|Editor||Harvey Kurtzman (1952-1956); Al Feldstein (1956-1984); John Ficarra (1984- ) and Nick Meglin (1984-2004)|
|First issue||October–November 1952|
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!” The vertical subtitle, “Humor in a Jugular Vein,” indicated the possibility of a sinister edge to the satire (as well as being wordplay on “jocular”).
Written almost entirely by Harvey Kurtzman, the first issue displayed the cartoon talents of Kurtzman, 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 magazine by the tenth issue. Kurtzman included his own finished art only sporadically, primarily doing covers. A handful of other artists 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 ““Dragged Net!” and the “Lone Stranger!”. This approach proved fruitful, and in short order Kurtzman was gleefully hammering away at such targets as newspaper comic strips (“Little Orphan Melvin!“), comic books (“Superduperman!“), movies (“Ping Pong!”) and television (“Howdy Dooit!“).
By the summer of 1953, the success of Mad was apparent, and Gaines 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 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’ 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 talent. 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. Feldstein’s 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 and Dave Berg well in hand, Feldstein had fully established the format that was 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 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. Meglin retired in 2004. Ficarra continues to edit the magazine today.
The magazine’s impact
- 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 impact:
- 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. 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.
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, as well as taking a critical approach toward mainstream drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, Mad always satirized Democrats as mercilessly as Republicans. The magazine also ran a good deal of less-topical material on such varied topics 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. 
Rock singer Patti Smith said, “After Mad, drugs were nothing.” 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!”
Mad 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 reluctant and 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.”
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.
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. Since Time Warner viewed Mad as not unlike a comic book, they turned the magazine over to DC Comics‘ publishers Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz. Kahn and Levitz, in turn, appointed DC Vice President Joe Orlando as the magazine’s new associate publisher, since Orlando was closely involved with DC licensing. Further, Orlando had been a staff artist with E.C. Comics in the 1950s, a prolific contributor to Mad during the 1960s and a regular with the National Lampoon during the 1970s. Time Warner put a much stronger emphasis on Mad merchandising and licensing, including products for the chain of Warner Studio Stores. Orlando spearheaded that operation through his Special Projects department at DC Comics, and a key component was the creation of the Mad Style Guide (1994), edited by Bhob Stewart and featuring new artwork by Tom Bunk, 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 maintain an office at Mad until his death in 1998.
In 2001, the magazine broke its long-standing taboo and began running advertising. Today, the magazine is published by a branch of DC Comics and in recent years has used its advertising revenue to increase the use of color and improve the magazine’s paper stock. Most features are now in color, which is provided by Wildstorm Comics, an independent comic book company founded by Jim Lee, and formerly published under the Image Comics banner, which DC purchased as an imprint in 1999. Some black-and-white material, however, remains in each issue.
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 variety of humorous captions, such as “Closeup of the gap in Alfred E. Neuman’s teeth” and “Exclusive! FBI releases Bionic Man’s fingerprints!” or “Hair of man watching horror movie.”
The Mad logo has remained virtually unchanged since 1955, save for the decision to italicize the lettering beginning in 1997. The title is sometimes seen in all uppercase letters, but Maria Reidelbach, in her comprehensive, authorized study, Completely Mad: A History of the Comic Book and Magazine (Little, Brown, 1991), makes it clear that the title is correct in upper and lowercase. 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.
In a parody of Playboy‘s “fold-out” centerfolds, each issue of Mad from 1964 onward featured a “fold-in” on its inside back 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. But when the page was folded inward, the inner and outer fourths of the picture combined to reveal a surprising answer in both picture and words. Until 1967, fold-ins were presented in black-and-white.
The feature has rarely been omitted: only single issues in 1968 and 1977 have lacked a fold-in. Another example was the 1980 Mad Disco special, which was printed with stiff cardboard covers, making a fold-in impractical. With nearly 400 fold-ins to date, Jaffee’s work has appeared in more issues of Mad than any other artist.
