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MAD Magazine

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MAD is an American humor magazine founded by editor Harvey Kurtzman[?] and publisher William Gaines in 1952. Aimed at young readers, it satirized American culture. It deflated stuffed shirts, poked fun at common foibles. Its publisher, Gaines, had suffered greatly from censorship which had literally destroyed his prior line of EC horror comics. MAD was first published as a comic book but was converted into a magazine to escape the strictures of the Comics Code Authority, which was imposed in 1955 following Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency. The immediate practical result was that MAD acquired a broader range in both subject matter and presentation. Magazines also had wider distribution than comic books.

MAD was noted for its absence of advertising, enabling it to skewer the excesses of a materialist culture without fear of advertiser reprisal. The magazine often featured numerous parodies of ongoing American advertising campaigns. During the 1960s, it satirized such topics as hippies, the Vietnam War, and drug abuse. The magazine gave equal time to counterculture drugs such as pot 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.

In a parody of Playboy's "foldout" cheesecake pictures, each issue of MAD from 1964 on featured a "fold-in" on its inside back cover, designed by artist Al Jaffee. A question would be asked, which apparently was illustrated by a picture taking up the bulk of the page. When the page was folded inwards, the inner and outer fourths of the picture combined to give a surprising answer in both picture and words.

Other long-running features included Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of..." which often satirized the suburban lifestyle, and Antonio Prohias' wordless "Spy vs. Spy[?]," the neverending battle between the Black Spy and the White Spy that has lasted longer than the Cold War which inspired it.

The image most closely associated with the magazine is that of Alfred E. Neuman, the curly-haired boy with a gap-toothed smile and the statement "What? Me worry?" Alfred's image first appeared on the cover of the magazine within the first few years of its existence. The original image of an unamed boy with a goofy grin was a popular humorous graphic many years before MAD adopted it. The character takes his name from Alfred Newman[?], a member of a well-known family of film composers, who made a series of blackout radio appearances that had amused Kurtzman years earlier.

MAD also provided a showcase for some of the best satirical writers and artists of a generation. Artists such as Mort Drucker, Sergio Aragones, Jack Davis, Bill Elder, Don Martin, and Wallace Wood, and writers like Dick DeBartolo, Frank Jacobs, Tom Koch, and Arnie Kogen appeared regularly in the magazine at various times in its history. Newer contributors include Rick Tulka, Hermann Mejia, Desmond Devlin, Mike Snider, John Caldwell, Bill Wray, Anthony Barbieri, Drew Friedman, Tom Bunk, Barry Liebmann, and many others. Original editor Harvey Kurtzman left in 1956 following a business dispute with Gaines, and was replaced by Al Feldstein, who oversaw the magazine during its greatest heights of circulation. Feldstein retired in 1984, and was replaced by the team of Nick Meglin and John Ficarra, who continue 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 seems to have diminished such influence of MAD somewhat, 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 Magazine on the animated series "The Simpsons."

For tax reasons, Gaines had sold his company in the early 1960s to the Kinney Corporation, which also acquired Warner Brothers 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' death in 1992, though, MAD became more ingrained within the AOL Time Warner conglomerate. In 2001, the magazine broke its long-standing taboo and began running advertising. A TV show was introduced in 1993 based on the magazine: MAD TV[?], which aired comedy segements in a fashion similar to Saturday Night Live and SCTV. There is no editorial connection between the sketch comedy series and the magazine. Meanwhile, MAD-related merchandise, which was scarce during the Gaines years, has appeared regularly.

It has had many imitators including Crazy, Sick and Cracked. But as it carries on past its 50th year, MAD has outlasted them all.

MAD is published in local versions in many countries, including The Netherlands and Sweden (see for instance the MAD parody of F---ing Amal in Swedish [1] (http://membres.lycos.fr/smlfa/vari#mad)).

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