Sadness: The End of the MADness
On Wednesday, July 3 as most Americans were looking forward to fireworks the next day, contributors to MAD Magazine received a bombshell in their email boxes. After 67 years of continuous publication of biting satire and humorous observations about everything modern life entails, its publisher DC announced that it would be shutting down the groundbreaking publication.
DC clarified that issue number 8 will be the last sent to newsstands. Further issues will be mailed to subscribers or sent to specialty comic book stores. Issue number 10, which will hit homes in October, will be the last issue to contain all new content. After that, MAD’s subscribers will be receiving issues with new cover art, but with reprinted material from the archives. MAD will not be accepting further subscriptions and will fill out its obligations to current subscribers with the old content. MAD’s demise came a week after DC’s announcement that it would also be ending its Vertigo imprint.
MAD had been a staple for more than three generations, cartoonists such as Sergio Aragones, Don Martin, Wally Wood, Al Jaffee, Don Martin and many more either launched their careers or saw them greatly enhanced by their work appearing in its pages. The catchphrase of its grinning idiot mascot and cover boy, Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?” was well known to others beyond its readership. And Al Jaffee’s famous fold-in rear covers have remained a pop-culture icon, even being an answer on Jeopardy. It was long said that one knew they “had made it” in the entertainment industry when one was satirized by MAD. That sentiment was shared by Mark Hamill in a Tweet lamenting the news that it was shutting down. Other celebrities including Brad Bird, Weird Al Yankovic, John Hodgman and more also went online to share their sympathies.
As the last of the in-print parody magazines, it outlasted those who followed in their footsteps: Cracked, Spy and The Onion. But, at the moment, it does not appear that it will be following them into the online-only format.
MAD’s cancellation was due primarily to financial reasons. Declining readership had begun in the early 1990s. The magazine’s original MADison Avenue office were closed in the mid 90s with the staff moving to DC Comics’ headquarters. In 2001, MAD switched to a color format and started accepting advertisements. In 2009, the magazine switched to quarterly, but went to bi-monthly a year later. The page pay rate for contributors was also halved in 2009 according to long-time MAD artist Tom Richmond, when he wrote on his blog. (https://www.tomrichmond.com/the-end-of-the-madness/04/07/2019/) When DC moved its offices to those of parent company Warner Bros in 2013, MAD was expected to follow. However, in true MAD fashion, its staff rebelled and were allowed to remain. That reprieve lasted until 2017 when the offices were relocated to Burbank and the magazine relaunched in 2018.
With the hiring of Bill Morrison as Executive Editor/VP, there was renewed hope for the future of the publication as he “knew” the magazine and what made humor work. MAD published The Ghastlygun Tinies, a biting take on school shootings done in the style of Edward Gorey which went viral on social media.
It was under his watch, that MAD expanded its online presence. However, it was not enough to reverse its fortunes and he was fired in January of this year. In late June, one art director and two of the three remaining editors were also let go.
To its credit, DC Comics appears to have gone to great lengths to preserve MAD over its decades of ownership. It maintained the “hands off” agreement made between founder Bill Gaines and the publication’s previous owners well after Gaines’ death in 1992. Even in a political environment similar to Watergate – an era which saw MAD rise to the top of public consciousness – it was still unable to turn a profit. Printing costs alone have risen continuously since the 1980s, putting unrelenting pressure on the bottom lines of every company in the print business.
Much like MTV being unable to compete with YouTube for delivering music videos, MAD was unable to compete with the myriad of readily available free satirical content. In a world where satire, political commentary and clever memes show up minutes after an event on one’s social media feed, or is delivered each week night on the talk shows, even a monthly publication would be hard-pressed to keep up despite the unquestioned quality of the work.
There have been rumors that DC Comics was planning on selling MAD to another publisher, but that seems unlikely. If it were possible to make money continuing MAD, then DC would not have shut it down. As it is, it owns 67 years of “for hire” content, meaning that it can use its library as it sees fit without having to pay royalties. In addition to year-end specials with new content, DC says that it will publish occasional special issues with new content as well as books and collections of the older works.
This morning Mark Hamill tweeted this:
Tom Richmond has been an illustrator for MAD Magazine since 2000, and is the artist behind all those amazing celebrity caricatures. On his website, he posted the following push-back on the popularly reported news that MAD was going to fold up and disappear:
To misquote Mark Twain:
“The report of MAD‘s death have been greatly exaggerated”
Many news outlets are reporting that MAD is done as of issue #10. That is not the case, and my post yesterday made it very clear that the magazine would continue to publish with issue #11, but would feature new cover art and interiors with reprinted classic material as opposed to all new material. News stand distribution will stop, and the magazine will only be available through current subscriptions and via the direct market (i.e. comic book shops). That is all 100% confirmed as of this writing.
That said, these officially stated plans going forward for MAD may not necessarily be set in stone. I have read some reports about a possible annual edition with all new content, although that is NOT confirmed or official in any way. There is nothing that says SOME new content may not find its way into the regular issues. Who knows? Maybe they’ll have a new movie or TV parody in each issue? An original Fold-in? Sergio’s “A MAD Look at…”? Again, NONE OF THIS IS OFFICIAL… in fact it’s all speculation on my part. I can certainly see a MAD going forward with a combination of some new and some classic content. It would need a much smaller staff and have overhead substantially streamlined, especially without the burden of newsstand distribution costs.
So, how can you help make that happen? The outpouring of sadness about the lack of new content in MAD has been overwhelming, but most of it has been of this variety:
“I’m so sad to hear MAD is no longer going to be publishing original content. The end of an era. I haven’t bought an issue in years.”-A lot of MAD fans
That last bit is the problem. If you want to see MAD continue on in some capacity with new content, go out and buy it. Issue #8 in on the stands right now. Go to your local comic book shop and place an order for #9, or be sure you pick it up on the newsstands when it comes out (that will be the last one on newsstands). Money talks, especially with big corporations who have shareholders looking over their shoulders. Let DC know via social media or whatever that you want to see the magazine continue. Numbers also talk.
MAD is a valuable brand for DC and anything that makes it more valuable will get some attention. I think MAD is a more valuable brand if it is actively publishing new content, especially if that content is garnering media attention and acclaim. If the corporate overlords also think that, then we get a MAD with new content.
So go on out there and show DC we want MAD. If nothing else, do it for Al Jaffee. He tells me he was just getting the hang of this fold-in thing.
Don’t Stop Believing
And more importantly, go out and do what fans do: buy the merch! You can make a difference by just going out and buying MAD Magazine stuff, expecially the zine itself.
It’s not over yet!