Al Jaffee: the MAD Genius of the Fold-In Page can only be found between the creases. He passed away at the venerable age of 102 on March 10, 2023.
When I was a kid, MAD Magazine was one of those taboo things you saw at the newsstand and upon seeing it felt compelled to steal a look inside. Their over-bright covers screamed: Put those superheroes down and dive into “subversive media.”
Goodbye muscular guys in tights with superpowers and say hello to caricature, commentary, and honest comedy. MAD made me mad!
In the best way possible.
It taught me there was room in the world for people who thought like I did. MAD asked questions. Silly questions. And someone paid them to write it.
They were paid to mock the world and it was okay to laugh at their terrible jokes. If Saturday Night Live were a comic, it might be MAD, a sketch show of different writers giving us their view of the hot topic of the month.
Back when news and scandal was slower.
People waited to read a monthly magazine.
They could pay for a subscription to subversive media. In their humdrum lives, a little MAD could fall. In a world where we are told to conform, MAD said: No thanks.
I can’t speak for anyone else. MAD freed me from the need to be like anyone. I read it obsessively for many years and then only when I could find it. MAD was an acquired taste and different writers gave the magazine different flavors. But what MAD did well was to remain subversive. Counter-culture, mocking culture.
Their brand of subversive made fun of common movies, social trends, poking light-heartedly at beloved celebrities who were in the limelight at the time.
I enjoyed the caricature parodies where the artist mocks a film drawing in the faces of recognizable celebrities mouthing new and wonderfully relevant things. Counterpointing the art was biting commentary on the film industry or lampooning the latest blockbuster from a twisted perspective. Part of the fun was knowing where the news was and whether there was truth to any of it.
Today, we call that social media.
Back then it was MAD and it was a brand all to itself. One of the signature pieces of work I came to appreciate was the genius of Al Jaffee: the back page fold-up.
This feature has adorned every issue of Mad I have ever seen. Al Jaffee’s gift was to be able to compress an idea into a joke, then work backward from his joke to an image which had to be an image in the expanded form and in the compressed form. This was my favorite part of the magazine. Social commentary, biting satire, comic relief and an absolutely appropriate image driving that point home. Good to the last mutilated page.
Al Jaffee taught a generation how to laugh. To arrive at it in their own good time, pressing at the folds of their own lives and being able to see yourself, at least just a little.
We are less for his loss.
Hail the Traveler!
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.