 “The Lighter Side of…”
From 1961- 2002, Dave Berg produced “The Lighter Side of…” which often satirized the suburban lifestyle, capitalism and the generation gap. Subjects commonly lampooned include medicine, office life, parties, marriage, psychiatry, shopping, school and other everyday activities.
Although this feature eventually became notorious for its corny gags and garishly outdated fashion choices, the Mad editors, over decades, claimed it was the magazine’s most popular feature. 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 not penciled, appeared as a tribute. These last “Lighter Side” strips were divided among 18 of MAD’s regular artists.
“Spy vs. Spy”
Antonio Prohías‘s wordless “Spy vs. Spy,” the never-ending battle between the iconic Black Spy and White Spy, has outlasted 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 that would usually backfire on the spy who had concocted it. There was no pattern or order dictating which spy would be killed in a particular episode. A female “Gray Spy” occasionally appeared; unlike her two adversaries, she always prevailed.
Although Prohías eventually retired from doing the strip, “Spy vs. Spy” continued in newer hands. Various writers and artists worked on the strip in Prohias’ absence. Since 1997 it has been done by Peter Kuper. The Morse Coded “by Prohias” remains in each strip’s title, however, paying tribute to the originator.
 Don Martin gags
Don Martin, billed as “Mad’s Maddest Artist,” drew gag cartoons, generally one page but sometimes longer, featuring Martin’s trademark lumpen characters. Martin’s absurd sight gags were frequently punctuated by an array of bizarre onomatopoeic sound effects such as GLORK, PATWANG-FWEEE, and GAZOWNT-GAZIKKA, coined by Martin himself (or ghost writer Don Edwing).
When Martin first joined Mad, he employed a nervous, scratchy art style, but this developed into a rounder, more cartoony look. Martin’s wild physical comedy would eventually make him the signature artist of the magazine. Many of his cartoons used similar titles (e.g., “One Exceedingly Fine Day at the Beach”), and as this became a trademark, the titles sometimes 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”). Mad has occasionally used the conceit for other cartoonists’ one-page gag titles.
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. After a few years, Martin also left Cracked and published a handful of issues of his own eponymous magazine.
“A Mad Look at…”
Sergio Aragonés has written and drawn his “A Mad Look At…” feature for over forty years. He is known for his remarkable speed and cartooning facility. Aragonés’ Mad cartooning is notable for its silence. He uses virtually no words: speech balloons, when they occur at all, will merely 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”: tiny 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, after his mailed artwork was lost by the post office.
Beginning in Issue #30 (December 1956), Mad began printing jokes and random sayings in the margins of the magazine, based on a theme. In March 1958 (issue #38), this feature was given the overall title “Marginal Thinking Dept.” Marginal Thinking continued to feature random topics (example: “Film Titles We’d Like to See”) until January 1963 (#76) when it became the permanent home of Aragonés’ “Drawn Out Dramas.”
“Monroe” is an ongoing storyline about a prototypical, angst-filled, teenaged loser. It depicts his travails in school, his dysfunctional home and his unending troubles elsewhere. It is written by Anthony Barbieri, and was illustrated by Bill Wray from 1997-2006. It passed its 100th episode in 2005. Monroe is a gawky, high schooler with extreme cowlicks that resemble bug-like antennae. The feature has perplexed a handful of fans. An occasional “explanation” has been offered that “Monroe is an open-ended parable of the 1905 Sino-Russian War, and if one reads it with that in mind, it all makes sense.”
The previously black-and-white feature went on hiatus for much of 2006. When it returned, it was a color feature with artwork by Canadian artist Tom Fowler. Anthony Barbieri remains 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 typically run between five and eight 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, any clichés being used, and so on.
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. Guns N Roses guitarist Slash, during an interview with Mojo Magazine, stated, “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.”
Several Mad premises have been successful enough to warrant additional installments, though not with the regularity of the above. Other recurring features which have appeared in Mad include:
- 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 an “eye in the sky” approach. 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 an “engraved” caricature of the celebrity. A shorter version later ran in the “Fundalini” section.
