RIP Al Jaffee, MAD Magazine's longest serving contributor, who from 1955 to 2020 contributed many things to the magazine, most notably the iconic Fold-In. https://t.co/ric0AuvnoL
— CN News/Schedules (@CNschedules) April 10, 2023
Last month, in honor of Al Jaffee’s 102nd birthday, New York Magazine shared an unpublished interview from 2009 in which he discussed his life and career at length. I’m sharing it in his memory. https://t.co/9neCAAFppj
— Ryan W. Mead (@rwmead) April 10, 2023
And now I’m regretting that I couldn’t find a space to share this sooner… Very much worth reading the whole thing, especially for the wealth of illos!
… Originally intended as a onetime parody of Playboy’s foldouts, Jaffee’s recurring feature, which appeared in MAD from 1964 until its demise in 2019, became almost as recognized and imitated as Alfred E. Neuman’s gap-toothed grin. Located on the magazine’s inside back cover, it featured a drawing that, when folded vertically and inward, revealed a hidden picture and a surprise joke. But what made the “Fold-in” so brilliant wasn’t merely the concept. Deceptively simple and seemingly innocuous, it was a cache of subversive satire. Judging from some of the references over the years, Jaffee had always trusted the intelligence of his audience, even when they were no more than pre- or just-pubescent kids looking for a quick laugh before bedtime or during math class. How else to explain the very adult punch lines like “Soaring Profits in Medical Prescriptions” or “Hiding the Homeless Problem”? Or the gag in which an American bald eagle transforms into another, perhaps even more popular cultural icon: the Big Mac?
One can easily imagine generations of young humor writers, including notorious MAD fans Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, reading one of Jaffee’s “Fold-in”s for the first time and realizing what could be done with the written word and slight tweaking of an image. After all, Colbert celebrated Jaffee’s 85th birthday on his Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report, in 2006 by creating a “Fold-in” vanilla birthday cake. It included the message: “AL, YOU HAVE REPEATEDLY SHOWN ARTISTRY & CARE OF GREAT CREDIT TO YOUR FIELD. LOVE, STEPHEN COLBERT.” But when the cake’s center was removed, it read, “AL, YOU ARE OLD.”…
For someone who’s spent more than 50 years contributing to such an American comedic institution, you spent a fair amount of your childhood in a country not necessarily known for its humor.
That’s right. I spent six years in Lithuania, from the age of 6 to 12. At that time, most of the Lithuanian Jews lived in ghettos. I lived in one, too, in a town called Zarasai.
But you weren’t born in Lithuania?
No, I was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1921. But both of my parents were from Lithuania. My mother was very religious, and she wanted to go back to a place where she felt comfortable. She moved back, and brought me and my three brothers with her. This was in 1927.
How did those six years in Lithuania affect your comic sensibility?
My father remained in America through those six years, and I made him promise to send me American comic strips. Every few months or so, my brothers and I would receive a package of rolled-up Sunday color comics and daily comics. We would just sit there and read them for days and days. My brother Harry, who was also artistic, would take these Sunday comic pages, and we’d cut them up and turn them into little books. We would provide our own dialogue, maybe with a Lithuanian joke or two.
Most of the comics we received were humorous. Some were adventurous, in the “Little Orphan Annie” mold. There was no TV or radio, so that was pretty much it for us. But I would see humor in everything, even in the religious practices, which didn’t quite register with me…
How prevalent was antisemitism in Lithuania when you lived there?
There was a great deal of antisemitism, which was a source of humor for me — dark humor. I’d sit around with my friends in their houses and listen to the grown-ups talk about the latest prohibition against Jewish commerce, or whatever. They would take it seriously, but they would also ridicule and make fun of it.
A lot of the children’s jokes that went around at that time had to do with restrictions against the Jews that were set by the government. Between the restrictions coming from our own religious community and those coming from the antisemitic government, you were caught in such a ridiculous situation. The only thing you could do was laugh at it, make fun of it…
Why did you eventually return to the States?
My father brought us back when Hitler came to power. This was in 1933. My mother chose to remain behind. She said that she would join us later, but she never did. She died around 1939, although I’ve never found out how. There are no records. The Red Cross thought it might have been caused by the local partisans eager to help the Nazis after they invaded Lithuania…
What was your first comic-book sale? How old were you?
