Al Feldstein died last Tuesday. He was the editor of MAD Magazine from 1956-1985 and I confess, in that capacity he totally shaped my world view. I was addicted to MAD. I was lucky that my uncle ran a small bookstore so I was always flush with the magazine from its very beginnings. I couldn’t get enough of its irreverent, sarcastic, smart-alecky take on the world. There was nothing sacred in its pages. Everything was fair game– from politics to Madison Avenue advertising, from popular culture to Wall Street, MAD took a swipe at it all. Its loads of marginalia also supported close reading.
And it was Al Feldstein who created the environment of out of the box thinking that allowed this creativity to thrive. Born in Brooklyn in 1925, he attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. He received a scholarship to the Art Students League and attended Brooklyn College as well. He free-lanced making comics eventually working for William Gaines at EC creating a variety of horror and crime comics. Senator McCarthy’s investigations nearly shut EC down claiming that such comics were negatively affecting the youth of this country. Gaines stopped producing them and put his energy into a new magazine–-MAD. When its first editor left after a dispute with Gaines, Feldstein asked for the position as editor.
Feldstein hired all new artists— Sergio Aragones (creator of “Spy v Spy”), Dave Berg (“The Lighter side of….”), Don Martin (creator of the myriad of parodies of movies and popular culture), Al Jaffree’s (fold-ins on the back cover)— who produced a generation of artists who brought those rarified sensibilities to the next level. Many claim that shows like Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, and The Daily Show were organically born from the MAD culture. Bill Oakley, producer of the Simpsons said, “Basically everyone who was young between 1955 and 1975 read Mad, and that’s where your sense of humor came from.” “MAD magazine taught me that it was OK to make fun of everything,” The Onion‘s founding editor Scott Dikkers said to The Pittsburgh Tribune. Stephen Colbert, who co-wrote the Forward to Totally MAD said, “No matter the level of sophistication you brought to Mad, there was always something dumb enough to keep your attention.”
Roger Ebert mused, “MAD‘s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin …. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe.” And that speaks to my own personal experience of MAD. I couldn’t wait for the each issue to appear. It fit my teenage irreverence and blossoming social consciousness perfectly. Thank you, Al Feldstein.