Al Jaffee’s Mad Life

So I was browsing the bookstore last weekend and came across this book released last year.  It is Mary Lou Weisman’s biography of MAD Magazine illustrator/writer Al Jaffee.  Al illustrated the book.  I am amazed at his ability to do crowd scenes (something I avoid for good reason).

Now for those who the name doesn’t register, anyone who has ever read a MAD Magazine is familiar with the Fold-In illustrations on the last page of almost every issue.  What is amazing is realizing that Al was able to do these fold-ins before being able to use a computer to line up the images and words.

It is an incredible story of a boy who was born in the United States and dragged over to Lithuania TWICE by his homesick mother.  His father lost many a job and went broke trying to get his sons back and barely did so before Hitlers troops came to town.    One of my favorite quotes from Al is when he is describing the public baths.  In the shtetl he lived, his mother dragged him to the baths and spent the better part of the day covering his “privates.”  He complained so much that his mother found a gentlemen to take the boys in with the men.  Al said of the experience:

Lots of men had what was called a killa, a form of rupture.  If you continue working at the jobs these people had to do – lifting logs and two-hundred-pound bundles into a drover’s care – little by little your intestines work their way down into your scrotum, eventually making it as big as a basketball.  No doctor in town could perform a hernia operation, so you’ve got these guys walking around with this basketball between their legs.  You can imagine how sickening that was for me.  I couldn’t look.  The rest of the package – the schlongs hanging down – wasn’t so inviting either.”

No wonder at age 90 he still has a sick sense of MAD humor.  You can get the book at Amazon or many of your local bookstores.

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53 Responses to “Al Jaffee’s Mad Life”

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  1. writerdood says:

    Ah yes, Mad magazine. I remember reading plenty of those, and another one called “Cracked.” They were some of my favorites. Not exactly clean reading, as I recall, but my parents thought of them as “comic books” so they didn’t bother to see what I was laughing about. Oh, most of the time the sexual content was fairly tame, but the innuendo was there. I loved the humor. It was always over the top.

    • Bearman says:

      Cracked and MAD were all over my room too. The one thing I wasn’t a big fan of in MAD was the multipage spreads that mocked movies/tv. Half of them I wasn’t allowed to watch so I had no idea what they were.

      I just mentioned on another blog how I then moved onto Weekly World News for a while.

      • George says:

        I was big on Weekly World News. Especially with the UFO’s and half-naked chicks. my mom was our school librarian and she limited our access to National Geographic because, well, kids act like kids when they see boobs in their natural habitats. I still behave that way. 🙂

        I was just a voracious reader and I would eventually run out of stuff to read. I’m like that now. I must read at all costs. I found myself having lunch and just reading the can of soda I was drinking because there was nothing else around. Sad, I know.

        • Bearman says:

          That is why I am glad I have the ipad. Even when I can’t have wifi connection, I can play sudoku while I am eating so I am not so bored. Isn’t it amazing how we need to be constantly entertained?

  2. What – Me Worry?
    Sorry… I missed out on my caffeine this a.m. so I’m taking the easy play here. 🙂

  3. Tony McGurk says:

    I haven’t read a MAD magazine for many years. When I was a teenager I never missed an issue. The humour was brilliant. Maybe I should get a latest copy & bring back old memories

  4. DadaHyena says:

    Much respect to the entire Usual Gang of Idiots! Hopefully someday this idiotic artist shall join them.

  5. nursemyra says:

    what an interesting life he must have had – very talented man

  6. G says:

    Al Jaffee, third best artist from MAD Magazine’s glory days, right behind Sergio Aragones (has a FB page) and George Woodbridge.

    Those fold-ins are to die for.

    • Bearman says:

      What about Dave Berg??? He was always one of my favorites.

      • George says:

        I was always a sucker for Mort Drucker. His artwork would just mesmerize me. I didn’t like Angelo Torrres as much, although in retrospect, he is phenomenal. it was just something about the way Drucker drew.

  7. Friggin Loon says:

    You had me at scrotum! Yes, even I read Mad and Cracked. I actually loved the movie mocking Bearman. Oh well, off to the book store for me.

    • Bearman says:

      I think I didn’t like all the wordiness to them. The ones that were funny without all the extra words were the funniest too me.

  8. George says:

    Wow! I didn’t know Al Jaffe had such a history. I’ve always loved his Fold-Ins and the rest of his intricate artwork, but I can’t imagine having to live such an existence, then being capable of entertaining an entire world. I don’t think i would’ve found a darned thing funny after surviving that. My hat’s off to him.

