Mad is an American humor magazine founded by editor Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William Gaines in 1952. Launched as a comic book before it became a magazine, it was widely imitated and influential, impacting not only satirical media but the entire cultural landscape of the 20th century.
The last surviving title from the notorious and critically acclaimed EC Comics line, the magazine offers satire on all aspects of life and popular culture, politics, entertainment, and public figures. Its format is divided into a number of recurring segments such as TV and movie parodies, as well as freeform articles. Mad's mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, is typically the focal point of the magazine's cover, with his face often replacing a celebrity or character that is lampooned within the issue.
Written almost entirely by Harvey Kurtzman, the first issue also featured illustrations by Kurtzman himself, along with Wally Wood, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin. Wood, Elder and Davis were the three main illustrators throughout the 23-issue run of the comic book.
In order to retain Kurtzman as its editor, the comic book converted to magazine format as of issue #24 (1955). As it happened, Kurtzman quit the following year, but crucially, the move had also removed Mad from the strictures of the Comics Code Authority. New editor Al Feldstein swiftly brought aboard staffers such as Don Martin, Frank Jacobs, and Mort Drucker, and later, Antonio Prohías and Dave Berg. The magazine's circulation more than quadrupled during Feldstein's tenure, peaking at 2,132,655 in 1974, although it had declined to a third of this figure by the end of his time as editor. When Feldstein retired in 1984, he was replaced by the team of Nick Meglin and John Ficarra, who co-edited Mad for the next two decades. After Meglin retired in 2004, Ficarra continued to edit the magazine.
Gaines sold his company in the early 1960s to the Kinney Parking Company, which would also acquire National Periodicals (aka DC Comics) and Warner Bros. by the end of that decade. Gaines was named a Kinney a board member, and was largely permitted to run Mad as he saw fit without corporate interference.
Following Gaines's death, Mad became more ingrained within the Time Warner corporate structure. Eventually, the magazine was obliged to abandon its long-time home at 485 Madison Avenue(printed as "MADison" Avenue in the masthead), and in the mid-1990s it moved into DC Comics' offices at the same time DC relocated to 1700 Broadway. In 2001, the magazine broke its long-standing taboo and began running paid advertising. The outside revenue allowed for the introduction of color printing and improved paper stock.
In its earliest incarnation, new issues of the magazine appeared erratically, between four and seven times a year. By the end of 1958, Mad had settled on an unusual eight-times-a-year schedule, which lasted almost four decades. Gaines felt the atypical timing was necessary to maintain the magazine's level of quality. Mad then began producing additional issues, until it reached a traditional monthly schedule with the January 1997 issue. With its 500th issue (June 2009), amid company-wide cutbacks at Time Warner, the magazine temporarily regressed to a quarterly publication before settling to six issues per year in 2010.
Though there are antecedents to Mad’s style of humor in print, radio and film, Mad became a pioneering example of it. Throughout the 1950s, Mad featured groundbreaking parodies combining a sentimental fondness for the familiar staples of American culture—such as Archie and Superman—with a keen joy in exposing the fakery behind the image. Its approach was described by Dave Kehr in The New York Times: "Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding on the radio, Ernie Kovacs on television, Stan Freberg on records, Harvey Kurtzman in the early issues of Mad: all of those pioneering humorists and many others realized that the real world mattered less to people than the sea of sounds and images that the ever more powerful mass media were pumping into American lives." Bob and Ray, Kovacs and Freberg all became contributors to Mad.
In 1977, Tony Hiss and Jeff Lewis wrote in The New York Times about the then 25-year-old publication's initial effect:
- The skeptical generation of kids it shaped in the 1950s is the same generation that in the 1960s opposed a war and didn't feel bad when the United States lost for the first time and in the 1970s helped turn out an Administration and didn't feel bad about that either... It was magical, objective proof to kids that they weren't alone, that in New York City on Lafayette Street, if nowhere else, there were people who knew that there was something wrong, phony and funny about a world of bomb shelters, brinkmanship and toothpaste smiles. Mad's consciousness of itself, as trash, as comic book, as enemy of parents and teachers, even as money-making enterprise, thrilled kids. In 1955, such consciousness was possibly nowhere else to be found. In aMad parody, comic-strip characters knew they were stuck in a strip. Darnold Duck, for instance, begins wondering why he has only three fingers and has to wear white gloves all the time. He ends up wanting to murder every other Disney character. G.I. Schmoe tries to win the sexy Asiatic broad by telling her, "O.K., baby! You're all mine! I gave you a chance to hit me witta gun butt... But naturally, you have immediately fallen in love with me, since I am a big hero of this story."
