It was 1960… or thereabouts. I was sitting in the principal’s office, across the desk from Mother Mary I-forget-the-rest-of-her-name. (Why nuns of the Holy Child order were addressed as “Mother” and not “Sister” I never learned.) Sitting in a chair next to me was my mother, who had been summoned to this meeting addressing my egregious behavior.
“Do you approve of your son’s reading this?” she scowled, holding up the MAD magazine that had been confiscated from me.
“If that was the only thing he read I’d be concerned,” Mom replied. “But it isn’t.”
Thanks, Mom. Unfortunately for me, she agreed that it wasn’t what I should have been reading in class.
EC Comics unleashed MAD magazine into the world in 1952. EC was short for “Entertaining Comics,” originally “Educational Comics.” EC published such entertainment as Tales from the Crypt and other crime, horror and dark-fantasy titles. Concerned about threats of censorship for corrupting its youthful readers, Publisher William Gaines and editor Harvey Kurtzman thought a humor magazine might deflect critics’ attacks. Gaines had taken over in 1947 after the death of his father Max Gaines. (Along with the horror and crime, EC storylines addressed racism, drugs and sex.) MAD soon became more than just sophomoric humor; its biting satire left no celebrity, politician or human foible unscathed.
Kurtzman, who did much of the artwork and writing in the early issues, left after a few years and went on to his own notoriety with “Little Annie Fanny.” This comic spoof, sort of a cross of “Little Orphan Annie” with “Candy” — itself a spoof of “Candide” — was a regular feature in Playboy magazine.
Alfred E. Neuman first appeared in 1954 and came to prominence as MAD’s write-in candidate for president in 1956. (He didn’t win.) MAD was almost entirely the work of free-lancers, but “the usual gang of idiots” was remarkably steady, the same contributors contributing for years. Gaines was known for his prompt payment to artists and writers.
Initially the price was a dime; by the time I started reading, the cover said “OUR PRICE 25¢ CHEAP.” The only advertising in MAD was satirical. Over time, I became familiar with potrzebie, furshlugginer, veeblefetzer, Moxie, halavah, an avocado plant named Arthur and the enduring sport 43-Man Squamish.
Circulation peaked in 1973 at 2.4 million copies. William Gaines died in 1992. EC Comics has been sold and re-sold and became part of DC Comics which became part of TimeWarner which became WarnerMedia which AT&T bought in 2018. An early sign of distress was in 2001 when the magazine began accepting advertising. Its move to L.A. (actually, Burbank) in 2017 clearly showed that the end was near. AT&T announced on July 4, 2019 that the last issue of MAD magazine would be published in the fall. They plan to continue with periodic re-issues of old material.