Okay, now that you’ve seen some Mad covers (see a MAD dash… outside) let’s have a peek at some inside art by the habitués.
One of my favourite MAD artists is Antonio Prohías (1921-1998). Hailing from Cuba (but being forced to emigrate thanks to an repressive government that wasn’t too fond of the concept of “free press”), he moved to New York in 1960. Apparently Prohias was in no hurry to learn English (and, in fact, his cartoons are silent). Here’s a cute anecdote involving Sergio Aragonés, courtesy of Wikipedia:
« Two years after Prohias’ debut in the magazine, cartoonist Sergio Aragonés made the trek from Mexico to New York in search of work. Because Aragonés’ command of English was then shaky, he asked that Prohias be present to serve as an interpreter. According to Aragonés, this proved to be a mistake, since Prohías knew even less English than he did. When Prohías introduced the young artist to the Mad editors as “Sergio, my brother from Mexico,” the Mad editors thought they were meeting “Sergio Prohías. Twelve years later, Mad writer Frank Jacobs reported that Prohias’ conversational English was limited to “Hello” and “How are you, brother?” Said Aragonés, who speaks six languages, “Even I could not understand him that well. »
Clearly, art was Prohias’ language, and we’re not at all complaining.
In case you’re wracking your brain, trying to remember where you’ve seen his style before, Prohías is mostly known for Spy vs Spy, a series inspired by his clash with Fidel Castro. The series debuted in Mad #60 (January 1961).
Next on our list is Al Jaffee, the “world’s oldest cartoonist” (Guinness World Records certified and everything!), Mad’s longest-running contributor, creator of the Mad Fold-In, mastermind of Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.
Incidentally, Mad introduced fold-ins in 1964 – they were a most prominent feature of MAD Magazine, conceived, drawn and written by the aforementioned Jaffee. I’ll quote the man himself:
“Playboy had a foldout of a beautiful woman in each issue, and Life Magazine had these large, striking foldouts in which they’d show how the earth began or the solar system or something on that order — some massive panorama. Many magazines were hopping on the bandwagon, offering similar full-color spreads to their readers. I noticed this and thought, what’s a good satirical comment on the trend? Then I figured, why not reverse it? If other magazines are doing these big, full-color foldouts, well, cheap old Mad should go completely the opposite way and do an ultra-modest black-and-white Fold-In!”
I guess they folded (ahem) on the “black-and-white” part later on. Here’s another nice Al Jaffee production:
In a 2010 interview, Jaffee said, “Serious people my age are dead.” That may just be the recipe for eternal life.
Moving on to another mainstay of MAD: Sergio Aragonés, an artist about whom Mad director Al Feldstein said “he could have drawn the whole magazine if we’d let him.” Prolific, delightfully funny, and (by all accounts) a really friendly guy, Aragonés (born in 1937) is still with us today.
My favourite recurring feature by Aragonés is “Who knows what evils lurk in the hearts of men? The shadow knows.“ Many years ago, I picked up a copy of “Mad’s Sergio Aragonés on Parade” at a second hand store. I didn’t know who he was, then, but I loved the sometimes tiny, always funny squiggly drawings immediately. (I also didn’t know who the Shadow was, so that reference was sailing right over my head.) Even though I have since then upgraded to the considerably heftier “Sergio Aragones: Five Decades of His Finest Works“, there’s no way I’m getting rid of my dog-eared, stained and shopworn copy – that’s the one I reach for when I need a chuckle.
Hurray for Aragonés, the weird hours he keeps (by his own admission), and the thousands of ideas bubbling in his head at any given time. “Sergio has, quite literally, drawn more cartoons on napkins in restaurants than most cartoonists draw in their entire careers“, said Al Jaffee, and glancing at the tiny drawings decorating the margins and in-between-panels of Mad magazine, one can easily believe it.
The other guy who just has to be mentioned is Don Martin (1931-2000), promoted as Mad’s Maddest Artist. Where else would we get our fix for goofy characters with comically large, hinged feet? I can just imagine the squeaking noises they make.
Here’s a fun description of standard Don Martin characters (source):
« His people are big-nosed schmoes with sleepy eyes, puffs of wiry hair, and what appear to be life preservers under the waistline of their clothes. Their hands make delicate little mincing gestures and their strangely thin, elongated feet take a 90-degree turn at the toes as they step forward. Whether they’re average Joes or headhunters, Martin’s people share the same physique: a tottering tower of obloids. Martin puts the bodies of these characters through every kind of permutation, treating them as much like gadgets as the squirting flowers and joy buzzers that populate his gags: glass eyes pop out from a pat on the back; heads are steamrollered into manhole-cover shapes. All of this accompanied by a Dadaist panoply of sound effects found nowhere else: shtoink! shklorp! fwoba-dap! It’s unlikely Samuel Beckett was aware of Don Martin, but had he been he might have recognized a kindred spirit. »