Al Jaffee's Tall Tales: skinny comics with snappy humor

Al Jaffee's Tall Tales collects the best out of over 2,200 "Tall Tales" daily strips that Mad Magazine's Al Jaffee drew for the Herald Tribune syndicate from 1957 to 1963. Jaffee conceived of Tall Tales while in desperate economic straits, and hit upon a winning formula for breaking into the lucrative comics syndicate game: rather than drawing a traditional horizontal strip that would compete with the existing material, he opted for a seven-inch-tall vertical strip, which gave editors a lot more flexibility as to where in the paper the strip would run. The tall format is a natural for wordless "double-take" sight-gags whose effect lies in the fact that your eye can't take in the whole strip in one go, so there's a little comic shock that comes after studying the page for a second or two.

All the strips in the book are at least cute, and many are fantastically funny (I like the posh "Fresh Seafood" restaurant in which a tuxedoed waiter standing by a table for two is signalling with two fingers to a nearby fisherman in a straw hat on a dock, who's grinning and giving a thumbs-up sign; and the first strip in the book, which shows two men laying checkered tiles from opposite ends of a long corridor, and one of them has just realized that their checkers is not going to line up, and has a look of perfect horror on his face). There's a charming foreword by Stephen Colbert, who is an Al Jaffee megafan (as it turns out), and Jaffee himself has given us a page or two of origin-story for the piece.

But the meat of this is just page after page of tall, skinny sight gags, executed in the classic Jaffee style that MAD Magazine nuts know down to our bones. This is a fine, thin little book and funny besides.

Tall Tales