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MAD MagazineMad is an American humor magazine founded by publisher William Gaines and editor Harvey Kurtzman in 1952. Offering satire on all aspects of American pop culture, the monthly publication deflates stuffed shirts and pokes fun at common foibles. It is the last surviving title from the notorious and critically acclaimed EC Comics line. Publisher Gaines had suffered greatly from targeted industry censorship, the enmity of his fellow publishers, and a weak distributor, which had driven his prior line of EC horror comics from the stands.
With the first issue (October-November, 1952), Mad was a comic book, and its subtitle, "Tales Calculated To Drive You" above the title Mad, referenced radio's Suspense which each week used the opening, "Tales well calculated to keep you in... Suspense!" Written almost entirely by Harvey Kurtzman, the first issue displayed the cartoon talents of Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Will Elder, Jack Davis, and John Severin. Wood, Elder, and Davis were the main three illustrators throughout the run of the comic book, along with a handful of other contributions by artists Basil Wolverton, Bernard Krigstein and Russ Heath. Severin, a mainstay of Kurtzman's EC war comics, was phased out of Mad, while Kurtzman himself only sporadically included his own cartooning. However, he was known as an exceedingly "hands-on" editor and a visual master, and thus many Mad articles were illustrated in accordance with Kurtzman's layouts.
The first two issues spoofed only comic book genres of romance, horror, sports and science fiction without specific references. However, with the third issue, Kurtzman began to create specific parodies. These parodies soon spanned well-known radio programs ("Dragged Net!"), newspaper comic strips ("Little Orphan Melvin!"), comic books ("Superduperman!"), movies ("Ping Pong!") and television ("Howdy Dooit!"). In 1955, with issue 24, the comic book was converted into a magazine. The popular myth is that this was done to escape the strictures of the Comics Code Authority, which was imposed in 1955 following United States Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency. Actually, Kurtzman received a lucrative offer from another publisher, only staying when Gaines agreed to convert Mad to a slick magazine. The immediate practical result was that Mad acquired a broader range in both subject matter and presentation. Magazines had wider distribution than comic books and a more adult readership. Though there are antecedents to Mad's style of humor in print, radio and film, the overall package was a unique one that stood out in a staid era. Throughout the 1950s Mad featured groundbreaking parodies combining a sentimental fondness for the familiar staples of American culture—such as Archie and Superman—with a keen joy in exposing the fakery behind the image.
After original editor Kurtzman left in 1956 following a business dispute with Gaines, he was replaced by Al Feldstein, who oversaw the magazine during its greatest heights of circulation.
Taking over with issue #29, Feldstein set to work assembling a phalanx of talented humor writers and cartoonists. Feldstein's first issue as editor coincided with the debut of Don Martin; crucial longterm contributors like Frank Jacobs and Mort Drucker quickly followed. Before the classic Mad staff was assembled, Feldstein also relied on celebrity "guest" contributions. Some of these pieces, attributed to Bob and Ray, were actually the work of their main writer Tom Koch, who would flourish in Mad for decades. By the early 1960s, with Antonio Prohias and Dave Berg well in hand, editor Feldstein had fully established the format that was a commercial success for decades. Al Feldstein joined Mad in the same year that Time described it as a "short-lived satirical pulp." By the time he left, the magazine was commonly cited as one of the three greatest publishing successes of the 1950s, along with Playboy and TV Guide. The magazine's circulation more than quadrupled during Feldstein's tenure, peaking at 2,132,655 in 1974, although it declined to a third of this figure by the end of his time as editor.
When Feldstein retired in 1984, he was replaced by the team of Nick Meglin and John Ficarra, who co-edited Mad for the next two decades. Meglin retired in 2004. Ficarra continues to edit the magazine today.
Mad is often credited by social theorists with filling a vital gap in political satire in the 1950s to 1970s, when Cold War paranoia and a general culture of censorship prevailed in the United States, especially in literature for teens. The rise of such factors as cable television and the Internet have diminished the influence and impact of Mad, although it remains a widely distributed magazine. In a way, Mad's power has been undone by its own success; what was subversive in the 1950s and 1960s is now commonplace. However, its impact on three generations of humorists is incalculable, as can be seen in the frequent references to Mad on the animated series The Simpsons. Mad was long noted for its absence of advertising, enabling it to skewer the excesses of a materialist culture without fear of advertiser reprisal. For decades, it was by far the most successful American magazine to publish ad-free. (In its earliest days, the comic book had run some advertisements like the rest of EC's line, and the magazine later made a deal with Moxie soda that involved inserting the Moxie logo into various articles. Other than that, the only promotions were house ads for Mad's own books and specials, subscriptions, and so on.)
The magazine often featured numerous parodies of ongoing American advertising campaigns. During the 1960s, it satirized such burgeoning topics as hippies, the Vietnam War, and drug abuse. The magazine gave equal time, generally negative, to counterculture drugs such as cannabis as well as to mainstream drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. Although one can detect a generally liberal tone, the magazine always slammed Democrats as mercilessly as Republicans. For tax reasons, Gaines sold his company in the early 1960s to the Kinney National Company, which also acquired Warner Bros. by the end of that decade. Though technically an employee for 30 years, the fiercely independent Gaines was largely permitted to run Mad without corporate interference. Following Gaines' June 3, 1992 death, Mad became more ingrained within the Time Warner conglomerate. Eyeing the merchandising possiblities, Time Warner made plans to market Mad products through the chain of Warner Stores, and they turned the magazine over to DC Comics' publishers Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz. Kahn and Levitz, in turn, appointed DC Vice President Joe Orlando as the magazine's new Associate Publisher, since Orlando was closely involved with DC licensing. Further, Orlando had been a prolific contributing artist to Mad during the 1960s. Eventually, the magazine was told to abandon its long-time home at 485 Madison Avenue, and in the mid-1990s, it moved into DC Comics' offices at the same time DC relocated to 1700 Broadway.
In 2001, the magazine broke its long-standing taboo and began running advertising. Today, the magazine is published by a branch of DC Comics and in recent years has used its advertising revenue to increase the use of color. The Mad logo has remained virtually unchanged since 1955, save for the decision to italicize the lettering beginning in 1997. The title is sometimes seen in all uppercase letters, but the magazine's official historian, Maria Reidelbach, in her comprehensive, authorized study, Completely Mad: A History of the Comic Book and Magazine (Little, Brown, 1991), makes it clear that the title is correct in upper and lowercase. For many years, the mysterious letters "IND" appeared in small type within the logo, between the M and the A. Sometimes the Mad logo included cavorting centaurs within the lettering, one of whom would be pointing directly at the IND. Though some fans speculated about the secret meaning of the "M-IND" message, the truth was more prosaic: the magazine was handled by Independent News Distribution.
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