How Cuba's greatest cartoonist fled from Castro and created 'Spy vs. Spy'

From Spy vs. Spy: The Complete Casebook (Watson-Guptill, 2001/Spy vs Spy © E.C. Publications Inc.)

As a kid, my two favorite things in Mad magazine were the Fold-In and Spy vs Spy (which I pronounced "spyvisspy"). It was a wordless one-page comic about two oddly pointy faced spies, one dressed in black and the other dressed in white. Other than their different colored outfits, they behaved identically. They hated each other and created elaborate Rube Goldberg type machines to try to kill each other. Sometimes their machines worked, often, they’d backfire. They were tricky but usually too clever for their own good.

Atlas Obscura has an excellent article about Antonio Prohías, the creator of Spy vs Spy.

In New York, Prohías took work in a factory during the day, while working up his illustration portfolio at night. Taking inspiration from his supposed spy status, Prohías altered the look of El Hombre Siniestro, and gave him a counterpart, creating what we now know as Spy vs. Spy. In 1960, just months after moving to the city, Prohías, along with his daughter Marta who acted as an interpreter, walked unannounced into the offices of MAD Magazine. The editors were skeptical of the artist, but his silly spy gags won them over, and he had sold three of the strips to the magazine before leaving that day.

Spy Vs Spy: An Explosive Celebration, by Antonio Prohías and Peter Kuper, is an excellent book about Spy Vs Spy, with lots of sample strips. Read the rest

Exclusive: sneak peek at Al Jaffee's new MAD Fold-In

Fold-in-feat

The back cover of MAD #539 features a Fold-In by newcomer Al Jaffee, who has only been cartooning for 73 years (61 with MAD). He shows promise, and I hope Mr. Jaffee (who turned 95 in March) enjoys a long career with the magazine.

The editors of MAD kindly gave Boing Boing dibs on being first to reveal the Fold-In, below:

And here's the cover, by fan favorite MAD artist, Tom Richmond:

This issue will be available on digital April 8 and on newsstands April 19. Subscribe here!

(In 2011, Ruben Bolling and I interviewed Al Jaffee on Gweek.) Read the rest

RIP Al Feldstein - EC Comics and MAD editor

Squa tront! Spa Fon! The great Al Feldstein, passed away today.

Feldstein began working at EC comics, publishers of Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear in 1948. Soon he became editor of most of EC's titles. He typically wrote and illustrated a story in each title and drew many of the covers, a mind-bogglingly prolific output. Eventually he stopped doing the art for stories and stuck with editing, writing, and cover illustrations. According to Wikipedia, from "late 1950 through 1953, he edited and wrote stories for seven EC titles." I've always loved his signature, which features elongated horizontals on the F and the T, and an extended vertical on the N.

After MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman got in a fight with publisher William Gaines over ownership of the comic and left EC in 1956, Gaines put Feldstein in charge of the humor magazine, where he remained as editor until 1985.

Here's an excellent biography of Feldstein, which came out last year. Read the rest

MAD #1 is free as a Kindle e-book

My friend Jon Lebkowsky (an editor at bOING bOING and the co-founder of Fringe Ware) says, "Your Popeye post sent me to Amazon, where I discovered you can acquire old original issues of Mad Magazine (and various other comics, including Batman #1 and Superman #1) for the Kindle. Best of all, Mad #1 is free!" (It's also free on Comixology) Read the rest

Giant size book of EC comic book art: Weird Science, Tales from the Crypt, etc.

Cory and I have both raved about MAD: Artist's Edition, a massive hardcover book of high-fidelity scans of original MAD comic book art pages from the 1950s, complete with pencil lines, rubber stamps, Zip-A-Tone, pasted-over panels, yellowing Wite Out, notes in margins, and other markings that add interest to the pages. The paper used in the book was selected to closely match the bristol board of the original pages. (Here's Cory's review, and here's my discussion of the book on Gweek).

When I discovered that IDW, publisher of the MAD: Artist's Edition released The Best of EC: Artist's Edition, I immediately ordered it, too. EC is the same publisher that published MAD, and it used the same stable of virtuoso artists and writers in the 1950s to produce some of the best comic book titles in history, including Weird Science and Tales from the Crypt. This edition includes art by Frank Frazetta, Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craig, Roy Krenkel, Bernie Krigstein, Joe Orlando, Alex Toth, and Al Williamson. I haven't received The Best of EC: Artist's Edition yet, but to give you an idea of how big the book is and how nice the scans look in the Artist's Series editions, I asked Jane and Anna to pose with my MAD book.

Read the rest

Frank Frazetta's painting of Ringo Starr on the back cover of MAD (1964)

This photo of Ringo Starr reminded me of the above painting by Frank Frazetta, which appeared on the back cover of MAD #90 in October 1964. I remember seeing it when I was about 12 years old or so, and being just as fascinated by it as MAD's art director, Sam Viviano:

"The best use of MAD's back cover, for me, was as a vehicle for ad parodies, which were always so carefully put together that at first look they seemed to be the real thing. This back cover features a takeoff of the ads for Breck Shampoo which had been running for decades in magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal and Harper's Bazaar. These ads featured pastel portraits of beautiful young women with silky long hair, rendered from 1936 to 1957 by Charles Sheldon and thereafter by the illustrator Ralph William Williams. (The campaign ended with Williams' death in 1976.) MAD's takeoff, with the headline, "Make Beautiful Hair BLECCH," portrayed — rather than a beautiful young woman with long, silky hair — a not-so-beautiful young man with long, silky hair (a novelty in 1964) — specifically, Ringo Starr, drummer for the Beatles. The portrait itself was painted with full Ralph William Williams lusciousness by infrequent MAD contributor Frank Frazetta. As an impressionable 11-year-old, I was fascinated by how a single image could be both beautiful and grotesque, precisely accurate and extravagantly exaggerated. It firmed up my ambition, already stoked by countless pages of Mort Drucker art, to pursue a career as a humorous illustrator."

Check out all the MAD staff's favorite back covers here. Read the rest

MAD magazine documentary on Kickstarter

The trailer for this MAD magazine documentary looks good! The filmmaker has interviewed a lot of the surviving gang of idiots. There are 3 days left to go and it's very close to being fully funded.

Previously:

Al Jaffee on Gweek

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics

Robert Crumb writes a short, sad story about the career of MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman

Will Elder, RIP

Will Elder documentary project on Kickstarter Read the rest

Al Jaffee portrait print by Drew Friedman

Our pal Drew Friedman drew this portrait of Al Jaffee, the beloved MAD magazine writer and artist.

Jaffee made his MAD debut in 1955 and joined the "Usual Gang of Idiots" in 1958. Since 1964, only one issue of MAD has been published without new material by Jaffee. He innovated the MAD back cover "Fold-In," which became a recurring feature, and his "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" arguably encouraged subsequent generations of snarky teens.
(Ruben Bolling and I interviewed Al on Gweek last year and it was a thrill to speak with him.)

Al Jaffee fine art print by Drew Friedman Read the rest