I was 20. I went to see Will Eisner, who was the creator of a comic strip called “The Spirit,” which was beautifully drawn and very creative. The opening splash pages were all so brilliantly conceived. In the comics field, we all admired this strip tremendously. Will was a genius. He just did beautiful work.
I had created a parody of Superman called “Inferior Man,” and I wanted to show it to Will. It seems so naïve now, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time…
To have made a major sale at the age of 20 must have been very exciting. Not to mention a real boost to your career.
It was, certainly. But whenever I read news reports or stories about that time, or I hear people talking about it, one element that’s usually left out is the realistic atmosphere. Our families had either just come out of the Depression or were still in the Depression. No one opened the gate and said, “Depression over!” You had a lot of baggage, and some of that was trying to figure out how to become self-sustaining and not have to rely on your parents. So with the comic-book field, the buzz was, “There’s work.” You can get so much money per page. All you have to do is write and draw cartoons. I was making three times as much as my father was making as a postal worker…
In rereading your MAD articles, I found that you predicted, or perhaps even invented, quite a few modern-day products.
I’ll give you a few examples. In a piece you did in March 1967, you drew an illustration of a machine, and wrote, “The Idiot-Proof Typewriter will include memory tapes and store millions of words, phrases, and correct grammatical expressions.” Sounds very similar to the spell-checker on a word processor.
Wow! I don’t remember that…
You don’t remember these?
I don’t remember, no. I’ll have to read your book…
Have you ever looked at a “Fold-in” you created years ago and actually tricked yourself?
Actually, I have, yes. I’ve looked at some old issues of MAD where I don’t remember what the “Fold-in”’s answer is. I can’t figure it out — which either means I’m a numskull or I’m doing a pretty good job on this thing…
Is Al Jaffee dead?
No, he took up planking at 102.
No, just fold him in.
At his age, who can tell?
— J. Elvis Weinstein (@JElvisWeinstein) April 10, 2023
Farewell Al Jaffee… pic.twitter.com/2xC5K5Zq6A
— Pulp Librarian (@PulpLibrarian) April 10, 2023
American cartoonist Al Jaffee has passed away at the age of 102, retired from creating comics at 99 to “take a short break”.
“With a career running from 1942 until 2020, Jaffee holds the Guinness World Record for having the longest-ever career as a comic artist.”
— Bob M. Guthrie (Laissez-faire account)🇺🇦 (@bobguthrie) April 10, 2023
Al Jaffee: 1921-2023 https://t.co/1QI68gMgOs via @art4mad
— Tom Richmond (@art4mad) April 10, 2023
… Al Jaffee was the greatest cartoonist who ever worked with MAD Magazine, and for me the greatest who ever put pen to paper, period. Sergio is right there for me as well, but Al still takes the prize. No one ever did what he did as brilliantly as he did it for as long as he did it. No one. He was one of a kind.
Al was not the greatest artist that ever worked for MAD. That would probably have to go to Drucker or Davis or Wood. That’s a different animal. He was not the greatest writer that ever worked for MAD either… that title might have to go to Frank Jacobs or Dick DeBartolo or Arnie Kogen or Desmond Devlin or Tom Koch or… again too long a list. He was the greatest “cartoonist” who ever worked for MAD. He combined both writing and art and the highest of levels, and sustained that greatness over the course of MAD’s long run. IMO Al was the undisputed heavyweight champ of MAD. He wrote covers, features, parodies, one page gags, multiple page gags… there was nothing he could not do and do as well or better than anyone else. Many of his “gag” inventions ended up become ACTUAL products or technology. His “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” is a long running and beloved staple of MAD. His “Fold In” is just flat out iconic, and a masterpiece of humor genius that lasted for well over 50 years in print, and he did them for ever single issue from 1964 until 2019.
