The last day of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists' conference consisted of the membership meeting in the morning, which is serious stuff but not of general interest, and the dinner and awards at the end, which I'll cover tomorrow, because the big slice in the middle was an appearance by the editorial bigwigs from Mad Magazine.
From left, Art Director Sam Viviano, Editor-in-Chief John Ficarra, Cartooning Legend Al Jaffee, Senior Editors Charlie Kadau and Joe Raiola, who combine for more than 200 years at Mad, though, granted, Jaffee owns about 60 of those years.
And take a look at that cover, which we'll get back to. Meanwhile, here's a very small sample of a very rich 90-minute presentation.
At first glance, it might seem entertaining but off-topic to have The Usual Gang of Idiots at an editorial cartoonists' conference, aside from how many cartoonists grew up reading and pondering the magazine.
But, as Viviano pointed out, Mad has been political from the start, with an "Alfred E Neuman for President" campaign every four years since 1956, and covers featuring every president with the exception of Gerald Ford.
This cover, as you see by the date, ran in July, 1960, as part of the run-up to the elections, but Mad faces a problem with timely humor caused in part by deadlines and in part by the need for shelf-life, since it was not quite a monthly, publishing eight times a year.
I'm familiar with the problem, having been a humor columnist for a monthly in Boulder for about a year. It needs to be funny when you send it in, it needs to still be funny after all the production takes place, and then it needs to stay funny for the whole month the magazine is on the shelves.
But timely, of course.
I remember in particular holding my breath over this 1979 piece, praying that Ted Kennedy would continue to dither about his decision.
And that was only a minor gig. I'd hate to have my entire livelihood resting on the vagaries of fate every month.
They dealt with the problem with their January, 1961 issue, which went to press before the elections, by having a front and back cover that shamelessly covered their collective butts, with the news stands told to display whichever side -- front or back -- made them seem prophetic.
That issue of deadlines and shelf-life was not always funny, however, and this October, 1968, cover was ready to go to press when Sirhan Sirhan created the need for a swap-out, as well as adjustment of a gag inside the magazine.
Again, they were set to go with this New York Marathon cover when the 9/11 attacks occurred and the printer called and asked if they really wanted to go with a cover depicting people running in the streets, police not dealing well with things and a dead body.
It was a pretty easy decision to do something else, but what? A simple design ended up making more sense, they decided, since they didn't want to be maudlin about it, but didn't want to be dismissive, either.
They weren't so lucky when this Fold-In mocking bad movie sequels bizarrely coincided with the Aurora Cinema shootings, and they were forced to pulp the entire press run, except for a small number of copies that were already out on the street and are now macabre collector's items.
It might have been a tougher argument with corporate HQ if both the Batman movie and Mad Magazine were not owned by Warner. (We'll get back to that, too)
Al Jaffee, the only one of the Usual Gang of Idiots who has been around from the start, explained that his iconic Mad Fold-Ins were inspired by a flood of magazines using fold-outs, including, of course, Playboy, but also more mainstream publications that wanted to wow readers, as when Sports Illustrated used a fold-out to show a new stadium in all its glory.
Jaffee said the obvious Mad response was to find a way to reverse this trend, which led to this fold-in, featured the multiply-wed Elizabeth Tayor, leaving Richard Burton for some random guy in the crowd.
Jaffee, incidentally, has never been on staff at Mad; for all this longevity with the magazine, he's been a freelancer from the start. (That's part of the thing we'll get back to)
An innovation that helped with the deadline issue was the "Mad 20" feature in which they summed up the year's oddities, which gave them a chance to use material that had come in during the year but had either been too late or didn't seem to have the shelf-life potential.
The above is a staff favorite, because they had also added a feature in which readers who send in pictures of celebrities holding the magazine, in this case one that depicted the celebrity snorting a line of cocaine.
And this faux movie poster, mocking Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, inexplicably wound up as a postage stamp issued by Uzbekistan. A sheet of the stamps hang in the Mad offices. For now. (We'll get back to that)
But there's a distinction to be made, Ficara noted, between the provocative mockery of Charlie Hebdo and the more gentle mockery of Mad, where things were mocked for a specific satrical point and not simply for the sake of provocation.
"Just because we can do something doesn't mean we have to do something," he explained.
Still, Mad has certain targets, he went on. The magazine has been consistently anti-war, anti-Nixon and anti-drugs, a combination that he concedes has probably cost them some audience.
However, they were out in front of the crowd on the topic of pederast priests, with this piece, in which the priest intones "To date, the church has paid out $1 million for lawsuits against priests who have molested young boys. These are just the cases we know about. ... As a result, there will be a second collection this week."
The NRA was not amused and Mad got thousands of furious letters threatening to boycott the magazine's advertisers. At the time, the magazine did not have advertisers.
They even did a feature once in which they invited prominent political cartoonists from the papers to weigh in on global warming (shown on this page of the article are pieces by Joel Pett and Mike Peters.)
So anyway ...
So anyway, that cover at the beginning is a sneak peek of the Mad 20 issue for this year. It goes to the printer Thursday, after which that panel of Usual Idiots will end their associations with the magazine, which is moving its headquarters to Los Angeles and starting over with a whole new staff under the aegis of Bill Morrison, whom I met in Kenosha when he was president of the National Cartoonists' Society. He is a good man.