    Oh, by the way, I just bought Schulz and Peanuts this past weekend at B&N for $4.98. I can’t wait to start reading it. I almost picked up the MAD Super Bathroom Companion too, coincidentally.

    • Bearman says:

      I think there were many creative types who sprung up from tragic beginnings. The probably had to have an active imagination to get through their conditions.

      • Jande says:

        You definitely have to keep a sharp eye out when you grow up under conditions like that. Mostly its a tightrope balancing act. Every day balancing keeping aware in case of danger, and closing your eyes & putting your head down so you don’t have to see things that will haunt you forever. That can definitely make you a little MAD and Cracked. lol

  9. Binky says:

    I haven’t read MAD in years either, but I used to read it quite a lot. They had so many truly great artists back then in the dark ages. I liked the TV/movie parodies, at least the ones of the movies I could recognize. Spy vs Spy, the little margin doodles, the back cover. . .

    • Bearman says:

      I thought I was the only kid who actually looked forward to the margin doodles. One frame, no words and it could tell an entire story.

      • Binky says:

        I thought they were pretty incredible. So detailed for such little drawings. So many in each issue, and every one of them seemed unique.

  10. Nate Fakes says:

    Probably the biggest highlight of my internship at MAD was seeing a BRAND NEW Al Jaffee fold in arrive at the office (yes, he mails them in). They’re huge in real life, and still no clue how he does them! I wish I could have met him there, but he didn’t live around NY at the time (I think he lives in California) so he was never at the MAD offices.

    • Bearman says:

      You were a gopher. Couldn’t you have talked the powers that be into letting you hand deliver his paycheck?

      Yeah that was an interesting part of the book. Al said even in the heyday of the magazine, you never actually saw any other idiots because everyone worked from home even then. So the perception of a bunch of guys laughing in an office putting together the magazine is a misperception.

    • Binky says:

      It must have been quite an experience to have worked at MAD, even if it wasn’t quite as mad as we might imagine.

      • Bearman says:

        I would have liked to have been invited to their annual meeting. Haha

        • Nate Fakes says:

          A lot of people did stop in though. I met Dick DeBartello, Angelo Torres and Sam Viviano – who of course was there, because he’s the art director. It might not be as crazy as you imagine, but it’s still pretty crazy. There’s nothing like having a board meeting about what word is funnier…”boob” or “breast”, and it being a very serious meeting.

  11. Colleen says:

    Killah is right, I can only imagine that it would be killah to have half your guts in your nutsack. probably similar to a prolapsed uterus. Certainly not anything you’d want to parade around at the public baths.

  12. lisleman says:

    a case of TMI

  13. Jason says:

    Jaffee is a legend! I always loved the contraptions that he drew, they made perfect sense. Like Nate, I did an internship at MAD and got to see original fold-in artwork. Holding Jaffee’s art – and the art of other MAD greats – in my hands gave me a deeper respect for craft. The MAD “idiots” are true professionals. I love MAD!

    • Bearman says:

      Everyone had an internship at MAD but me it seems. Hopefully you didn’t carry any of their stuff into the bathroom…then again..haha

  14. MJ says:

    Huge Thanks to Jaffee for enticing readers to ruin a mint copy of MAD! It’s so hard to find back issues that haven’t been folded on the back flap.

  15. Jande says:

    Wow! Talk about bringing back memories! I read both Mad and Cracked as a kid, but Mad was my favourite. Maybe because of Spy vs Spy, or the doodles ( perhaps their simplicity compared to the lush artwork of the rest of the magazine). It’s possible to that I have the confused since I read both back to back.

    I too used to curve the back page so as not to add horrible creases. But I had to hide my copies In a secret tree fort I made (I wasn’t allowed to have or do anything “frivolous”). Of course that was less than ideal as a place of safe-keeping, so they were eventually chewed by bugs and rodents as well as wind and water damaged from storms. lol

    Being raised under extreme adverse conditions may not be the cause of a MAD sense of humour, but having a healthy sense of the absurd sure helps in an insane world. I think now that MAD and Cracked helped me to realise that my young world really WAS insane, not just “this is the way things are, therefore this is the way things should be.

  16. Jande says:

    Oh, yeah, and thanks for the lovely* St. Patrick’s Day mugs. Well worth the money. Hahah!

  17. My favorite parts of Mad Magazine were The TV/Movie parodies, the “Lighter Side of” and the Fold-In Page. The irony is that I have adopted my national security policy from “Spy vs. Spy”.

  18. You brought back great memories with this post Bearman. I spent a good portion of my paper route money on Mad Magazine. I almost feel like rushing out to get caught up. If only to see which spy finally won.

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