Mad is often credited with filling a vital gap in political satire in the 1950s to 1970s, when Cold War paranoia and a general culture of censorship prevailed in the United States, especially in literature for teens. Activist Tom Hayden said, "My own radical journey began with Mad Magazine." The rise of such factors as cable television and the Internet have diminished the influence and impact of Mad, although it remains a widely distributed magazine. In a way, Mad's power has been undone by its own success: what was subversive in the 1950s and 1960s is now commonplace. However, its impact on three generations of humorists is incalculable, as can be seen in the frequent references to Mad on the animated series The Simpsons. Simpsonsproducer Bill Oakley said, "The Simpsons has transplanted Mad magazine. Basically everyone who was young between 1955 and 1975 read Mad, and that’s where your sense of humor came from. And we knew all these people, you know, Dave Berg and Don Martin– all heroes, and unfortunately, now all dead. And I think The Simpsons has taken that spot in America’s heart." In 2009, The New York Times wrote, "Mad once defined American satire; now it heckles from the margins as all of culture competes for trickster status."
Mad's satiric net was cast wide. The magazine often featured parodies of ongoing American culture, including advertising campaigns, the nuclear family, the media, big business, education and publishing. In the 1960s and beyond, it satirized such burgeoning topics as the sexual revolution, hippies, the generation gap, psychoanalysis, gun politics, pollution, the Vietnam War andrecreational drug use. The magazine took a generally negative tone towards counterculture drugs such as cannabis and LSD, but also savaged mainstream drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.Mad always satirized Democrats as mercilessly as it did Republicans. In 2007, Al Feldstein recalled, "We even used to rake the hippies over the coals. They were protesting the Vietnam War, but we took aspects of their culture and had fun with it. Mad was wide open. Bill loved it, and he was a capitalist Republican. I loved it, and I was a liberal Democrat. That went for the writers, too; they all had their own political leanings, and everybody had a voice. But the voices were mostly critical. It was social commentary, after all." Mad also ran a good deal of less topical or contentious material on such varied subjects as fairy tales, nursery rhymes, greeting cards, sports, small talk, poetry, marriage, comic strips,awards shows, cars and many other areas of general interest.
In 2007, the Los Angeles Times' Robert Boyd wrote, "All I really need to know I learned from Mad magazine", going on to assert:
- "Plenty of it went right over my head, of course, but that's part of what made it attractive and valuable. Things that go over your head can make you raise your head a little higher.
- The magazine instilled in me a habit of mind, a way of thinking about a world rife with false fronts, small print, deceptive ads, booby traps, treacherous language, double standards, half truths, subliminal pitches and product placements; it warned me that I was often merely the target of people who claimed to be my friend; it prompted me to mistrust authority, to read between the lines, to take nothing at face value, to see patterns in the often shoddy construction of movies and TV shows; and it got me to think critically in a way that few actual humans charged with my care ever bothered to."
In 1994, Brian Siano (The Humanist) discussed the eye-opening aspects of Mad:
- "For the smarter kids of two generations, Mad was a revelation: it was the first to tell us that the toys we were being sold were garbage, our teachers were phonies, our leaders were fools, our religious counselors were hypocrites, and even our parents were lying to us about damn near everything. An entire generation had William Gaines for a godfather: this same generation later went on to give us the sexual revolution, the environmental movement, the peace movement, greater freedom in artistic expression, and a host of other goodies. Coincidence? You be the judge."
Pulitzer Prize–winning art comics maven Art Spiegelman said, "The message Mad had in general is, 'The media is lying to you, and we are part of the media.' It was basically... 'Think for yourselves, kids.'" William Gaines offered his own view: when asked to cite Mad's philosophy, his boisterous answer was, "We must never stop reminding the reader what little value they get for their money!"
Comics historian Tom Spurgeon picked Mad as the medium's top series of all time, writing, "At the height of its influence, Mad was The Simpsons, The Daily Show and The Onion combined." Graydon Carter chose it as the sixth best magazine of any sort ever, describing Mad's mission as being "ever ready to pounce on the illogical, hypocritical, self-serious and ludicrous" before concluding, "Nowadays, it’s part of the oxygen we breathe." Joyce Carol Oates called it "wonderfully inventive, irresistibly irreverent and intermittently ingenious American." Monty Python's Terry Gilliam wrote, "Mad became the Bible for me and my whole generation." Critic Roger Ebert wrote:
- "I learned to be a movie critic by reading Mad magazine... Mad's parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin—of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe. Pauline Kael lost it at the movies; I lost it at Mad magazine."
