So we’ve got another dour, dark, mumbly, violent, grim ‘n’ gritty Batman movie making the rounds. I’ll pass — I’m afraid that’s not my Batman of choice. But I’m certainly game to provide an alternative view.
*the second-funniest Bat-related thing I encountered online this week is this attribution of a Batman (created in 1939) quote to Marx (1818-1883).
The funniest was the following deeply ironic quote from pathological liar and glory hog Bob Kane: « How can an article about me or the Batman be the true story when I am not consulted or interviewed? »
Today’s TT is like one of those 5$ grab bags: you don’t exactly know what you’re going to get, but there will at least one thing you’ll find amusing! Unless the store has cheapened out and stuffed it with nonsense nobody in their right mind would want. This offering, on the other had, is full of our favourite artists, and is not nearly as disparate as I first thought 😉
I don’t always have an over-arching idea for a post, inevitably ending up with plenty of odds and ends that don’t neatly fit into any one category. Actually, some of those “scraps” are the most enjoyable finds for me.
This year, spring officially begins on March 20th, so it’s still a few days away… but the vernal bevy of birthdays has already started. Al Jaffee is still our first Spring Birthday Boy – he was always precocious, you know! Born in 1921 on March 13th, he turns 98 today, and that’s a truly impressive age, even for the oldest working cartoonist. Break out the bubbly!
Take my hand as we gallop through Jaffee’s career at a fast clip. In chronological order, then…
The New York Herald Tribune Syndicate published Tall Tales from 1957 to 1963. Al Jaffee came up with the idea of this strip’s format (one vertical panel for dailies, and a series of vertical panels for Sundays) when he was in financial straits – its unorthodox configuration ensured that newspaper editors would be able to squeeze it in *somehow*.
Visit The Fabulous Fifties blog for more – the amazing Ger Apeldoorn has scanned tons of Tall Tales from old newspapers, a monumental (and much appreciated) endeavour.
« The world is full of bloviators. And this kind of stuff, when there’s someone on the public scene who’s really going beyond his duties as a politician or a religious leader or a sportsman, he’s fair game. The main thing is to keep your eyes and ears open and when you hear something that’s clearly baloney, such as “eight out of 10 doctors smoke Chesterfield cigarettes” – these are ads that actually ran! One of the tobacco companies had the nerve to claim that doctors prefer their cigarettes. So it’s easy to shoot down that kind of bull. But you do it with a gentle hand, you don’t preach and say “tobacco kills! How can these doctors do that?!” No, you just go them one step further and say, “In addition to eight out of 10 doctors smoking this brand of cigarette, in their time off, they each drink a gallon of bourbon, which also has health benefits.” » |source|
« I’m not an educator or a preacher. I think the important thing, in my line of work anyway, is that you’re helping the reader to think for himself. It’s not just about getting a chuckle from them. When you expose hypocrisy or nonsense or plain ol’ stupidity, you want to do it in a way that makes the reader connect the dots. Don’t tell the joke, just hint at the joke. If you over-explain it, it’s no good. » /source/
You might be wondering if Mr. Jaffee’s art and wit were any good much later in his career, say in the 90s. Stupid question, bub. Of course they were!
Have you ever wondered what Al Jaffee is like in person? Here’s your chance to find out:
“But you haven’t even mentioned MAD fold-ins!”, you might exclaim in dismay. Hey, I’m not gonna repeat myself… visit A MAD Dash… Inside for that and more Jaffee silliness.
Oh, fine, you guys. Just one, though, ’cause otherwise we’ll be here for another couple of hours, and frankly I’ve got hungry cats to feed.
You say you’re having trouble folding your screen? Geez, do we have to do *all* the work around here?
And here’s a peek at one of Freas’ preliminary versions of the cover. I daresay it’s lovely, but the final rendition is the clear winner. Sometimes the editorial process works just fine!
Some of you may recall Freas’ classic cover art for Queen’s News of the World album, back in 1977. That, in fact, was a case of Freas recasting his painting from the October 1953 issue of pulp mag Astounding Science Fiction. Look familiar?
Should you find yourself with some extra apples after a productive head-shrinking session, why not make the most of your leftovers with Vincent’s recipe for æblekage, which is to say Danish Apple Cake? Waste not, want not.