- 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.
- Disposable Camera Photos That Didn’t Make the Album – written by Butch D’Ambrosio and illustrated by Drew Friedman, these showed “candid” photographs from events like proms, bar mitzvahs or weddings, with descriptive commentary.
- 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.
- Ecchbay Item of the Month – laid out to mimic a computer screen linked to eBay, these purport to sell weird and topical collectables.
- 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.
- How Many Mistakes Can You Find In This Picture? – these articles showed a widespread area such as a rock concert or a fast food outlet, and then revealed 20 visual “mistakes,” which would typically be people behaving in moral or competent ways.
- 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”.
- 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).
- Mad’s ____ 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”).
- 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.
- 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. This is meant to be a parody of Goofus & Gallant. An abbreviated version now 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.
- 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 actual 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 aped the singsong 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.
- The Sights and Sounds of the U.S.A. – written by Frank Jacobs and illustrated by Paul Coker Jr., each installment of this series featured a two-page visual spread of a different city, such as Las Vegas or Washington D.C.
- 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 the inane, unnecessary questions we hear every day (i.e., “Hot enough for you?” “Did that hurt?”) and supplies three obnoxious 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 stupid 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.
- What the Heck is the Difference?; a visual puzzle. Previous MAD covers appear in near-duplicate, with several differences inserted into the second version.
- 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”).
- William Shakespeare, Commentator – written by Frank Jacobs, these articles take Shakespeare quotations out of context and apply them to such areas as movies or sports.
- 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…” “You’re Really a Parent 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 (updating “Casey at the Bat” being a perennial favorite), comic strip takeoffs, and others.
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 question “What, me worry?” Mad first used the boy’s face in November, 1954, on the cover of the comic book’s first reprint collection, the Ballantine paperback titled 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 –identified by name, and sporting his “What, me worry?” motto — was as a supposed write-in candidate for the 1956 presidential election on the cover of issue #30.
The original image of an unnamed boy with a goofy gap-toothed grin 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. Decades ago, the magazine was sued over the copyright to the image, but prevailed by producing similar ones predating the claimant’s, 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 boy’s face is now permanently associated with Mad. With the “What, me worry?” motto, Neuman has often appeared in political cartoons as a shorthand for unquestioning stupidity.
In recent years, Alfred E. Neuman’s features have frequently been merged with those of George W. Bush by editorial cartoonists, including Mike Luckovich and Tom Tomorrow. The image has also appeared on magazine covers (notably The Nation) and in numerous Photoshop images and GIF files in which Neuman’s face morphs into Bush’s. A large Bush/Neuman poster was part of the Washington protests that accompanied Bush’s 2001 inauguration. The alleged resemblance between the two has been noted more than once by Hillary Clinton. On July 10, 2005, speaking at the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival, she said, “I sometimes feel that Alfred E. Neuman is in charge in Washington,” referring to Bush’s purported “What, me worry?” attitude.
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, 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 first issue to be published following the September 11, 2001 attacks, which featured a closeup of Alfred’s smile, with an a tooth featuring an American Flag motiff in the place of the usual gap.
Recurring images and references
Regular Mad readers have been treated to a large number of recurring in-jokes, including Neuman’s catch phrase “What, me worry?” as well as such words as 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” so often that even “The Simpsons” has made reference to it, showing Mad covers with the unseen parodies “Beauty and the Blecch” and “NYPD Blecch”. In the 1950s, the magazine received a fee to promote the soft drink Moxie, and that product’s logo would occasionally appear in illustrations. This experiment was an attempt by Feldstein to convince Gaines that the magazine could profit by carrying legitimate advertising.
The word “hoohah” was a running gag in the early years of Mad, often exclaimed by characters in the comic book issues written and edited by Harvey Kurtzman. Kurtzman liked using Yiddish expressions and nonsense words to humorous effect, and the very first story in the first issue of Mad was even titled “Hoohah!”. “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 is somewhat dated British slang meaning “it is foolhardy to bribe a policeman with counterfeit money.” While associated with Mad, the quote originated in Margery Allingham‘s novel, The Fashion in Shrouds.
