“I was trying shut the radio off and had type flying in the air,” Al Jaffee laughs, taking the call off of speakerphone. He’s in the middle of fold-in at the moment—“engrossed” as he happily puts it. It is, of course, exactly what one would expect the artist to be working on at 5:30 PM on a Wednesday night—or, really, any time, for that matter. Since 1964, the artist has created, by his estimation, more than 400 of the things, which have graced the back cover of all but three issues of Mad Magazine over the course of the past 45 years.
At 87, Jaffee’s speaks of himself in the same self-deprecating tones his fans have come to know and expect from his work, a sense of modesty that hardly betrays his position as one of the most beloved humor cartoonists of the past half-century. The artist is quick with joke for nearly every topic we broach during our discussion, though the one that inadvertently kicks off the interview hits a little too close to home—the death rattle of the American publishing industry.
In late January of this year, it was announced that Mad, America’s premier humor magazine, will become a quarterly, after 55 years as a monthly publication. It is, of course, a sign of the times, if ever their were one, a sign that the magazine is continuing to struggle at the hands of newer forms of media, seven years after finally caving and including advertisements in its printed form. It’s also a sign, Jaffee adds, half jokingly, that “humor is dying.”
Pop cultural bemoaning aside (though, honestly, who can blame the guy?), Jaffee proves himself once again to be the consummate storyteller, a man with a fantastic yarn for nearly every question one might toss at him, from his days attending classes at The High School of Music & Art in New York alongside future Mad staffers Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, and Will Elder; to his time spent as an artist/writer for Stan Lee at Timely Comics; to creation of some of Mad’s most enduring features. Few have seen as much of the industry as Al Jaffee an even fewer can tell its story quite so well.
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