The magazine has been involved in various legal actions over the decades, some of which have reached the United States Supreme Court. The most far-reaching was Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc. In 1961, a group of music publishers representing songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter filed a $25 million lawsuit against Mad for copyright infringement following "Sing Along With Mad," a collection of parody lyrics which the magazine said could be "sung to the tune of" many popular songs. The publishing group hoped to establish a legal precedent that only a song's composers retained the right to parody that song. The U.S. District Court ruled largely in favor of Mad in 1963, affirming its right to print 23 of the 25 song parodies under dispute. Circuit Court Judge Charles Metzner pointedly observed, "We doubt that even so eminent a composer as plaintiff Irving Berlin should be permitted to claim a property interest in iambic pentameter." However, an exception was found in the cases of two parodies, "Always" (sung to the tune of "Always") and "There's No Business Like No Business" (sung to the tune of "There's No Business Like Show Business"). Relying on the same verbal hooks ("always" and "business"), these were found to be overly similar to the originals. The music publishers appealed the ruling, but the U.S. Court of Appeals not only upheld the pro-Mad decision in regard to the 23 songs, it stripped the publishers of their limited victory regarding the remaining two songs. The publishers again appealed, but the Supreme Court refused to hear it, thus allowing the decision to stand.
This precedent-setting case established the rights of parodists and satirists to mimic the meter of popular songs. However, the "Sing Along With Mad" songbook was not the magazine's first venture into musical parody. In 1960, Mad had published "My Fair Ad-Man," a full advertising-based spoof of the hit Broadway musical My Fair Lady. In 1959, "If Gilbert & Sullivan wrote Dick Tracy" was one of the speculative pairings in "If Famous Authors Wrote the Comics". Three decades later, Mad was one of several parties that filed amicus curiae briefs with the Supreme Court in support of 2 Live Crew and its disputed song parody, during the 1993 Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. case.
In 1966, a series of copyright infringement lawsuits against the magazine regarding ownership of the Alfred E. Neuman image eventually reached the Supreme Court. New York's Federal Appellate Court had invalidated all previous copyrights, thus establishing Mad's right to the character. This decision was also allowed to stand.
Mad was long noted for its absence of advertising, enabling it to satirise materialist culture without fear of reprisal. For decades, it was the most successful American magazine to publish ad-free, beginning with issue #33 (April 1957) and continuing through issue #402 (February 2001).
As a comic book, Mad had run the same advertisements as the rest of EC's line. The magazine later made a deal with Moxie soda that involved inserting the Moxie logo into various articles. Mad ran a limited number of ads in its first two years as a magazine, helpfully labeled "real advertisement" to differentiate the real from the parodies. The last authentic ad published under the original Mad regime was for Famous Artists School; two issues later, the inside front cover of issue #34 had a parody of the same ad. After this transitional period, the only promotions to appear in Mad for decades were house ads for Mad's own books and specials, subscriptions, and promotional items such as ceramic busts, T-shirts, or a line of Mad jewelry. Mad explicitly promised that it would never make its mailing list available.
Both Kurtzman and Feldstein wanted the magazine to solicit advertising, feeling this could be accomplished without compromising Mad's content or editorial independence. Kurtzman remembered Ballyhoo, a boisterous 1930s humor publication that made an editorial point of mocking its own sponsors. Feldstein went so far as to propose an in-house Mad ad agency and produce a "dummy" copy of what an issue with ads could look like. But Bill Gaines was intractable, telling the television news magazine 60 Minutes, "We long ago decided we couldn't take money from Pepsi-Cola and make fun of Coca-Cola." Gaines' motivation in eschewing ad dollars was less philosophical than practical:
- "We'd have to improve our package. Most advertisers want to appear in a magazine that's loaded with color and has super-slick paper. So you find yourself being pushed into producing a more expensive package. You get bigger and fancier and attract more advertisers. Then you find you're losing some of your advertisers. Your readers still expect the fancy package, so you keep putting it out, but now you don't have your advertising income, which is why you got fancier in the first place—and now you're sunk."