But MAD was not Al’s whole story. He worked with Stan Lee and Timely Comics before Timely was Marvel doing humor comics featuring his creations Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal. He did a syndicated comic strip called “Tall Tales” which was a vertical format strip he designed to fit into vertical spaces and was pantomime so it would appeal to any paper in any language. Al once told me the a story about how his syndication editor insisted he add words to the strip, and when he did they lost two dozen foreign papers that carried it. I think the word Al used to describe that gentleman was “idiot”…
What made this title seem so funny was that overrating Al Jaffee was impossible to do. RIP, and thanks. /jt pic.twitter.com/EfF1gdUSfr
— Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (@CBLDF) April 10, 2023
Aw man, thanks for the laughs and memories, Mr. Jaffee. You made childhood far more bearable than you can know.
Old Dan and Little Ann
Starting around 1982, every time I went to Wegmans with my mom, she should would buy me the most recent Mad magazine. I think if I missed a trip she’d buy me one anyway. That and Cracked. Good memories.
Thank you, Anne Laurie–now I’m missing Mad magazine. RIP Al Jaffee.
Some of the old Mad strips are still stuck in my head, such as “You Know You Are Old When…”
Ironically, I am now actually old.
J R in WV
RIP All Jaffee, what a gifted genius in his chosen field, surrounded by flowers and grasses!! We will all miss you and your goofy humor.
Regarding today’s first chemo session of several:
Was at the Infusion Center at 8:30 for my first chemo session. It went V smoothly with no problems, was a little chilly and will wear a heavier flannel shirt next week. The first several hours I received intermittent saline with drugs to fight the side effects of the main chemo drugs, Cis-platin and I forget. The second drug is milder and has much fewer and less obnoxious side effects than cis-platin, which has platinum and chlorine as two main elemental ingredients. Then at the end I got a big bag of saline with extra salts to flush my kidneys.
I kind of expected to be upset during the administering of these drugs, but no real side effects detected during the gradual flow of first the adjunctive drugs followed by the primary treatment drugs. Was pleased by the lack of nausea and dizziness, which they told me to expect later on, perhaps this evening perhaps tomorrow.
Oncologist was by to talk during the perfusion of cocktails of drugs. A nice guy, told me he will be looking for work in the Philly area as his wife a pathlogist has a fte job offer up there. I told him I had spent quite a bit of time in Philly while working for DEP visiting the EPA REgion III offices in Philly. I also lived in Philly in the winter of 1969-70 until I was nearly drafted into the USMC and joined the Navy, but didn’t tell Dr Mae that detail… just that I thought Philly was a great big city with good seafood. He expects to still be with the CAMC Cancer Center through my treatment. Surgery probably in September according to the schedule I have seen.
@J R in WV:
78 years in the same career. The number of people alive today who might pull that off is statistically insignificant even if they’ve already made it to year 75 already.
@craigie: One I keep remembering is the Jurassic Park parody: ‘Jurass-Has-Had-It Park.’ Some parody titles were obvious, but my Mad-reading friend and I were really impressed with what they came up with for Jurassic Park.
@J R in WV: Thank you for the detailed update!
FYI – One friend who went through chemo for breast cancer said the first round wasn’t nearly as bad as she was expecting, nor the second, but the third one was very hard. I think the toxins build up beyond the body’s capacity to fight/mask them.
Here’s hoping yours continues to be “not as bad as expected.
I loved MAD magazine as a youngster and teenager. I still loved it even when I moved on the rather different satire of Spy. Loved them both.
@J R in WV: Oncologists seem to be a nomadic bunch. Just observed my 10th anniversary of being a cancer patient* and I’m on my fourth one. One retired, the other two moved out of town.
I think if you area primary care physician, you need to build up a practice, with established patients that keep coming back. But a specialist, the patients come to you. Makes it easier to move around.
* Aparrently, with breast cancer at least, even when the treatment has left you with No Evidrnce of Disease (a lay person might say in remission or even cured) you are seen at least annually for — I don’t know how long. At least ten years.
Sad to hear this, although one can hardly complain about making it to 102. Jaffee was unique.
I think that of the old gang who wrote or drew for MAD back in the ’60s and ’70s, the only ones left are Angelo Torres, who turns 91 in a couple of days, and Sergio Aragones, still a relative babe at 85. Paul Coker left us less than a year ago.
The MAD guys are a lot like the crew who worked on Sid Ceasar’s Your Show of Shows. A good number of them made it to their 90s, and with their senses of humour fully intact.
