Monday, July 02, 2018

Harvey Comics

I just read a collection of Humbug--a humor magazine from the late 1950s.

Harvey Kurtzman had worked at E.C. Comics, where he invented Mad, a huge hit that saved E.C. when the moral panic against horror and action comics almost destroyed the industry.  Kurtzman wrote every word of the early issues.  Now a hot ticket, Kurtzman demanded that publisher William Gaines give him majority control of Mad. That was the end of Harvey at E.C.

Many figured that would also be the end of Mad, but it stayed popular and is still with us.  Meanwhile, Kurtzman took up Hugh Hefner's offer to publish an expensive, high quality humor magazine, which they called Trump.  They only put out two issues before Hef pulled the plug.  As Hefner put it, "I gave Harvey an unlimited budget, and he exceeded it."

So Kurtzman and some of the artists and writers he worked with pooled their money to start their own humor magazine, Humbug.  It was actually one of many humor magazines to arise after Mad became a phenomenon.  But you'd think this one was a little different, since it was edited by the creator of Mad, and featured some of the same artists, such as Will Elder and Jack Davis.  However, it's tough to get a foothold in the industry, and with uncertain distribution, and a smaller size that made it easy to get lost on newsstands, Humbug foundered after eleven issues.

I thought Humbug was pretty good, but not great.  If you squint, it looks like Mad, but there are clear differences.  For one thing, it's a bit more adult.  It's also more directly satirical of the politics of the time (which makes it more dated today).  And it's graphically different, with the use of photos, and pieces that are entirely text.

But somehow the magic of Mad is missing. The original Mad had a spirit of anarchy and wildness which maybe comes from trying something entirely new and not knowing where you're going.  A few years later, with Humbug, perhaps Harvey and the gang were getting tired.  Or perhaps they were discovering it's not so easy to self-publish.

Harvey would go on to create another humor magazine in the 1960s, Help!.  It was more innovative than Humbug, and though it lasted five years, it didn't make much money.  Harvey eventually retreated to a sinecure, doing the "Little Anny Fanny" strip in Playboy, which earned him money but was of far less artistic value than his other projects.

Kurtzman was one of the greats.  He never really topped his early work at E.C., capped by Mad, but at least he tried.


Blogger brian said...

MAD, better name than Humbug

7:34 PM, July 02, 2018  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:20 PM, July 02, 2018  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you both out of your cotton-pickin' minds?

5:56 AM, July 04, 2018  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please explain Cracked. A pale carbon copy of MAD. Its what you bought when MAD was sold out

4:51 AM, July 05, 2018  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like you just explained it.

10:10 AM, July 05, 2018  

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