Main article: Mad recurring featuresMad is known for many regular and semi-regular recurring features in its pages, including "Spy vs. Spy", the "Mad Fold-in", "The Lighter Side of..." and its television and movie parodies. First cover appearance (issue 21, March 1955) of Alfred E. Neuman in a fake advertisement satirizing the popular mail-order house Johnson Smith Company==Alfred E. Neuman== Main article: Alfred E. NeumanThe image most closely associated with the magazine is that of Alfred E. Neuman, the boy with misaligned eyes, a gap-toothed smile and the perennial motto "What, me worry?" While the original image was a popular humorous graphic for many decades before Mad adopted it, the face is now primarily associated with Mad.
Mad first used the boy's face in November, 1954. His first iconic full-cover appearance, in which he was identified by name and sported his "What, me worry?" motto, was as a write-in candidate for President on issue #30 (December 1956). He has since appeared in a slew of guises and comic situations. According to Mad writer Frank Jacobs, a letter was once successfully delivered to the magazine through the U.S. mail bearing only Neuman's face, without any address or other identifying information.
Mad has provided an ongoing showcase for many long-running satirical writers and artists and has fostered an unusual group loyalty. Although several of the contributors earn far more than theirMad pay in fields such as television and advertising, they have steadily continued to provide material for the publication. Among the notable artists were the aforementioned Davis, Elder and Wood, as well as Mort Drucker, George Woodbridge and Paul Coker. Writers such as Dick DeBartolo, Stan Hart, Frank Jacobs, Tom Koch, and Arnie Kogen appeared regularly in the magazine's pages. In several cases, only infirmity or death has ended a contributor's run at Mad.
Within the industry, Mad was known for the uncommonly prompt manner in which its contributors were paid. Publisher Gaines would typically write a personal check and give it to the artist upon receipt of the finished product. Wally Wood said, "I got spoiled... Other publishers don't do that. I started to get upset if I had to wait a whole week for my check." Another lure for contributors was the annual "Mad Trip," an all-expenses-paid tradition that began in 1960. The editorial staff was automatically invited, along with freelancers who had qualified for an invitation by selling a set amount of articles or pages during the previous year. Gaines was strict about enforcing this quota, and one year, longtime writer and frequent traveller Arnie Kogen was bumped off the list. Later that year, Gaines' mother died, and Kogen was asked if he would be attending the funeral. "I can't," said Kogen, "I don't have enough pages." Over the years, the Mad crew traveled to such locales as France, Kenya, Russia, Hong Kong, England, Amsterdam, Tahiti, Morocco, Italy, Greece, and Germany. The tradition ended with Gaines' death, and a 1993 trip to Monte Carlo.
Although Mad was an exclusively freelance publication, it achieved a remarkable stability, with numerous contributors remaining prominent for decades.
Critics of the magazine felt that this lack of turnover eventually led to a formulaic sameness, although there is little agreement on when the magazine peaked or plunged. It appears to be largely a function of when the reader first encountered Mad. Proclaiming the precise moment that began the magazine's irreversible decline has long been sport. Mad poked fun at the tendency of readers to accuse the magazine of declining in quality at various different points in its history, depending on the age of the critic, in its "Untold History of Mad Magazine," a self-referential faux history in the 400th issue. According to the Untold History:
- The second issue of Mad goes on sale on December 9, 1952. On December 11, the first-ever letter complaining that Mad "just isn't as funny and original like it used to be" arrives.
Among the most frequently cited "downward turning points" are: creator/editor Harvey Kurtzman's departure in 1957; the magazine's mainstream success; adoption of recurring features starting in the early 1960s; the magazine's absorption into a more corporate structure in 1968 (or the mid-1990s); founder Gaines' death in 1992; the magazine's publicized "revamp" in 1997; or the arrival of paid advertising in 2001. Mad has been criticized for its overreliance on a core group of aging regulars throughout the 1970s and 1980s and then criticized again for an alleged downturn as those same creators began to leave, die, retire or contribute less frequently. It has been proposed that Mad is more susceptible to this criticism than many media because a sizable percentage of its readership turns over regularly as it ages, as Mad focuses greatly on current events and a changing popular culture. In 2010, Sergio Aragones said, "Mad is written by people who never thought 'Okay, I’m going to write for kids,' or 'I’m going to write for adults.' ...And many people say 'I used to read Mad, but Mad has changed a lot.' Excuse me—you grew up! You have new interests. ...The change doesn’t come from the magazine, it comes from the people who grow or don’t grow." The magazine's art director, Sam Viviano, has suggested that historically, Mad was at its best "whenever you first started reading it."
Among the loudest of those who insist the magazine is no longer funny are supporters of Harvey Kurtzman, who had the good critical fortune to leave Mad after just 28 issues, before his own formulaic tendencies might have become obtrusive. This also meant Kurtzman suffered the bad creative and financial timing of departing before the magazine became a runaway success.