The Kropenhagen Interpretation
@J R in WV: Saw abo8t your chemo in the last couple days. Best of luck and hope it goes a smoothly as can reasonably be expected.
I loved Jaffee’s autobiography. I wish whomever I loaned it to would give it back (I kept loaning it out, it was so good and lost track of who had it last). I should probably just buy another copy.
He had a wild life, particularly that sojourn in Lithuania. His mother was definitely mentally ill, as was sadly, one of his brothers. His father left a very good job to retrieve the boys and my memory is that he never attained that level of comfort again.
Jaffee seemed to have a good appreciation of what a charmed life he ended up having. You do wonder how he would had fared if there had been no such thing as MAD magazine for him to land at. The entire magazine’s existence was sort of a Brigadoon, a magical place available to earthlings for a very short time. Lucky us, we were here to see it.
@J R in WV: Good to hear your first chemo was fine. May this be a trend.
@Ohio Mom: Brava on that last paragraph — beautifully said!
@J R in WV: I must have missed earlier comments on this situation — wishing you much strength, courage and good health for the days ahead! You’re in my thoughts.
Mike in NC
My brother took his father-in-law out to lunch last week. His 100th birthday. They said he ordered a couple shots of whiskey for dessert. He spent all of WW2 in Alaska as a weatherman.
@J R in WV: I hope it continues to go smoothly. And minimal nausea!
Oh man, I loved Al Jaffee.
I loved Mad Magazine. And I think in many ways, Mad Magazine helped shape my political outlook. Mad Magazine was often silly satire, but it would often mock society, corporations, bigotry and stupidity, but it was never mean spirited or fearful.
And the visual medium appealed to me, much more than reading. I was a child of comics and comic books.
RIP, Al. May you find sweet rest along with the usual gang of idiots.
Rest in peace, Al Jaffee, and thanks for all the laughs!
I absolutely loved “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” and of course the fold-ins were great. He always did a terrific job of having a lot going on in the middle part that would distract you from seeing what would be left after it all got folded under.
I got my parents to buy me yearly subscriptions to MAD for my birthday for a few years during my pre-teen and early teen years. Fond memories.
Ceci n est pas mon nym
The fold-in was a highlight of my life when I was a kid. I’d always try to figure out what it would be before folding it. Never succeeded.
@J R in WV:
Hope that everything keeps going well.
@Brachiator: Oh brother, I loved MAD magazine too. I was of the proper age in the early to mid 70’s, so I caught at least part of the “Golden Age.” The humor, the satire and the sly political commentary were eye-opening to a budding pre-teen liberal, but mainly, I was always amazed at the artistry.
Allow me the liberty of listing this murderer’s row of brilliant cartoonists (in no particular order):
Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Don Martin, George Woodbridge, Bob Clarke, Paul Coker, Jack Rickard, Sergio Aragones, Angelo Torres, Antonio Prohias, Paul Peter Porges, Dave Berg, and of course, Al Jaffee.
I can see each one of their styles even now, nearly 50 years out.
I read Mad in the 60’s & 70’s. Guess I switched to High Times & National Lampoon mid 70s. Sad day. Go to the light Al.
RIP (with MAD typography)
Man interviewing woman:
Are you married?
No, I’m happy.
That’s very funny, Sir.
@steppy: I give my students some of Mort Drucker’s work from the 1960s (yes, I still have the magazines). He was brilliant.
@kindness: High Times’ editor in chief was from Urbana and his, and my, buddy “Chef Ra” (Jim Wilson) was one the cover a number of times.
I really want to post some image of Drucker’s work. I can get lost in his details for hours.
Aww, I loved Jaffee and Mad Magazine when I was a kid. It was so smart and so clever. I still refer to Mad-isms like “usual gang of idiots”.
@J R in WV: hoping for continued easy sledding for you with an absolute minimum of side effects and a maximum amount of healing.
MAD Magazine was just an incalculable influence on my sensibilities and worldview. Al was a true great.
@Ivan X: Mine as well.
@steppy: Have you seen The Sound of Money? Incredible caricatures of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
@Ivan X: Me too.
Mad Magazine. Way better than Sunday School.
