mad as “Starchie”), the impish fellow had an appearance based on a face that Mr. Kurtzman had glimpsed in a high school biology textbook “of a person who lacked iodine,” the author David Hajdu reported in “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America.”

Popular movies — box-office hits and critics’ favorites — became regular fodder for gleeful parodies, drawn for many decades by the caricaturist Mort Drucker. In Mad’s versions, “The Sound of Music” became “The $ound of Money,” “Rocky” was “Rockhead,” and “Hannah and Her Sisters” was retold as “Henna and Her Sickos.”

“When I think of ‘The Sound of Music,’ I think of Mort Drucker’s version rather than the actual film,” Mr. Friedman said.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Jaffee, 98, said that what distinguished Mad was an ethos of punching up. “It was satirizing institutions, like advertising — specific advertisements that were misleading, such as the tobacco companies’ advertising cigarettes as soothing for your throat,” he said.

Other signature features included the indelible “Spy vs. Spy” strip, drawn for its first 26 years by Antonio Prohias; the ingenious bits of cartoon marginalia provided by Sergio Aragonés; Dave Berg’s “The Lighter Side of … ” features, which gave young readers a terrifying glimpse of the indignities awaiting them in adulthood; and the merrily absurdist scenarios involving the long-bodied, knock-kneed characters concocted by the artist Don Martin, in which the typical words were things like Katoong!, Sklortch! and Zazik!



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