Mad magazine, an appreciation

Cover to an issue of Mad magazine containing a parody of Moonraker, with Mad mascot Alfred E. Neuman in place of Roger Moore.

One thing about Mad magazine — it never was never pretentious.

Long-time publisher William M. Gaines (1922-1992) appeared more than once in its pages as the butt of a joke.

The premise of one 1960s Mad feature was to ask if 007 had a license to kill, what licenses did other 00-agents have? Agent 000 was Gaines himself. He had a license to steal because he published “trash” such as Mad magazine.

In 1962, artist Wally Wood drew Gaines with a little girl on his lap. “Daddy is a crook, child!” Gaines says in the word balloon accompanying the illustration. “He publishes MAD magazine.”

And, of course, the masthead listed Mad’s contributing writers and artists as “the usual gang of idiots.”

The news emerged this week that Mad will soon end publishing new material. It will only publish reprints after that at until subscription commitments are met.

Many expressed sadness and regret. One, who had been the target of Mad parodies himself, took to social media.

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Mad began in 1952 as a comic book. It was part of Gaines’ EC Comics, which also published horror and crime titles.

Mad’s founding editor was Harvey Kurtzman, who wrote all of the first issue, according to the forward of Mad About the Sixties, a 1995 collection of Mad features from that decade.

“Comic books, comic strips, movies, television shows, literature and various aspects of modern living became grist for the MAD mill,” Grant Geissman, who had written books about Mad and EC, wrote in the forward.

With issue 24 in 1955, Mad became a 25-cent magazine. By 1956, Mad was all that was left of EC. The horror and crime titles were canceled because of criticism that comic books caused juvenile delinquency.

Part of a Mad parody of For Your Eyes Only, drawn by Mort Drucker

Kurtzman departed in 1956, hired away by Playboy. Yet, Mad continued on, selling 1 million copies an issue by 1958 and more than 2 million in the early 1970s.

In the 1960s, Gaines sold Mad but cut a deal where he’d run with it without interference. That kind of agreement is hard to maintain over time.

“The ‘hands off’ part of the agreement slowly but surely went away,” Tom Richmond, a Mad artist, wrote in a detailed blog post on July 4. “Once Bill died, the slow but unstoppable taking over by the suits began.”

By the time of Gaines’ passing, circulation had slipped to 800,000. Still, the publisher’s passing was noted in an editorial in The New York Times:

Mr. Gaines’s improbable world, the spiritual antecedent of shows like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ now seems almost tame. Indeed, there are moments when it seems almost real. Ross Perot for President?

Indeed, almost one-fifth through the 21st century, there are plenty of outlets and television shows that parody and comment upon modern life. Mad’s circulation is a fraction of its peak. Meanwhile, the world has only gotten crazier since Gaines died in 1992.

On social media this week, I saw some express surprise that Mad still is publishing. Another common sentiment was a variation of, “I haven’t read it in years but I’ll miss it.”

Nothing last forever. Yet a legacy remains, including art by Wood, Mort Drucker, Don Martin and more recent cartoonists such as Richmond.

Dick DeBartolo, who has been writing for Mad for decades, continued coming up with gags on Twitter as the news circulated. He maintained Mad’s tradition of not taking itself too seriously.

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Mad magazine may be shutting down

Part of the Mort Drucker-drawn parody of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service from the 1970s

Mad magazine, the humor publication that debuted in 1952, may be shutting down later this year.

David DeGrand, a writer and artist for Mad, said Wednesday night via Twitter he could “confirm” the upcoming end of publication.

Another cartoonist, Evan Dorkin, also took to social media to talk about Mad.

Goodbye, MAD Magazine,” Dorkin wrote in a separate post on Twitter. “As a youngster I was a huge fan of the 70’s era, as a young adult I rediscovered the 50’s comics, as an old nerd I somehow became a contributor…Getting the e-mail today was crushing.”

Neither Mad nor DC Comics had made an announcement Wednesday night. Both Mad and DC are part of AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit that also includes Warner Bros.

The Vulture blog of New York magazine said it obtained an email sent to freelancers by DC saying issue 10 of Mad will be the last one with original content. Mad will reuse features until subscription obligations are complete, Vulture said.

Mad had published 550 issues from 1952 to 2018. It went back to No. 1 in 2018.

The publication began as a comic book. It switched to a magazine format in 1955.

Over the decades, Mad published many parodies of James Bond and other spies.

They included “007” (April 1965 issue), showing what a stage musical featuring “James Bomb” would be like. The villainous organization ICECUBE is towing the U.K. to the North Pole. The head of the organization is revealed to be Mike Hammer, angry that Bomb had taken away his book sales.

The parody, drawn by Mort Drucker and written by Frank Jacobs, included songs were all sung to the tune of songs from Oklahoma! For example: “Poor Bond Is Dead,” instead of “Poor Jud Is Dead.”

The March 1974 issue of Mad that parodied the first eight movies in the 007 series produced by Eon Productions. The parody titles were Dr. No-No, From Russia With Lunacy, Goldfingerbowl, Thunderblahh, You Only Live Nice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Shamus, Dollars Are Forever and Live And Let Suffer. Mad later parodied other Bond films.

Mad in the 1960s also did parodies of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (which included Sean Connery’s Bond as a henchman), Mission: Impossible, I Spy and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

UPDATE (12:45 p.m., July 4): Tom Richmond, another Mad artist, confirms everything in a detailed post on his website. An excerpt:

I could go on and on about the end of an era and a true American original, about how MAD had an incalculable influence on satire, comedy in general, and the humor of the entire planet, how its pages regularly featured some of the greatest cartoonists who ever lived like (Harvey) Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Wally Wood, Will Elder, Al Jaffee, Sergio Aragones, Don Martin, Paul Coker… too many to list really. I could go on and on but all that is meaningless with respect to today. None of that history can be taken away, and none of it is a reason for the next issue to come out. In the end in this day and age, the only reason anything is allowed to exist comes down to money. If something is profitable, it continues. If it is not, it ends.