That laugh at the end of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is still as great as ever.
@J R in WV: I personally recommend Reed’s ginger chews for nausea; the Chimes ginger chews aren’t strong enough in terms of ginger. I also recommend Honsei honey ginger instant tea.
@J R in WV: Thanks for the update. Glad that so far it seems better than expected.
I got three issues of Mad Magazine in what was likely the late 60s or early 70s in a Christmas gift exchange and pored over them for years. Never got more of my own (my allowance was pretty small) but did read other issue’s at a friends house.
I remember the film parodies of movies I had never seen, one was a Paul Newman film (Hud or the Hustler), another Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff, and the third perhaps The prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Needless to say, most of the humor there went over my head but somehow I read each many times.
Glad he lived a long good life!
@J R in WV: Glad it went well. Hope the next few days, and next few infusions, do to!
I accompanied a friend years ago to one of his infusions. He had a rotating cast of rogues for the driving and accompanying. Little did I know that John’s tradition was to have the friend read to him while he was on the drip.
I was happy to do it. Till the novel got to a mildly raunchy sex scene. The infusion room was not private. John just raised an eyebrow and smirked with pleasure at my stumbling along and blushing. :)
I loved Al Jaffee’s work, but for this budding “artist”, Mort Drucker was the Man. My BFF was a great cartoonist so I learned a lot from him, but creating exact clones of Drucker’s work taught me so much more. Unfortunately, I lost all my drawings in a hasty retreat from a property I was living on and so have no proof of what he taught me.
Anyway, RIP, Mr. Jaffee! You will be missed. :-(
RIP Al. You were a mensch.
@mvr: I remember the parody of Hud. I had no idea who the actors were and I hadn’t seen the movie, It came out in 1963 so I was either 12 or 13 and it wasn’t really age-appropriate, but I got the gist of the movie from that parody and understood the jokes.
The first time I saw a Mad magazine was in my aunt’s basement when I was 11 (1961), and my cousins, a whole year older than I am, told me I couldn’t read it because I was too young. I’d already read half of it before they stopped me and was chuckling. It was wonderful, an exotic form of humor that I really hadn’t encountered before. My dad bought me a copy when we got home from Missouri, and he used to read them when I was through with them.
@J R in WV: I’m glad it went so well for you today, and I hope you continue to have an easy time of it.
Mad Magazine absolutely influenced how I see the world – dumb humor from smart people, plus the healthy disregard for authority and social mores. What an amazing bunch of idiots.
@J R in WV: I’m glad the process went well today. It’s always a worry to do anything new. Especially things involving medical issues because many people have little contact with the medical community/hospitals in general. While there will always be plenty of other questions about this health crisis you now have some answers to give you a little less worry and more confidence. I’m so glad it went well. Hoping for the least in side effects and the most in results.
J R in WV
I want to thank all my fellow Jackals for your kind support the past few weeks. I’m a little surprised at how much it helps me to maintain an optimistic attitude even given the actually V grim treatment and survival stats [ 50/50 best case ].
My neighbors are really pitching in also too!
I still remember a bothsiderist fold-in from 1972 that showed our nation weeping over McGovern’s candidacy. That McGovern was essentially as bad as Nixon.
Yeah, that holds up well.
@opiejeanne: Yes, that part about not knowing who the actors were and not having seem the movie, is part of what is still so mysterious to me. And I still haven’t seen these movies.
I started reading Mad Magazine early. Because my Father loved it and bought every issue as it came out. The only rule was Dad got to read it first. As the oldest, I got it next, which was a bfd, and something I lorded over my siblings monthly. RIP Mr. Jaffe.
Paul in KY
Loved Mad Magazine. Read it religiously when I was a tween & teenager. RIP Mr. Jaffee.
Paul in KY
@Urza: Think if you are a dude & you make it to 102, you are in the top .01 of 1 percent of all men who have ever lived agewise.
Paul in KY
@J R in WV: Keep on keepin on!
Spinoza Is My Co-pilot
Mad Magazine was such an important part of my childhood in the 50s & 60s and coming-of-age in the early 70s. Haven’t seen one in ages, but glad to know Jaffee made it to 102 and was still working till 2020.