However, just how much of that success was due to the original Kurtzman template that he left for his successor, and how much should be credited to the Al Feldstein system and the depth of the post-Kurtzman talent pool, can be argued without resolution. During Kurtzman's final two-plus years at EC, Mad appeared erratically (ten issues appeared in 1954, followed by eight issues in 1955 and four issues in 1956). Feldstein was less well regarded creatively, but kept the magazine on a regular schedule, leading to decades of success. (Kurtzman and Will Elder returned to Mad for a short time in the mid-1980s as an illustrating team.)
Many of the magazine's mainstays began slowing, retiring or dying in the 1980s. Newer contributors who appeared in this period include Anthony Barbieri, Scott Bricher, Tom Bunk, John Caldwell, Desmond Devlin, Drew Friedman, Barry Liebmann, Kevin Pope, Scott Maiko, Hermann Mejia, Tom Richmond, Andrew J. Schwartzberg, Mike Snider, Greg Theakston, Nadina Simon, Rick Tulka and Bill Wray.
On April 1, 1997, the magazine publicized an alleged "revamp," ostensibly designed to reach an older, more sophisticated readership. However, Salon's David Futrelle opined that such content was very much a part of Mad's past:
- The October 1971 issue, for example, with its war crimes fold-in and back cover "mini-poster" of "The Four Horsemen of the Metropolis" (Drugs, Graft, Pollution and Slums). With its Mad Pollution Primer. With its "Reality Street" TV satire, taking a poke at the idealized images of interracial harmony on Sesame Street. ("It's a street of depression,/ Corruption, oppression!/ It's a sadist's dream come true!/ And masochists, too!") With its "This is America" photo feature, contrasting images of heroic astronauts with graphic photos of dead soldiers and junkies shooting up. I remember this issue pretty well; it was one of the ones I picked up at a garage sale and read to death. I seem to remember asking my parents what "graft" was. One of the joys of Mad for me at the time was that it was always slightly over my head. From "Mad's Up-Dated Modern Day Mother Goose" I learned about Andy Warhol, Spiro Agnew and Timothy Leary ("Wee Timmy Leary/ Soars through the sky/ Upward and Upward/ Till he's, oh, so, high/ Since this rhyme's for kiddies/ How do we explain/ That Wee Timmy Leary/ Isn't in a plane?"). From "Greeting Cards for the Sexual Revolution" I learned about "Gay Liberationists" and leather-clad "Sex Fetishists." I read the Mad versions of a whole host of films I never in a million years would have been allowed to see: Easy Rider ("Sleazy Riders"), Midnight Cowboy ("Midnight Wowboy"),Five Easy Pieces ("Five Easy Pages [and two hard ones].") I learned about the John Birch Society and Madison Avenue.
Mad has continued to receive complaints from fans and foes alike, sometimes over its perceived failings, sometimes because of controversial content, but generally over its decision to accept advertising. These accusers sometimes invoke the late publisher William Gaines, asserting that he would "turn over in his grave" if he knew of the magazine's sellout. The editors have a ready answer, pointing out that such protests are completely invalid – because Gaines was cremated.
Mad is known for the stability and longevity of its talent roster, billed as "The Usual Gang of Idiots," with several creators enjoying 30-, 40- and even 50-year careers in the magazine's pages.
According to the "Mad Magazine Contributor Appearances" website, more than 700 contributors have received bylines in at least one issue of Mad, but fewer than three dozen of those have contributed to 100 issues or more. Al Jaffee has appeared in the most issues (461 as of August 2011). The other six contributors to have appeared in more than 400 issues of Mad are Sergio Aragonés, Dick DeBartolo, and Mort Drucker; Dave Berg, Paul Coker and Frank Jacobs have each topped the 300 mark. (The list calculates appearances by issue only, not by individual articles or overall page count; e.g. although Jacobs wrote three separate articles that appeared in issue #172, his total is reckoned to have increased by one.)
Each of the following contributors (including those noted above) has created over 150 articles for the magazine:
Among the irregular contributors with just a single Mad byline to their credit are Charles M. Schulz, Chevy Chase, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Andy Griffith, Will Eisner, Kevin Smith, J. Fred Muggs, Boris Vallejo, Sir John Tenniel, Jean Shepherd,Winona Ryder, Jimmy Kimmel, Jason Alexander, Walt Kelly, Rep. Barney Frank, Tom Wolfe, Steve Allen, Jim Lee, Jules Feiffer, Donald Knuth and Richard Nixon, who remains the only President credited with "writing" a Mad article.
