Thursday, June 25, 2015


One of the first things I learned from Mary-Lou Weisman's biography of cartoonist Al Jaffee is that he's still at MAD magazine.  I haven't read it since I was a kid, but he was, in fact, a regular there before I was even born.

Considering how important MAD has been in Jaffee's life and legend, the book spends surprisingly little time on his years there.  In fact, there are only two chapters devoted to MAD.  Most of the book is taken up with his childhood and early adult years.  Not what I would have chosen, but since this is the only book likely to be written on the subject, you take what you can get. And one other thing you get is illustrations by Jaffee himself--has that ever happened in a biography, pictures but no words?

Jaffee was a great cartoonist before he joined MAD, and became one of the most popular of the "usual gang of idiots." He created at least two regular items for which he's still remembered.

One is the Fold-In.  Other magazines had foldouts, so Jaffee decided to do the opposite.  In each issue he'd create a cartoon on the back inside page that would fold in to reveal a different drawing, with the worlds printed below revealing the answer to the question asked. Jaffee was not only clever enough to come up with the idea, but also had the talent to pull it off month after month.

The other feature, which may be even more famous, is his "Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions." Of all the many comic concepts he introduced to MAD this took off as no other.  You're probably familiar with it--Jaffee would draw a picture where someone asks someone else something obvious.  On the right would be three word-balloons with smart alec answers plus a fourth you could fill in with your own response. (Did anyone ever fill them in?)  For example, one character says to someone who's just wrapped his car around a tree "Have an accident?" The three answers are "No, thanks!  I already have one!,"  "No, I'm a modern sculptor!" and "No, I'm starting a junk yard!"

Both these features were collected into a series of popular books.  But Jaffee did a lot more. For instance, he created another bit, "Don't You Hate...," that was also turned into a number of books.  And he came up with ridiculous inventions, some of which were later patented by others, such as a Ferris Wheel for parking cars, or an ashtray with suction to take in the smoke.

Mad isn't what it once was.  What magazine is?  But I get the feeling his stuff will be remembered long after the magazine is gone.


Blogger New England Guy said...

MY brother got a subscription to MAD for my teenage son a few years back and its not what it was (how could it be?) and actual advertising is off-putting though I chuckled a little bit (don't know if my son did)

I remember Al Jaffe's parking ideas because a followup letter to the editor (they had these and they were straight letters not jokes) from some sort of important personage saying thank you for these important ideas (including the ferris wheel mentioned) and the writer thought all but one could work (that involved helicopters acting as valets and towing your car out to country until you needed it back- sorry the "unworkable" one the only one I remember)

My 13- year old self's favorite: Q: Have an accident? A: No. Haven't you seen cars mating before. Hehehe snicker snicker

8:15 AM, June 25, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

One of my favorite features was always Jaffe's mariginal drawings (drawings in the margins, not poor drawings). When I would get the magazine, I would often page through and just make sure I found them all (as you could miss them if you concentrated on the main subject of the page).

We get a copy once in a while - usually for a plane trip, since I can't stand the in-flight magazines.

9:01 AM, June 26, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

The marginal drawings were generally by Sergio Aragones. I should note Aragones and Jaffee each had great respect for the other.

10:18 AM, June 26, 2015  
Blogger New England Guy said...

An auction site page from 2006- You can sort of see his parking ideas.

11:41 AM, June 26, 2015  

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