This piece was originally published November 10th, 2012.
MAD Magazine: Fine purveyors of outstanding highbrow literature, anthropological exploration, critical analysis and scientific socio-political satire for over 55 years, now gives their fans a reason to be cheerful (and dumbfounded).
Currently on newsstands and available at overpriced booksellers everywhere is their...drumroll please... 500th issue!
That's right folks, the "What Me Worry?" kid a.k.a. Alfred E. Neuman, and "the Usual Gang of Idiots" are still going strong and surviving in 2009.
Founded in 1952 by the one of THE greatest and most influential teams in the history of American comics, editor Harvey Kurtzman and E.C. Comics founder and publisher William M. Gaines.
It is nearly impossible to overstate the impact and importance that MAD Magazine has had on the lives of many a youthful reader, and viewer of the magazine's sharp spinoff, MAD TV.
Now published quarterly rather than the more recent monthly or the four decade long 8 issues per year schedule, MAD still has the ability to deliver goofball laughs and provide a wonderful forum for talented writers, artists and the magazine's all aged fans.
Sure, some of the really talented "Idiots" are sadly no longer with us, and are absolutely and forever irreplaceable: MAD's "Maddest Artist" Don Martin, "Spy vs. Spy's creator, Antonio Prohias, and Dave Berg with his "Lighter Side."
Yet, thankfully, there still remains contributions from MAD luminaries such as illustrator Mort Drucker, MAD's "Maddest Writer" Dick DeBartolo and as featured in this current issue, Al Jaffee's Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions and The MAD Fold-in; The MAD Guide to Man Boobs by one of my fave artists, Drew Friedman; plus, and this is a big plus, if ever there was one single reason to purchase this issue, Sergio Aragonés' pick of his 500 (!!) favorite Marginals.
Issue 500 also features some retrospective collage pages that are broken up by 100 issue spans and make for a very fun re-entry for anyone who has not picked up a copy in years
For myself there are some downsides to the more recent years of MAD: A few stinkers here and there as far as some newer artists and writers; taking on advertising in the '90s; and one the that I really have difficulty with.
I have never been a fan of Peter Kuper's takeover of Spy vs. Spy. While it is never an easy task to fill the shoes of an inimitable genius such as Prohias, I think the strip should have been shut down rather than keep it going. I am reminded of what befell Ernie Bushmiller's brilliantly surreal Nancy, when compared to the weak upgrades by Jerry Scott (in 1984-1994 it was really terrible) and the more recent Gilchrist Brothers (from 1995-current, it's still not so great but a bit better). Kuper's writing is sufficient in capturing the Cold War era spies, however his artwork has to be among the more inappropriate there is. I was very familiar with, and a fan of Kuper previous to his involvement on MAD via his own original works, but his colorful style, which at one time used more of a stencil technique, but now has more of a crayon or pastel quality, just doesn't lend itself to the stark black and white bite of the ever one-upping original spies that Prohias left us with.
Gratefully, there has not been any imitation of Don Martin's fonebone style or strips.
MAD is still reverential to its past glory by paying tribute to the former great editors, writers and artists, by placing Alfred E. Neuman on each cover and by skillfully managing to stick it to popular culture by lampooning movies, music, politics and sociological traits.
Pick up this issue and hopefully keep one of America's wonderful institutions alive. For as it states on the cover of #500...
" Look for our 1,000th issue in July, 2134!"
Bonus: Check out this rare interview from 60 Minutes with The Usual Gang of Idiots!