« Tous les merdeux ricanaient en se disant qu’une revue sans merdeux à la tête, ça ne marcherait jamais.* »
In issue 63 (April, 1974) of the recently rechristened « Charlie Mensuel » (to avoid confusion with its sister publication, Charlie Hebdo, yes, *that* Charlie Hebdo), insightful bandes dessinées critic and French national treasure Yves Frémion-Danet (b. 1947, Lyon), writing under his « Théophraste Épistolier » nom de plume, provided a classic essay accompanying a reprint of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder‘s « Goodman Gets a Gun », originally published in Help no. 16 (Nov. 1962, Warren). In his piece, Frémion posits that, with his 28 issues of Mad / Mad Magazine, Kurtzman’s brand of satire completely changed the rules of the game, and that despite an utter lack of commercial success and name recognition for himself and his work (reportedly, a French edition of Mad was published in 1965-66, for six or seven issues) on the continent, his influence on a significant swathe of the subsequent generation of French and Belgian cartoonists easily validates his vital importance.
Frémion spares no praise for Kurtzman’s acolytes Elder, Jack Davis, Basil Wolverton, Wally Wood and John Severin, and publisher Bill Gaines, but has nothing but contempt for editorial successor Al Feldstein (“vile copier”, “lumbering”, “regular”…). Frémion charts Kurtzman’s subsequent projects and associations, and his rôle in the rise of Underground Comix. Recommended reading… if you can read french.
Ah, but that brings us to an apt illustration of that creaky adage, « A picture is worth a thousand words »: as it happens, the legendary Marcel Gotlib (b. 1934, d. 2016), speaking of influential, provided a quartet of original illustrations to put across what comics were like Before and After Kurtzman, commenting at once on American comics and on Franco-Belgian bande dessinée, with a snappy Gallic twist. Like Goofus and Gallant, but with far more tongue.
It took me a long time to come to terms with Gotlib. In my formative years, in Québec, his was such an outsize, smothering influence that one got quite sick of him. To be fair, not of him so much as his multitudinous, third-and-fourth-rate would-be clones. His style was easy to imitate, yet difficult to master. You see how that could easily careen off the rails?
*« All the shitheads giggled, telling themselves that a magazine without an shithead in charge never would stand a chance. » – Théophraste Épistolier
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.
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. »
And now… for a bit of levity: a few favourite MAD covers.
I’ll start with this by-now-iconic cover, that’s nevertheless worth posting (with proper attribution to artists involved and in high enough resolution to admire the details, two characteristics sadly often absent from stuff posted online). You’ll note I’ve skipped over the first couple of Harvey Kurtzman covers (MAD nos. 1, 3 and 4) – which are amazing but a topic for another conversation.
And it’s back to Kurtzman for covers of MAD nos. 6 to 10. Then I’ll disregard the somewhat boring covers, and jump over the Norman Mingo ones, and that brings us to… Frank Kelly Freas! It shall quickly become apparent that I really like his art (guilty as charged). Having started his career at Mad in February 1957, by July 1958 he was the magazine’s official cover artist (his first was MAD no. 40), and painted most of its covers until October 1962.
And to wrap this post up… a lithograph from the cover of More Trash from MAD no. 1 (1958).
“Only three of these lithographs were ever published before the production was stopped as a violation of the MAD copyright. The other two are currently in private major MAD Magazine collections. This is the only lithograph done by Kelly Freas of one of his MAD book covers.”
For more (not necessarily MAD-related) FKF, go here.
Understandably reluctant to let such a lovely *and* provocative work of prime Griffin altogether go to waste, Man (and their legal counsel, presumably), engineered a clever and elegant design solution, shown below, which graces the band’s Slow Motion album, issued in late 1974, and still thumbs its nose at MAD Magazine, exceptionally cast in the thankless rôle of the fuddy-duddy villain.
As a born-again Christian (circa 1970) *and* surfer, it follows that fish were, topic-wise, a natural fit for Griffin.
A painting from Griffin’s foremost undertaking of the 1970s, « The Gospel of John » (available to this day!); this one illustrates John 21:6, « And he said unto them, cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They case therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. »
For the record, I prefer my fish alive and swimming free.