Sunday, July 07, 2019

MADness Takes Its Toll

There are other, more important things going on in the world, but I'm going to talk about the demise of MAD Magazine.

And yeah, it's a demise. Death. Pushing up daises. Cue the Choir Celestial. It is an ex-Magazine. As the news hit and people reacted badly, the spin control engaged - it wasn't QUITE dead. It would do some reprint stuff. And a yearly annual. And the reprints would be in the direct sale trade, and the chain bookstores - those that are left.

Look. LIFE Magazine died in 1972 as a weekly magazine, but it still shows up at the grocery check-outs with special issues on the latest film or some ancient anniversary. But LIFE is dead. Ditto MAD.

And I've taken the news with the stoicism of a hearing of the passing of some old friend from high school that you haven't talked to in three decades. As a kid, MAD magazine was a staple in the tree fort in the backyard, and the smell of the slightly moldy, aging paper stock stays with me to this day. And we got the paperbacks that reprinted stuff from the fifties and early sixties as well. Nostalgia is strong, but not strong enough to continue support over the years.

MAD defined for me what New York was like, along with its native New Yorkers. It was hip, sophisticated, cynical, urban, multi-cultural. It was sarcastic and sardonic. It was smart and infantile at the same time. It was definitely left of center (though it out time to lash liberal hypocrisies as well as conservative ones) and any commercial. It was educated. I knew a lot more about Broadway musicals and current films from the Mad satires. And the music parodies, mostly written by Frank Jacobs.Those I can still remember better than the last book I read.

A favorite Broadway parody - "My Fair Ad-Man", with Cary Grant trying to turn a beatnik Frank Sinatra into a proper grey-flannel suit. A favorite song - "Hello, Deli".( Hello, Deli. This is Joe, Deli, Will you please send up a hot corned beef on rye).

And the talent. Names to conjure with like Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Dave Berg, and Don Martin (When naming Asura for GW, I always recommended their names sound like Don Martin's sound affects). Sergio Aragonnes and his marginals. Al Jaffee and his fold-ins Even the tags at the top of the page held a chuckle.There was a lot of depth going on in the page, a lot of stuff all happening at once. It was really, really good.

And yeah, I know that the magazine had fallen on the hard times of not being sufficiently profitable for its corporate overhead. Bill Gaines ran it his way until he passed, and since there it has been a slow cascade of corporate decisions, each made while looking over its corporate shoulder to see if THIS would be the one that killed it. Folding it into the greater Warner Brothers empire, cutting pay rates, reduced shipping schedules, moving the whole furshlugginer operation to California. And now the zombie-like demise where the Brand survives but everyone who made it a brand is gone. Feasting off the corpse.

But as I said,. I haven't read it in decades. I can't remember the last thing I read in the magazine, the last issue I bought. I moved on to other things, as one does. I picked up a lot of National Lampoons in college (dead in 1998 (after five years of sporadic publication), and SPY magazine therefore (Also dead in 1998), and suppose my current fling with the New Yorker is that most recent engagement with the New York State of mind, of an era when Manhattan was the hub of the publishing universe, with all the intelligentsia swarming around it. And MAD was its court jester.

Farewell MAD. Farewell, Alfred E. Neuman. Farewell, those bits and bobs and punchlines that people of my age can quote and discover others get the joke. It's been real.

More later,