/ Mark Frauenfelder / 8 am Mon, Oct 10 2011
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  • Gweek 020: MAD's Al Jaffee

    Betelnut girl Hsiao Chin, Taoyuan [CC. Tobie Openshaw]

    Gweek 020: MAD's Al Jaffee


    Ruben Bolling and I had a terrific time interviewing one of our heroes, the amazing Al Jaffee, who has been a member of  MAD magazine’s usual gang of idiots for 56 years (his work has appeared in every issue, save one).

    Best known for his MAD Fold-in, which has appeared on the inside back cover of the magazine since 1964, he’s also the creator of a long running column, "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions," and my favorite, his dozens and dozens of whimsical inventions that border on the edge of plausibility. Ruben went to Al Jaffee’s studio in New York to talk to him about his remarkable career. It's so great to discover that someone you grew up worshipping turns out to be incredibly nice!

    If you admire the work of Al Jaffee like Ruben and I do, here are two books that you will love: The first is The MAD Fold-In Collection: 1964-2010, a gorgeous four-volume set with 410 Fold-Ins, published by Chronicle books. The second is Al Jaffee's Mad Life: A Biography, by Mary-Lou Weisman and illustrated by Al Jaffee. Here's the description:

    Jaffee’s inventive work has enlivened the pages of MAD since 1955. To date he has pickled three generations of American kids in the brine of satire, and continues to bring millions of childhoods to untimely ends with the knowledge that parents are hypocrites, teachers are dummies, politicians are liars, and life isn’t fair.

    Jaffee’s work for MAD has made him a cultural icon, but the compelling and at times bizarre story of his life has yet to be told. A synopsis of Jaffee’s formative years alone reads like a comic strip of traumatic cliff-hangers with cartoons by Jaffee and captions by Freud. Six-year-old Jaffee was separated from his father, uprooted from his home in Savannah, Georgia, and transplanted by his mother to a shtetl in Lithuania, a nineteenth-century world of kerosene lamps, outhouses, physical abuse, and near starvation. He would be rescued by his father, returned to America, taken yet again by his mother back to the shtetl, and once again rescued by his father, even as Hitler was on the march.

    When he finally settled back in America as a twelve-year-old wearing cobbled shoes and speaking his native English with a Yiddish accent, schoolmates called him "greenhorn." He struggled with challenges at least as great as those he had met in Europe. His luck changed, however, when he was chosen to be a member of the first class to attend New York City’s High School of Music and Art. There his artistic ability saved him.

    He would go on to forge relationships with Stan Lee, Harvey Kurtzman, and Will Elder, launching a career that would bring him to MAD magazine. There he found himself at the forefront of a movement that would change the face of humor and cartooning in America.

    We close the episode with a song called "Sea-Monkeys" by the band Darling Pet Munkee. All the songs on their forthcoming album are based on old comic book ads, and they are all instant garage punk classics.

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    / / COMMENTS


    1. MAD Magazine in general and Jaffee’s work in particular had profound effects on my outlook and psyche as a kid and tween.

      I utterly loved Jaffee’s twisted long-form pieces.

      He did one on the problem of dog waste, in which pictures of poo were replaced with sausage links.  Like a folding gift box, complete with ribbon, which you’d pop over a steaming pile.

      Another, on recycling, presented amusing and twisted techniques  for dealing with garbage. One use: Pressing it into plastic-coated cubes you could use in construction. One of the blocks shown featured the face of a terrified cat who’d been caught in a garbage pail on collection day.

    2. His inventions don’t merely “border on the edge of plausibility” — he’s actually credited on the patent for the smokeless ashtray.

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