Interview: Arnold Roth Pt. 3 [of 3]

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In this final part of our interview with legendary cartoonist Arnold Roth, we discuss the his work creating covers for jazz LPs for artists like Dave Brubeck, his relationship with novelist John Updike, his connection to PG Wodehouse, and why not working for Playboy means you don’t want to live.

[Part One]
[Part Two]
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Interview: Arnold Roth Pt. 2 [of 2]

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Since first launching his career six decades ago, Arnold Roth has become one of the best know and most beloved cartoonists of the 20th century. His work has appeared on the cover of Time and in the pages of virtual every well-known American publication, from The New Yorker to Sports Illustrated to Playboy to The New York Times.

Of course, the cartoonist had to pay his dues, just like the rest of us. In this second part of our interview with the artist, we dig into Roth’s early career, before The New Yorker, before Playboy—even before Humbug and Trump—to discover how he went from being expelled from a Philadelphia commercial arts college to becoming one of the most celebrated cartoonists working today.

[Part One]
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Interview: Arnold Roth Pt. 1 [of 3]

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Fantagraphics’ new two book Humbug set marks the first time that the long-defunct magazine’s material has been pulled together into a single collection.  Forty years after its initial publication, the magazine has largely been forgotten by all but the most devout cartooning fans. Its founders Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee and Will Elder, however, should be familiar to all of those who have a passing knowledge of that perennial favorite humor magazine, Mad. Jaffee, Davis, and Elder all followed Kurtzman as the editor made the jump from Mad to Hugh Hefner’s newly launched humor magazine, Trump.

After two issues, however, Trump’s increasing expenses and Hefner’s own economic troubles resulted in the closure of that magazine. Along the way, however, the four Mad refugees added yet another creative cartooning force to the team—a young Philadelphian named Arnold Roth. It was with Roth, funds culled together by the five artists, and some residual Hefner office space that Humbug was born.

Humbug, too folded quickly, completing a paltry print run of 11 issues. Roth, however, would go on to a diverse and successful career illustrating for Playboy; creating his own syndicated strip, Poor Arnold’s Almanac; designing album art for Dave Brubeck; and drawing book covers for John Updike.

We sat down with the artist, a month after his 80th birthday, to discuss Humbug and his early forays into the world of cartooning.

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Interview: Al Jaffee Pt. 3 [of 3]

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Al Jaffee might have turned 88 last week, but the artist shows no sign of stopping. Since 1964, he has appeared in nearly every issue of Mad Magazine, having pioneered some of that publication’s most-beloved and longest lasting features, including the Fold-in and Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. To say that Jaffee has been a major influence in modern American gag writing seems like a gross understatement. Along with early Mad peers like Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, and Jack Davis, Jaffee pratically invented the stuff.

In this third and final part of our interview with the artist, we dive back into Jaffee’s early career, from his first days with Mad, to the creation of the humor magazines Trump and Humbug—and beyond.

[Part One]

[Part Two]
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Interview: Al Jaffee Pt. 2 [of 3]

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Before accepting a full-time gig at Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad Magazine, Al Jaffee kicked around the comics industry, writing anything his editors would throw at him, from funny animal books, to “teenage material,” to army comics, to crime books. The artist even dabbled a bit in the superhero genre—albeit with a distinctly Jaffeean take on the subject

It was his boss at Timely—a young editor by the name of Stan Lee—who assigned Jaffee work on a title called Super Rabbit. Under the artist’s control, the superhero was transformed into something different than the rest of the books on the market. The costumed lagomorph became a hero with problems—normal, everyday problems.

It was a decision, perhaps, that would have an impact on Stan Lee’s later success (if only subconsciously), as Timely became Marvel and the editor churned out book after book of venerable heroes, decidedly real world counterparts to the supermen who dominated the industry.

In this second part of our interview with Jaffee, we delve into the artist’s pre-Mad work and discuss how the early world of comic books shaped the artist’s later successes in the industry.

[Part One]

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Interview: Al Jaffee Pt. 1 [of 3]

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“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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Interview: Jews and American Comics Editor, Paul Buhle

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Released earlier this week by The New Press, Brown professor Paul Buhle’s Jews in American Comics could have easily been yet another rehash of a long line of academic treatises on the subject of Jewish-American involvement in the creation of the superhero, most recently exemplified by Danny Fingeroth’s Superman Disguised as Clark Kent.

Fortunately for us, however, Buhle considers himself something of a peer to artists like Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman. A spiritual descendant of Harvey Kurtzman and his ilk, the realm of capes and tights never really did all that much for the author.

Instead, the book maps the role of Jewish creators from the early days of syndicated comics through the innovations brought forth by EC/MAD, and ultimately through the explosion of the underground and its subsequent repercussions.

For a more complete review of the book, check the most recent issue of The New York Press. After the jump you’ll find a full—if short—interview conducted with Buhle for the publication.

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