Many of the magazine’s visual elements are sheer whimsy, and frequently appear in the artwork without context or explanation. Among these are a potted avocado plant named Arthur (rumored to be based on art director John Putnam’s marijuana plant); a domed trashcan wearing an overcoat, 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 caricatures of themselves, other contributors and the editors into the articles, most famously the character Roger Kaputnik in “The Lighter Side Of…”, who was drawn to resemble Dave Berg. Al Jaffee sometimes incorporated a self-caricature into his signature. The magazine’s photo spreads have typically featured the same Mad staffers. Originally, the magazine tried hiring models for its photo shoots, but found that many were unwilling to make the ridiculous faces the magazine wanted. When the staff tried to prompt the reluctant outsiders, they soon found that they were better suited for shameless posing (and more cost-effective) than the professionals were.
The editors continue to punctuate letter column responses with the breezy interjection “Fa fa fa!” There have also been a number of recurring semi-characters within the editorial pages, such as Hans Brickface, who values items sent in by readers, and Godfrey, who was supposedly the magazine’s head intern.
Contributors and controversy
Mad has provided an ongoing showcase for many long-running satirical writers and artists. 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.” Artist Greg Theakston remembered, “Nothing was better than Bill Gaines delivering a check, via the editor, ink still wet.”
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 kicked off the 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.
Mad’s sales peak was in the 1970s, The magazine’s art director, Sam Viviano, has suggested its critical heydey is in the eye of the beholder, remarking that historically, Mad was at its best “whenever you first started reading it.”
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, Jeff Kruse, 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 makeover, 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. 
In recent years, 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.
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.
Mad 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). Also in 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). A cast album was released, and is now 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 by Mattel.
Film and television
Also in 1980, following the success of the National Lampoon-backed Animal House, Mad 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 was not picked up.
A sketch TV show produced by Quincy Jones was introduced in 1995 using the magazine’s logo and characters: 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.
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, with issue #350, Mad included a CD-ROM featuring Mad-related software as well as three audio files (as noted above). Although the audio files could be played on any computer, the remainder of the disc was compatible only with Microsoft Windows, resulting in some criticism.
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 special issues as well as audio files of most of the recorded inserts from various special issues, thus becoming one of only a few mass magazines (such as National Geographic and The New Yorker) to have attempted this type of comprehensive archival release in digital form. 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 “Articles Mysteriously Missing from the Totally Mad CD ROM”. The set is now out of print and is no longer supported by either Broderbund or The Learning Company.
In 2006, the DVD-ROM Absolutely Mad was released by digital publisher Graphic Imaging Technology, effectively updating the original Totally Mad content through 2005. A single seven-gigabyte disc, it comprises more than 600 issues including the magazine’s specials; the newer collection is, however, also missing the disputed material deleted from Totally Mad. It differs from the earlier release in that it is both Microsoft Windows and Macintosh compatible, with all the printed content is in PDF format which 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. Missing from this version of the release are the audio music files that were included with Totally Mad. In addition, although the packaging for the box indicates that the cover art from the many Mad paperback releases would the included, this content is not present on the DVD.
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, which later became the Super-Specials. These reprint issues were sometimes augmented by exclusive features such as posters, stickers and, on a few occasions, recordings on flexi-disc and comic-book formatted inserts reprinting material from the comic book era of the magazine.
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 counting), and the Netherlands (32 years) have produced the longest uninterrupted Mad variants.
Current foreign editions
- Germany, 1968-1993, 1998-present;
- Brazil, 1974-1983, 1984-2006, 2008-present;
- Australia, 1980-present;
- South Africa, 1985-present;
- Hungary, 1997-present;
- Mexico, 2005-present;
- Spain, 2006-present;
- Finland, 1970-1972, 1982-2005, 2006-present
Foreign editions of the past
- 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 recently released 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 ).
