Wednesday, November 26, 2008


... as in Magazine.

Don't know what made me think of Mad magazine this morning, but once it was there and I began ruminating, it seemed worthy of a few comments.

Two months ago I wrote about the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. If you recall, I had to save my quarter allowance instead of spending it in order to buy the fifty cent monster mag. Mad magazine was only 25 cents then, and when the next issue came out, I was on it. My quarter was gone.

We lived a couple miles from the downtown strip in Maple Heights, a suburb on Cleveland's southeast side. There was a downtown strip called Mapletown with a movie theater and stores and once a year they held a giant rummage sale where the sidewalks were filled for blocks with junk sellers. This was the early 1960s, and it was here that I discovered one of my greatest early treasures: a box of Mad magazines selling for a penny each, nearly an entire collection of the 1950's mags, undoubtedly worth a fortune today if I'd kept 'em.

A couple years ago as my father lay dying in an intensive care unit in a Tampa-area hospital, I bought a Mad magazine to read. I reminded him of that time in Mapletown and we talked about those old Mad magazines... and I noticed, sadly, how unfunny the current version of the rag was, even though some of the topics were echoes of its former self, such as the movie satires.

I remember when the back cover fold-in was first introduced in 1964. It was an election year. Do you remember the rather pointed message of that Barry Goldwater spoof? When you folded it in, the illustration became a mushroom cloud, revealing a major attitude of the Right at the time: Better dead than red.

We were in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviets, so the wordless Spy vs. Spy series was a big hit. Both the black character and the white one were lookalikes, forever at war. As they ever destroyed one another, was the magazine making a statement about the foolishness of mutually assured destruction?

Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of..." was a great piece of comic strip comedy. There were many issues Berg poked fun of in the sixties, from suburban life to the generation gap, office life, dating, psychiatry, fashions. According Wikipedia, Berg's pages were the most popular feature, and most anyone who read the mag knows why. I remember one cartoon where the parents are upstairs and the children in the basement are making noise so the dad screams down with an angry, exaggerated expression, "Will you keep it quiet down there!!!??" The next panel is teens in the basement, all necking, lounged over chairs, etc. The same dad (it is a couple years later) is screaming down the same stairs, "Will you make some noise down there!!??"

Don Martin's cartoons were original and hilarious, too. He made big lumpy characters with large chins or goofy faces, swollen noses in a very trademarked in style. He used to write out the sounds of things in big letters, like FWEEET, or PLA-FLOOOEY, imitating the sound a rush of air would make or a drill sound, etc. A memorable one comes to mind of a scene in a dentist's office.

Other regular features of the mag included "Scenes We'd Like to See", "A Day in the Life of..." and "You Know You're Really _____ When..." which might be, "You Know You're Really in Trouble When..." or "Skinny When..." ... And the recurring song parodies in which they change the words and say, "to the tune of..." Which I do to this day. Susie and I, for example, have a song about our first dog Sterling, to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel's Most Peculiar Man. "She was a most.... peculiar dog."

Mad was famous for inserts, too. Once they had fake book covers made so you could pretend you were reading famous "adult" books like Norman Mailer or Henry Miller. I put The Tropic of Cancer on one of my paperbacks and shocked my mother when I was about ten. I can imagine a lot of parents got similar shocks, to the amusement of their young children. Another time they had a vinyl record called "It's a Gas!" which was funky jazz interspersed with burping sounds. We laughed at the burping, not realizing that the double pun was that a burp is gas.

Of course the centerpiece of the mag was it's mascot, Alfred E. Neuman. Every cover featured our "What, me worry?" hero. And being a freckle faced kid myself, and a Newman, you might suspect that more than a few times over the years I have been teased by this dubious connection.

If you like, share your own favorite Mad memory in the comments... or send me a note I can post. Or if you prefer, one I cannot.


LEWagner said...

Ed Newman said...

Yah, pretty funny.