MAD is ending for the same reason anything ends… it’s all about the Benjamins.

Richmond writes that the company still owns all that artwork he cited. That’s still valuable content for future reprints and collections. Essentially, the company really doesn’t need new material the way Mad is selling.

“Without whom, etc.”

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

It was 109 years ago today that Ian Fleming was born.

Without him, James Bond novels wouldn’t have come to be. That would have freed up a slot for President John F. Kennedy’s list of his top 10 favorite books. Who knows what book would have benefited from being on that early 1960s list?

Also, James Bond movies wouldn’t have come to be. That’s 24 movies in the official series (and counting) plus two others.

Neither would have The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which originated when producer Norman Felton was approached about whether he’d like to a series based on Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book.

The author’s involvement (from October 1962 to June 1963) with U.N.C.L.E. spurred NBC to put the show in development. By the time Fleming exited (under pressure from Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), enough work had occurred for NBC to keep developing the series. One of Fleming’s ideas (that Napoleon Solo liked cooking) ended up in the 2015 movie version of the show.

For that matter, pretty much the entire 1960s spy mania (Matt Helm movies, Flint movies, I Spy, The Wild Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible) probably doesn’t happen because Bond generated a market for such entertainment.

Happy birthday, Ian Fleming.

007 collector, author John Griswold dies

Cover to Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories

Cover to Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories by John Griswold

John Griswold, who amassed a large collection of James Bond items and wrote a book about the literary 007, died on Sunday.

Griswold, 65, wrote Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories , published in 2006, which analyzed Fleming’s 007 works.

Griswold also put together a Bond collection that included, among other things, a Mort Drucker illustration of Fleming; Drucker artwork for a Mad magazine parody of the first eight 007 films; Robert McGinnis artwork for Bond movie posters; and a first-edition copy of the Casino Royale novel.

The collector suffered from Alzheimer’s and his collection was put up for auction in 2010.  The blog was informed about Griswold’s passing by collector Gary J. Firuta, who assisted with the 2010 Griswold auction.

Griswold’s 2006 book can be purchased on Amazon.com.

A James Bond musical?

Skyfall's poster image

Coming soon to a stage near you?

The website BROADWAY WORLD.COM said June 29 there’s a planned James Bond stage musical in the works and that a daughter of Eon Productions co-founder Harry Saltzman is involved.

The title is simply James Bond: The Musical and, according to the website the curtain may rise in 2017 on the production.

Here’s an excerpt with more details:

(Merry) Saltzman, daughter of legendary Bond film producer and impresario Harry Saltzman, said the world’s favorite spy will soon be singing, dancing, and laughing his way into audiences’ hearts in an original production with songs and lyrics by Jay Henry Weisz and a book by Dave Clarke.

The spelling of Merry Saltzman is correct. Documentaries about the making of James Bond movies included interviews of Saltzman children Steven and Hilary but Merry Saltzman didn’t participate. You can see Merry Saltzman referenced in THIS 1994 OBITUARY BY THE NEW YORK TIMES.

To read the entire Broadway World.com story, CLICK HERE.

In 1965, Mad magazine presented a parody of a 007 stage musical. Mad’s version, written by Frank Jacobs and drawn by Mort Drucker, had songs all sung to the tune of classic Rodgers and Hammerstein songs from Oklahoma! (“Ohhhhhhhhhhhh-07! Is the greatest spy there is today! Though the Empires’s gone, He keeps right on…So you’d better not get in his way!”)

To view that parody, CLICK HERE for a 2012 post by the James Bond 007 Dossier website. It has PDF images of the Jacobs-Drucker work.

UPDATE (July 4): A June 30 story in PLAYBILL has some additional details.

Ms. Saltzman is quoted as saying the stage production will use “several Bond villains, plus some new ones.” She also told Playbill the show will feature ” our own Bond girl.” She also told Playbill the stage production might not start until early 2018.

John Griswold’s 007 collection up for auction

Back in July, we wrote about John Griswold’s 2006 book that analyzed Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and short stories was still available. Next month, Griswold’s James Bond collection is being auctioned by Winter Associates of Plainville, Connecticut.

Among the items:
A first edition hardback of Casino Royale, the debut Bond novel as well as other first-edition Fleming novels.
Robert McGinnis artwork for Bond movie posters.
A proposed McGinnis poster for Diamonds Are Forever that wasn’t used for the film’s publicity.
Original artwork for a 1981 Marvel Comics adaptation of For Your Eyes Only.
Mort Drucker artwork for a 1974 Mad parody of the first eight 007 movies.
–A 2002 Drucker drawing of Ian Fleming.

Why is the collection being sold now? Here’s an excerpt from a letter by Debbie Griswold, John’s wife, that’s part of the auction materials:

Thus, it is with sadness and nostalgia that I report that John’s health has declined significantly in the past two years. Early-onset Alzheimer’s has taken its toll on John, and he is no longer researching or collecting. As we move into the next chapter of our life, we must leave behind John’s collection. My hope is that John’s research materials and these items from the fascinating worlds of Ian Fleming and James Bond will bring the next owner/collector the same enjoyment and satisfaction that they brought to John – that they will forever be treasured as diamonds as they were by their loyal fan and collector John Griswold.

There’s far more than we can list and link to here so YOU CAN CLICK RIGHT HERE to see the items that are up for sale.