Mad Magazine is going down the tubes and I’m not doing so well myself.
First of all, the comic book-turned-magazine with which my Mom taught me and my older brother to read is almost exactly the same age I am, demonstrating that aging pages can be leafed through only so many times before they fade and crumble.
A lot of creative energy and brilliant wit went into Mad over the decades, but it wasn’t enough to keep the magazine, another vestige of the print era, afloat in the age of the internet. While there will likely be the occasional anthology or reprint edition, new issues are a thing of the past.
The magazine’s resistance to collecting advertising income must have had a lot to do with Mad’s demise, announced last week. Except for limited commercial placements that ran during its time as a comic and its first two years as a magazine, Mad sought no advertising from 1957 until 2001, relying entirely on financial support from readers to survive. In that way, it was like Public Radio, only funny and without annoying membership drives.
Prior to 2001, the last ad to appear in the magazine promoted the Famous Artists School. Two issues later, a satire of the Famous Artists School ad appeared in the school’s usual spot on the inside back cover.
I remember Mom taking heat from some neighbors and store clerks for buying Mad because it was allegedly trashy or subversive. In its early days, it made fun of other comics, like Wonder Woman, and would occasionally feature a racy depiction of a female superhero on its cover — about as trashy as it got. As to being subversive, Mad did make fun of hypocritical and pretentious politicians from both sides of the aisle, along with insipid movies and television shows, dimwit fads and all blowhards in general.
Mom figured any publication that held our interest as we learned, with her assistance, how to cipher out words from its letters and pictures, was a valuable learning tool. Sharing laughs when we got to the end of a story or strip was a bonus that kept us coming back for more.
We sang along to the occasional 45 rpm records that came stapled to the spine of the magazine, memorizing the lyrics to classics like “She Got a Nose Job” and “When You Are Paying Taxes,” sung to the tune of “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
My Dad, a lifelong Republican who reluctantly admired John F. Kennedy, opted to keep his electoral decision private by placing a “What, me Worry? Alfred E. Neuman for President” sticker on the bumper of his Pontiac in 1960. It was the only bumper sticker he ever displayed.
Mad’s satirical sketches played a role in making it easier for me and other kindred souls of my generation to become lifelong smart alecks. But I mostly looked forward to the magazine’s next edition for the laughs it would bring.
My favorite Mad artist was Don Martin, whose four-panel cartoons had few words and sometimes only sounds like “dawk” or “blecchh,” and characters with long faces, lots of whiskers, disheveled hair, shovel chins and flat, hinged feet.
My favorite Don Martin ‘toon was titled “Shipwrecked,” which had four panels and a few sounds, but no words. It starts with a barefoot man in ragged trousers and undershirt standing on a tiny islet surrounded by an empty ocean, staring at a lone tall and beautiful flower growing in the sand next to him.
After gazing at the flower with a small smile, the man plucks it from the sand, then shakes his head as he realizes in the third frame that flower’s root served as the islet’s drain. The hole caused by uprooting the flower to better admire it begins producing “glug, glug, glug” sounds as the islet quickly sinks from sight. The fourth panel shows an open stretch of sea with a few tiny concentric circle wavelets riffling the ocean surface where the isle used to be.
Down the hatch, Mad! You’ve had a good run and I’ve enjoyed it.