Imitators and variants
Others were short-lived exercises. 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 cancelled after an issue or two. Many of these titles appeared in the mid-to-late 1950s, when Mad’s success was in its first flower, but as the decades went by, more imitators surfaced and vanished, with titles such as Wild, Blast, Grin, and Gag!
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 E.C. 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 thirteen 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 Aragones and frequent cover art by Basil Wolverton, but was less slavish in its Mad mimickry, relying more on one-page gags and horror-based comedy. A magazine from the 1970s, Parody, focused on TV and movie spoofs. There was even a Christian imitation of Mad – Glad, a born again version that followed the same format, except that the TV, film and social parodies were vehicles toward conveying Bible-based messages.
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 a voodoo doll in his business office, into which he would stick pins labeled with each imitation of his magazine. He would remove a pin only when the copycat had ceased publishing. At the time of Gaines’ death in 1992, only the pin for Cracked remained.
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, Naruto, 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.
Some of the Usual Gang of Idiots
Mad 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 one hundred issues or more. Al Jaffee has appeared in the most issues (440 as of May 2008). Other contributors to have appeared in 300 or more issues of Mad are Sergio Aragones, Dick DeBartolo, Mort Drucker, Dave Berg, Paul Coker Jr., and Frank Jacobs (note: 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:
Some of the Unusual Gang of Idiots
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 article.
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) are among those to have 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. Introductions to Mad’s paperback reprints have been written by such personages as Trey Parker, Adam West, Siskel and Ebert and, again, Weird Al Yankovic.
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.”
For several years, the Table of Contents has listed one article that does not actually exist, sometimes poking fun at some of the more formulaic articles the magazine has published. Some of these imaginary listings have included “Santa Claus, Porn Star”; “When Goats Go Bad”; “What if Cap’n Crunch Was Brought Before a Military Tribunal?”; “If the Amish Used Zombies to Do Their Chores”; “The MAD Urinary Tract Infection Primer”; “Dick Cheney Electrocardiograms We’d Like to See”; “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 pithy quote or aphorism attributed to Alfred E. Neuman. With a handful of exceptions, this is the only time the character ever “speaks.” (One of his aphorisms: “You can’t do anything about the family you were born into, but you sure can do something about the family your children will be born into!”)
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 are also a few (very small) sub-departments that sometimes live within its pages:
- “Antiques Freakshow with Hans Brickface” – in which readers send in photographs of their bizarre household items to have their values appraised by the slightly psychotic Hans.
- “MAD Mumblings” – absurd one-sentence observations, typically non sequiturs, posted online by the readers.
- “The Make a Dumb Wish Foundation” – in which the magazine promises to make readers’ stupid requests come true, but usually doesn’t (a parody of the Make a Wish Foundation).
- “The Nifty Fifty” & “Mad Celebrity Snaps” – a reader who sends in a photo of a famous person posing with a copy of Mad gets a free three-year subscription (if the celebrity is touching the issue). Once a year, Mad puts out a kind of hit list called The Nifty Fifty: fifty famous people they’d like to see in 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 Two-Question Interview” – celebrity interviews which are essentially over before they begin, accomplishing nothing.
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 been 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, which is essentially half of a Letterman “Top 10 List“;
- Foto News, in which topical photographs are given word balloons (similar to fumetti, though without that genre’s narrative storyline aspect);
- 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”;
- Magazine Corrections You May Have Missed, providing editorial commentary on other publications;
- Meet the ’08 Presidential Candidates, a series of spurious political profiles;
- 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;
- Pull My Cheney!, a one-panel gag by cartoonist Tom Cheney;
- The President’s Dog, a short comic strip by Peter Kuper, in which George W. Bush converses with Barney the Terrier;
- 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”;
- Vey to Go!, a one-panel gag by cartoonist P.C. Vey;
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.
Preexisting; moved into Fundalini
- Celebrity Cause of Death Betting Odds, written by Mike Snider, which ranks the hypothetical future demises of the famous by decreasing likelihood;
- Melvin and Jenkins’ Guide to…, drawn by Kevin Pope and written by Desmond Devlin, in which the upstanding Jenkins and the derelict Melvin illustrate good and improper behavior in various situations. However, it now consists of only a single two-panel gag, instead of the two- or three-page article it was before.