Contributing just twice are such luminaries as Tom Lehrer, Gustave Doré, Danny Kaye, Stan Freberg, Mort Walker and Leonardo da Vinci. (Mr. da Vinci's check is still waiting in the Mad offices for him to pick it up.) Frank Frazetta (3 bylines),Ernie Kovacs (11), Bob and Ray (12), and Sid Caesar (4) appeared slightly more frequently. In its earliest years, before amassing its own staff of regulars, the magazine frequently used outside "name" talent. Often, Mad would simply illustrate the celebrities' preexisting material.
The magazine has occasionally run guest articles in which notables from show business or comic books have participated. In 1964, an article called "Comic Strips They'd Really Like To Do" featured one-shot proposals by cartoonists including Mell Lazarus and Charles M. Schulz. More than once, the magazine has enlisted popular comic book artists such as Frank Miller or Jim Lee to design and illustrate a series of "Rejected Superheroes." In 2008, the magazine got national coverage for its article "Why George W. Bush is in Favor of Global Warming." Each of the piece's ten punchlines was illustrated by a different Pulitzer Prize–winning editorial cartoonist.
Beginning in 1955, William M. Gaines began presenting reprints of material for Mad in black-and-white paperbacks, the first being The Mad Reader. Many of these featured new covers by Mad cover artist Norman Mingo. This practice continued into the 2000s, with more than 100 Mad paperbacks published. Gaines made a special effort to keep the entire line of paperbacks in print at all times, and the books were frequently reprinted in new editions with different covers.
Mad also frequently repackaged its material in a long series of "Super Special" format magazines, beginning in 1958 with two concurrent annual series entitled The Worst from Mad and More Trash from Mad. Various other titles have been used through the years. These reprint issues were sometimes augmented by exclusive features such as posters, stickers and, on a few occasions, recordings on flexi-disc, or comic book–formatted inserts reprinting material from the 1952–55 era.
One steady form of revenue has come from foreign editions of the magazine. Mad has been published in local versions in many countries, beginning with the United Kingdom in 1959, and Sweden in 1960. Each new market receives access to the publication's back catalog of articles and is also encouraged to produce its own localized material in the Mad vein. However, the sensibility of the American Mad has not always translated to other cultures, and many of the foreign editions have had short lives or interrupted publications. The Swedish, Danish, Italian and Mexican Mads were each published on three separate occasions; Norway has had four runs cancelled. United Kingdom (35 years), Sweden (34 years) and Brazil (33 years) produced the longest uninterrupted Mad variants.
Conflicts over content have occasionally arisen between the parent magazine and its international franchisees. When a comic strip satirizing England's royal family was reprinted in a Mad paperback, it was deemed necessary to rip out the page from 25,000 copies by hand before the book could be distributed in Great Britain. But Mad was also protective of its own editorial standards. Bill Gaines sent "one of his typically dreadful, blistering letters" to his Dutch editors after they published a bawdy gag about a men's room urinal. Mad has since relaxed its requirements, and while the U.S. version still eschews overt profanity, the magazine generally poses no objections to more provocative content such as the Swedish edition's 1999 parody of the film Fucking Åmål.
Main article: MAD KidsBetween 2006 and 2009, the magazine published 14 issues of Mad Kids, a spinoff publication aimed at a younger demographic. Reminiscent of Nickelodeon's newsstand titles, it emphasized current kids' entertainment (i.e. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Naruto,High School Musical), albeit with an impudent voice. Much of the content of Mad Kids had originally appeared in the parent publication; reprinted material was chosen and edited to reflect grade schoolers' interests. But the quarterly magazine also included newly commissioned articles and cartoons, as well as puzzles, bonus inserts, a calendar, and the other activity-related content that is common to kids' magazines.[53
Imitators and variantsEdit
Mad has had many imitators through the years. The three longest-lasting of these were Cracked, Sick, and Crazy Magazine. However, most were short-lived. Some of the early comic book competitors were Nuts!, Get Lost, Whack, Riot, Flip,Eh!, From Here to Insanity, and Madhouse; only the last of these lasted as many as eight issues, and some were canceled after an issue or two. Many of these titles appeared in the mid-to-late 1950s, but as the decades went by, more imitators surfaced and vanished, with titles such as Wild, Blast, Parody, Grin and Gag!
