A good part of my youth was spent hanging out with a goofy looking, gap toothed freckled kid named Alfred. Alfred taught me more about the great big world than anyone else, and he always had me rolling with laughter. He was the kind of kid that your parents thought was a bad influence — he was irreverent and questioned authority, all while telling the funniest jokes.
Of course, I’m referring to Alfred E. Newman, the mascot of Mad Magazine, one of the most recognizable icons in pop culture history. The magazine started as a comic book back in 1952, written and illustrated by the legendary Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Will Elder, Jack Davis, John Severin, and others. Subscription levels for the magazine reached their peak in the mid 70’s, and the magazine continued to run strong through the early 80’s. Don Martin, Jack Davis, Dave Berg, Mort Drucker, Al Jaffee, Sergio Aragones — the usual gang of idiots, as they dubbed themselves — had a huge impact on me as a kid. Much like some of the artists and writers over at Marvel and DC Comics, these guys were legends to me, and every month, I couldn’t wait to see what they would put down on the page.
No movie, TV show, celebrity, or politician was safe from Mad Magazine. The publication skewered one and all equally, and we loved it! The creators were just doing what little boys did on a daily basis, but by being “adults” and putting it in print, it kind of validated all our potty humor. “Happy Days” became “Crappy Days,” “Taxi” became “Taxing” — low brow humor to be sure, but that was just the window dressing to some very smart and biting commentary. Women were objectified, politicians were roasted, celebrities were knocked off their high horses, and social injustices were mocked. The magazine knew which buttons to push and how far to take a joke — for the most part.
My parents had to know how irreverent the magazine was, since my dad used to read any copies I left around, but that didn’t stop them from buying me new issues at the grocery store. Looking through old issues of the magazine, it’s amazing to see some of the social issues they took head on through humor. Political correctness did not exist. Again, times were different back then.
Every issue had the “old faithful” articles and columns…
Don Martin’s comics were always my favorite.
Dave Berg’s “The Lighter Side of…” never shied away from controversy.
Sergio Aragones could do more with one picture than most writers could do with 100,000 words.
The parodies were always pure gold — Mort Drucker is the king of all caricaturists. When Michael J. Fox appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1985, he said that he knew he made it in show business “when Mort Drucker drew my head.”
Spy Vs. Spy — one of the truly great comedic duos in history.
The Mad Fold-Ins on the inside back covers kept just about every issue from ever becoming a pristine collectible.
For over 40 years, Mad Magazine didn’t have ads — unless they made them up themselves.
It’s been many years since I picked up a new issue of Mad on the newsstand (the fact that I still use the word newsstand shows how much gray is in my hair!), but I do enjoy revisiting the older issues. It is amazing how the humor in those issues holds up all these years later. Some of the commentary on politics and the environment is so razor sharp that it could have been written just last week. My pal Alfred really knew what he was talking about.
This summer, I am going back to the 70’s and 80’s with the Cool, Cool, Cool Summer 2019. Follow along and let me know if there’s something you think I should revisit.