Mad Magazine #504 by Various

Categories:  Reviews

Mad Magazine #504
By Various

mad504coverI regretted my response as soon as I tweeted it, really. R. Sikoryak posted an image for a piece he’d drawn for an upcoming issue of Mad.  My reaction, naturally, was one of general enthusiasm for the artist, a promise to pickup an issue or two, and the decidedly snotty declaration that I hadn’t read Mad since I was in my early teens.

It was a true statement, of course, but really its hard to overlook some parallel between such a comment and the stock reaction when trying to engage the majority of the public in a conversation about comic books—even in this arguably slightly more enlightened age.

For the past half-century, Mad has been a right of passage of sorts for American (let’s face it, largely male) teens with something approaching a sense of humor. I use such tentative terms not as a reflection of the quality of artists who have graced the pages of this publication (beginning, unforgettably, with the likes of Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, and the like), but rather because, let’s face it, ages 13 to 15 are very much a rather awkward period of growing pains for comedic sensibilities (along with pretty much everything else).

Like so many other rights of passage, Mad is oft regarded as a stepping stone toward more mature pursuits. On a personal level, the magazine filled a gap between the entry-level comedy of the Sunday funnies and the absurdist prose of Douglas Adams and, later, Kurt Vonnegut. As soon as my interests transferred to those latter works, my dedication to Mad Magazine largely fell by the wayside.

Strange to think that, in the three years I’ve been running this site, I’ve never picked up an issue. Underground giants Jaffee and Sergio Aragones have long been cornerstones of the magazine. And then, of course, there’s World War 3 Illustrated’s Peter Kuper, who took over the beloved Spy vs. Spy strip in 1997.  I’ve had a number of conversations with artists who have mentioned contributing to the magazine, as well, but for whatever reason, I always assumed that such pieces were few and far between.

Late last week, however, I went to one of those magazine-centric stores that one only seems to find in major cities. I considered picking up an issue of The Atlantic or The New Yorker, as well, to demonstrate how well-rounded of an individual I am to an anonymous clerk with whom I will likely never have another social interaction. Or maybe I could have just written the whole thing off as a social experiment, as though I were buying the nastiest form of pornography that still manages to (just barely) eek by American decency law.

I don’t know why there is such a stigma (or whether I am simply projecting), but you’re talking to a grown man who regularly buys comic books and who, just last week, picked up a Looney Tunes DVD at his local Duane Reade without the slightest sense of shame.

Once opened, however, I discovered precisely what I’ve been missing, greeted by a pleasant surprise not unlike the one I had the first time I cracked open an issue of Nickelodeon Magazine, when that publication’s comics section was helmed by Chris Duffy and Dave Roman. Jaffee, Aragones, and Kuper aside, somewhere along the line Mad Magazine became an oasis of sorts for indie cartoonists.

R. Sikoryak, Evan Dorkin/Sarah Dyer, Peter Bagge, Ted Rall, Drew Friedman, Neil Gaiman, Marc Hempel, and Air Pirate, Gary Hallgren are all present, along with short strips by a handful of Web cartoonists.

For the most part, the aforementioned cartoonists provide artwork for scripts by Mad writers, most notably the R. Sikoryak-drawn strip, “Archie Marries Jughead,” in which the chameleon-like cartoonist joyfully adapts the Archie house style. Various male Riverdale students lock lips, a brief glimpse is given of an imagine shower scene, and the punchline “Bi-curious? I’d say more like bi-furious,” is uttered by Reggie, upon being uppercutted by Moose. Risque stuff, compared to the Batman parodies churned out by the usual gang of idiots in the days when I had a subscription.

Bagge provides the art for a fairly standard Mad list story—“12 Reasons We Hate Cell Phones,” Friedman crafts a full-page Sarah Palin painting for a spoof of the ex-governor’s speaking rider, Dorkin/Dyer draw “The Five Worst Things About 3D Movies, and Hallgren presents a clever little Apple/Calvin and Hobbes mashup, titled “Calvin and Jobs.”

The magazine also now sports a section called, “The Strip Club,” featuring one-off strips by a number of online cartoonists. Ted Rall closes out the section with “Fantabulaman,” a goofy little superhero spoof.

And as for those cornerstones, Jaffee and Aragones, not too much has changed on their end, thankfully—well, aside from the ever shifted pop-cultural landscape. Jaffee provides a Jersey Shore-themed fold-in, and Aragones presents “A Mad Look at the Twilight Saga.”

Ultimately, I think, Mad is more than content to remain a magazine for its long-time core audience of adolescent males, which is almost certainly a good thing—assuming that there are enough of those who still buy printed magazines off the rack (if the publication’s recent switch to a quarterly print schedule is any indication, however, that’s proving to be less and less the case)—which is to say, while there may be some personnel cross-over, don’t expect the magazine version of Kramer’s Ergot.

If however, Mad is still a cultural stepping stone for its young readers, the future for indie comics seems that much brighter, letters, tomatoes, and all.

–Brian Heater

One Comment to “Mad Magazine #504 by Various”

  1. Team Rosalie