/ Cory Doctorow / 12 pm Sat, Jun 17 2017
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  • In 1956, Hugh Hefner gave MAD's founding editor an unlimited budget for a new satire magazine called "TRUMP"

    In 1956, Hugh Hefner gave MAD's founding editor an unlimited budget for a new satire magazine called "TRUMP"

    Harvey Kurtzman is a hero of satire, the guy who convinced Bill Gaines's mother to bankroll a comic book called MAD, then doubled down by turning MAD into a magazine -- only to jump ship five issues later after a bizarre fight with the Gaineses, finding refuge with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner who gave him an unlimited budget to start an all-star, high-quality satire magazine called TRUMP, which lasted for two legendary, prized issues, now collected in a gorgeous hardcover from Dark Horse.

    Kurtzman shepherded MAD through the darkest days of comics' trumped-up moral panic, securing finances to continue the comic-book, then converting MAD to a more expensive magazine that found an even larger audience. Kurtzman's bold editorial vision brought in some of satire's greatest writers and illustrators, despite MAD's lousy pay, but he fretted that his bosses, the Gaines family, would inevitably start to jostle his elbow -- or sell the magazine out from under him -- so he demanded an unrealistic 51% of the shares in their publishing company, precipitating an abrupt parting of ways.

    But Kurtzman was scooped up by Hugh Hefner, riding high on the success of Playboy, who offered Kurtzman a literally unlimited budget to pay the greatest satirical writers and illustrators to run wild with their imaginations, even when that meant gatefold "centerfolds," color interiors, and the kind of high-end printing that could display the most fiendishly detailed illustration down to the finest comic cross-hatch.

    The resulting magazine was called TRUMP, and it ran for two glorious issues before it was laid low by a combination of Kurtzman's unrestrained spending, the collapse of Playboy's distributor (the print edition of Boing Boing was also felled by the collapse of its distributor!), and an economic downturn that shut down Playboy's line of credit.

    Both issues are collected in a $16 hardcover anthology -- a steal when you consider that the original issues go for $50-100! -- along with all the known surviving roughs for the third issue, which was in progress when Heff pulled the plug.

    The reproductions are accompanied by Denis Kitchen's excellent annotations, which present the whole story of TRUMP, along with contextual notes for the gags, many of which reference current events, media, and ads that are largely lost in the mists of time.

    The anthology is timely, thanks in part to the accidental confluence of its name with the self-satirizing President of the USA. But there's a timelessness to many of these pieces, like the spread of clickbait titles for classic literature (lampooning the day's vogue for cheap paperbacks of "worthy" novels):

    And the section on debullshitifying corporatese, which would be very much at home in today's online satiresphere:

    And the gorgeously staged photospread making fun of gorgeously staged photospreads:

    Of course, there's loads of anachronistic stuff, like this Onion-style piece about an uprising in Brooklyn over the Gowanus canal:

    Or this double-spread, making fun of the then-absurd idea of "planned obsolescence":

    Not all the anachronisms are this pleasant: 1956 was not a good year for racial or gender justice, and the fact that this was being targeted to Playboy's audience meant that there was more than a little casual racism and misogyny, stuff that MAD, with its younger audience, steered largely clear of.

    That said, this really is all-star, vintage satire, with material from the then-unknown Mel Brooks, Wally Wood, Will Elder, and MAD stalwarts like Al Jaffee.

    Kurtzman was heartbroken by the collapse of TRUMP, but before and after, he produced the satire that defined the era.

    This volume fills in a gap in the Kurtzman historical record, and it brought me immeasurable joy -- something that few TRUMPs can claim to have done this decade.

    Trump: The Complete Collection [Harvey Kurtzman/Dark Horse]

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