- 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.
- Go Fetch!
Further blurring the line between advertising and content was Go Fetch!, a 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 not appeared since the June 2006 issue and appears to be retired.
“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 defunct 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.
Mad and the Supreme Court
The magazine has been involved in various legal actions over the decades, but none was bigger than Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc., a case that was eventually brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. 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 Famous Authors Wrote the Comics” had speculated on such pairings as “If Paddy Chayefsky wrote Donald Duck” and “If Mickey Spillane wrote Nancy“. The segment “If Gilbert & Sullivan wrote Dick Tracy” used the “When I Was a Lad” song from H.M.S. Pinafore as its iambic inspiration, as shown here:
Dick Tracy: Though I am trapped and I have no gun
you still can’t kill me ‘cos it can’t be done.
The whole darn force is waiting down below
I summoned all the boys on my wrist radio! Crooks: He summoned all them cops on his wrist radio! Dick Tracy: So even if I’m helpless in your evil grip
you cannot kill a flatfoot in a comic strip!
- ^ Mike Lynch Cartoons: 1977 NY Times: 25 Years of Mad Magazine UPDATED
- ^ The Daily News Online > This Day > Born under a Mad sign
- ^ Tales from the crypt – comic books and censorship – The Skeptical Eye | Humanist | Find Articles at BNET.com
- ^ Jacobs, Frank; The Mad World of William M. Gaines, 1972, pg. 157-158
- ^ Mojo Magazine, June 2008, pg. 58
- ^ “Letters Dept.” Mad 38 (March 1958).
- ^ Reidelbach, Maria. Completely Mad, pages 141 and 146. New York: Little Brown, 1991. ISBN 0-316-73890-5
- ^ Cover image to Mad #161 at collectmad.com
- ^ Cover image to Mad #166 at collectmad.com
- ^ Futrelle, David. “Son of Mad.” Salon, April 8, 1997.
- ^ Reidelbach, Maria; Completely Mad, 1991, pg. 94; also the liner notes for the cast album
- ^ MAD Kids – MAD Magazine Comics for Kids on KOL
- ^ Slaubaugh, Mike (2008–01-10). “Mad Magazine Contributor Appearances” (in English). Retrieved on 2008–01-10.
- ^ Slaubaugh, Mike (2008–01-10). “Mad Magazine Contributor Appearances” (in English). Retrieved on 2008–01-10.
- ^ Mad Magazine Uses Pulitzer Winners to Tweak Bush – New York Times
- ^ Jacobs, Frank. The MAD World of William M. Gaines (1972)
- ^ Judge’s ruling in Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc.
- ^ “If Mickey Spillane Wrote: NANCY”
- 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
- List of Mad Magazine Issues
- List of Mad’s movie spoofs
- List of Mad’s TV shows spoofs
- It’s A Super-Spectacular Day – a novelty record released with the Summer 1980 issue
- Official Mad website at dccomics.com, with:
- The Mad Cover Site at collectmad.com
- Mad Magazine lists, including cover artists, most appearances per contributor, and yearly circulation figures
- Interview with 50-year Mad veteran Frank Jacobs, from the Mad Mumblings discussion website
- MADkids website
- Animated version of a Don Martin gag strip
- Origins of Alfred E. Neuman
- MAD Magazine and Alfred E. Neuman Database
- Mad at the FBI
- Official German Mad Magazine Website
- Excerpts from the Christian-themed “Glad Magazine” imitation
- “Quest for Alfred E. Neuman”, Carl Djerassi on encountering Alfred E. Neuman as Nazi racial propaganda
- Mad Magazine Explorer, an experimental image-browsing interface of Mad covers
- If Mickey Spillane wrote “Nancy”
- NCS Awards
- Daniel Pinkwater: “On First Looking into Kurtzman’s Mad