Most of these productions aped the format of Mad right down to choosing a synonym for the word Mad as their title. Many featured a cover mascot along the lines of Alfred E. Neuman. Even EC Comics joined the parade with a sister humor magazine, Panic, produced by future Mad editor Al Feldstein.
In 1967, Marvel Comics produced the first of 13 issues of Not Brand Echh, which parodied their own superhero titles as well as DC's; the series owed its inspiration and format to the original "Mad" comic books of a decade earlier. From 1973 to 1976, DC Comics published Plop! which featured Mad stalwart Sergio Aragonés and frequent cover art by Basil Wolverton, but was less slavish in its Mad mimicry, relying more on one-page gags and horror-based comedy.
Other U.S. humor magazines of note include former Mad editor Harvey Kurtzman's Humbug, Trump and Help!, as well as the National Lampoon, Spy, and The Onion. However, these titles had their own distinct editorial approach, and did not directly imitate Mad. Of all the competition, only the National Lampoon ever threatened Mad 's hegemony as America's top humor magazine, in the early-to-mid-1970s. However, this was also the period of Mad's greatest sales figures. Both magazines peaked in sales at the same time. The Lampoon topped one million sales once, for a single issue in 1974. Mad crossed the two-million mark with an average 1973 circulation of 2,059,236, then improved to 2,132,655 in 1974.
Gaines reportedly kept in his office a voodoo doll into which he would stick pins labeled with each imitation of his magazine, removing a pin only when the copycat had ceased publishing. At the time of Gaines' death in 1992, only the pin forCracked remained.
Over the years, Mad has branched out from print into other media. During the Gaines years, the publisher had an aversion to exploiting his fanbase and expressed the fear that substandard Mad products would offend them. He was known to personally issue refunds to anyone who wrote to the magazine with a complaint. Among the few outside Mad items available in its first 40 years were cufflinks, a T-shirt designed like a straitjacket (complete with lock), and a small ceramic Alfred E. Neuman bust. For decades, the letters page advertised an inexpensive portrait of Neuman ("suitable for framing or for wrapping fish") with misleading slogans such as "Only 1 Left!" (The joke being that the picture was so undesirable that only one had left their office since the last ad.) After Gaines' death came an overt absorption into the Time-Warner publishing umbrella, with the result that Mad merchandise began to appear more frequently. Items were displayed in the Warner Bros. Studio Stores, and in 1994 The Mad Style Guide was created for licensing use.
Mad has sponsored or inspired a number of recordings. In 1959, Bernie Green "with the Stereo Mad-Men" recorded the album Musically Mad for RCA Victor, featuring music inspired by Mad and an image of Alfred E. Neuman on the cover;it has been reissued on CD. That same year, The Worst from Mad #2 included an original recording, "Meet the Staff of Mad," on a cardboard 33 rpm record, while a single credited to Alfred E. Neuman, "What - Me Worry?", was issued in late 1959 on the ABC Paramount label. Two additional albums of novelty songs were released in 1962–63: "Mad 'Twists' Rock 'N' Roll" and "Fink Along with Mad." The latter album featured a song titled "It's a Gas," which punctuated an instrumental track with belches (along with a saxophone break by an uncredited King Curtis). Dr. Demento featured this gaseous performance on his radio show in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Mad included some of these tracks as plastic-laminated cardboard inserts and (later) flexi-discs with their reprinted "Mad Specials." A number of original recordings also were released in this way in the 1970s and early 1980s, such as "Gall in the Family Fare" (a parody of All in the Family), a single entitled "Makin' Out," the octuple-grooved track "It's a Super Spectacular Day," which had eight possible endings, the spoken word Meet the Staff insert, and a six-track, 30-minute Mad Disco EP (from the 1980 Special of the same title) that included a disco version of "It's a Gas." The last turntable-playable recording Mad packaged with its magazines was "A Mad Look at Graduation," in a 1983 Special. A CD-ROM containing several audio tracks was included with issue #350 (October 1996). Rhino Records compiled a number of Mad-recorded tracks as Mad Grooves (1996).
A successful off Broadway production, The Mad Show, was first staged in 1966. The show, which lasted for 871 performances during its initial run, featured sketches written by Mad regulars Stan Hart and Larry Siegel interspersed with comedic songs (one of which was written by an uncredited Stephen Sondheim). The cast album is available on CD.
