VG Narendra: Brain Behind IICJune 30, 2023
Cartoon Watch Festival 2003July 1, 2023
Would any publisher in this world allow the mutilation of their own magazine? MAD did. And a one-shot idea turned into the longest-running feature in the history of the magazine. ‘Fold-in’ appeared in MAD from 1964 until 2019 when it officially ceased publication and became almost as recognized and imitated as its mascot Alfred E. Neuman. Printed on the magazine’s inside back cover featuring a drawing that, when folded, revealed a hidden picture with subversive satire.
Al Jaffee, a young talented American artist, was hunting for an idea that he could sell to MAD. While looking around at the whole bunch of magazines spread out, he noticed that a number of them had fold-outs, particularly Playboy, Life and a few others. So far MAD never had such folding stuff. He experimented and decided to go in the opposite direction. Why not a fold-in? Jaffee hit on a unique idea- a drawing that, when the readers fold it as instructed, morphs into something else.
The very first rough mock-up of a gag on Elizabeth Taylor’s love life, Jaffee showed to the Editor Al Feldstein, knowing very well that they won’t buy this weird idea as it will mutilate the magazine. The editor was visibly fascinated and showed it to the founder publisher, William M. Gaines. They decided to go for it with the hope that if the readers mutilate one magazine, they will buy another copy for their collection. It was published, and then they asked for more. The inside back cover soon became Jaffee’s playground, and he drew fold-in for all the issues ever since. “Very often,” Jaffee said in an interview, “you come up with an idea for a magazine like MAD, and then you go on to other things. But when the editor came to me a month or two later and said, ‘How about another fold-in?’ I said that was it. I didn’t intend to go on doing these. As the Editor insisted, I came up with a second one. And, as they say in show-biz, the rest is history.” Allan ‘Al’ Jaffee (originally Abraham) was born on March 13, 1921, in Savannah, Georgia. Both his Jewish parents immigrated from Lithuania. Jaffee began his career in 1942, working as a comic artist for various publications.
He had also produced work for Joker Comics, Timely Comics (the forerunner of Marvel), Playboy, Esquire and Tall Tales, and elongated pantomime cartoon panels for the New York Herald Tribune. The Moshiach Times, a bi-monthly Jewish family magazine that has carried his secret-agent strip ‘The Shpy’. The involvement with a Jewish magazine had some significance—one that highlights the trauma and Jaffee’s own Jewish journey. In Timely Comics, Jaffee worked with 2 legends from the comic industry- Will Eisner and Stan Lee, and created humour features like ‘Inferior Man’ and ‘Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal’. Jaffee was a regular contributor to MAD magazine for 65 years. His first work appeared in MAD in 1955, the same year publisher Gaines converted the publication from comics into a magazine. Jaffee created some of MAD’s most memorable humour, anti-war cartoon ‘Hawks & Doves’. But it was his other popular feature ‘Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions’ that won cartooning’s top honour the Reuben Award in 2007, putting him in the company of Charles M. Schulz, Mort Walker, Gary Larson, Matt Groening and other luminaries of the trade. When MAD co-founder Harvey Kurtzman left the magazine in 1956 to try other ventures, including the short-lived magazine Humbug, Jaffee followed. By 1958, he was back to stay. Incidentally, Jaffee, one of MAD magazine’s original ‘usual gang of idiots’, was never the staff artist. He was a freelancer throughout. With a career spanning over 77 years, Jaffee holds the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest career as a comic artist. In 2020, MAD celebrated with a ‘Special Al Jaffee Issue’ full of his work to mark his formal retirement at the age of 99. The legendary artist breathed his last on 10th April 2023. He was 102.