In 1979, Mad released a board game. The Mad Magazine Game was an absurdist version of Monopoly in which the first player to lose all his money and go bankrupt was the winner. Profusely illustrated with artwork by the magazine's contributors, the game included a $1,329,063-bill that could not be won unless one's name was "Alfred E. Neuman." It also featured a deck of cards (called "Card cards") with bizarre instructions, such as "If you can jump up and stay airborne for 37 seconds, you can lose $5,000. If not, jump up and lose $500." In 1980 a second game was released: The Mad Magazine Card Game by Parker Brothers. In it, the player who first loses all their cards is declared the winner. The game is fairly similar to UNO by Mattel.
Following the success of the National Lampoon–backed Animal House, Mad lent its name in 1980 to a similarly risque comedy film, Up the Academy. It was such a commercial debacle and critical failure that Mad successfully arranged for all references to the magazine (including a cameo by Alfred E. Neuman) to be removed from future TV and video releases of the film, although those references were eventually restored on the DVD version. Mad also devoted two pages to an attack on the movie, titled Throw Up the Academy. The spoof's ending collapsed into a series of interoffice memos between the writer, artist, editor and publisher, all bewailing the fact that they'd been forced to satirize such a terrible film.
A 1974 Mad animated television pilot using selected material from the magazine was commissioned by ABC but the network decided to not broadcast it. Dick DeBartolo noted, "Nobody wanted to sponsor a show that made fun of products that were advertised on TV, like car manufacturers." The program instead was syndicated as a special. In the mid-1980s, Hanna-Barbera developed another potential Mad animated television series which was never broadcast.
Beginning in 1995, Fox Broadcasting Company's MADtv licensed the use of the magazine's logo and characters. However, aside from short bumpers which animated existing "Spy vs. Spy" and Don Martin cartoons during the show's early years, there was no editorial or stylistic connection between the TV show and the magazine. Produced by Quincy Jones, the sketch comedy series was in the vein of Saturday Night Live and SCTV, and ran for 14 seasons. Animated "Spy vs. Spy" sequences have also been seen in TV ads for Mountain Dew soda.
In September 2010, Cartoon Network began airing an animated Mad from Warner Bros. Animation and executive producer Sam Register (Teen Titans, Ben 10, Batman: The Brave and the Bold). The series features short animated vignettes about current television shows, films, games and other aspects of popular culture. Much like MADtv's early years, this series also features appearances by "Spy vs. Spy" and Don Martin cartoons. Producing are Kevin Shinick (Robot Chicken) and Mark Marek (KaBlam!, The Andy Milonakis Show).
In the 1980s, three Spy vs. Spy computer games, in which players could set traps for each other, were made for various computer systems such as the Commodore 64. While the original game took place in a nondescript building, the sequels transposed the action to a polar setting and a desert island.
Not to be confused with the later television show, Mad TV is a television station management simulation computer game produced in 1991 by Rainbow Arts for the Mad franchise. It was released on the PC and the Amiga. It is faithful to the magazine's general style of cartoon humor, but does not include any of the original characters except for a brief closeup of Alfred E. Neuman's eyes during the opening screens.
In 1996, Mad #350 included a CD-ROM featuring Mad-related software as well as three audio files.
In 1999, Brøderbund/The Learning Company released Totally Mad, a Microsoft Windows 95/98 compatible CD-ROM set collecting the magazine's content from #1 through #376 (December 1998), plus over 100 Mad Specials including most of the recorded audio inserts, thus becoming one of the first magazines to make a comprehensive archival release available in digital form (others such as National Geographic, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker have done the same). The seven discs of Totally Mad were divided chronologically, from "The Earliest Years: 1952–1960" and "The Early Years, but Not the Earliest: 1961–1968" through "The RELATIVELY Late, but not as Late as the Latest, Years: 1988–1994" and "The Latest Years: 1995–1998." The product's "Totally" claim was misleading, since it omitted a handful of articles due to problems clearing the rights on some book excerpts and text taken from recordings, such as Andy Griffith's "What It Was, Was Football."
In 2006, Graphic Imaging Technology's DVD-ROM Absolutely Mad updated the original Totally Mad content through 2005. A single seven-gigabyte disc, it includes more than 600 issues and specials, and is missing the same deleted material from the 1999 collection. It differs from the earlier release in that it is Macintosh compatible. All the printed content can be read on any platform for which aPDF viewer is available, whereas Totally Mad had used a special viewer program that was compatible only with Microsoft Windows. Absolutely Mad also includes numerous video clips including interviews with the editorial staff, several "Spy vs. Spy" segments from MADtv and the "Spy vs. Spy" Mountain Dew commercials. It is missing the audio music files that had been included on Totally Mad.
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