The End of an Era: MAD Magazine Will Publish Its Last Issue With Original Content This Fall

As a cul­tur­al ref­er­ence, MAD mag­a­zine may have died decades ago. This is a not a dis­par­age­ment, but a state­ment of fact. The kind of satire the august, anar­chic com­ic first unleashed on the world of 1952 debuted in a cul­tur­al milieu that is no more, and a form—the illus­trat­ed, satir­i­cal periodical—that is increas­ing­ly niche. MAD left an indeli­ble impres­sion on Amer­i­can publishing’s past, but as the magazine’s leg­endary car­toon­ist Al Jaf­fee tells The Wash­ing­ton Post, “it’s most­ly nos­tal­gia now.”

Respond­ing to the market’s cues, MAD will more or less dis­ap­pear from news­stands, pub­lish­ing lega­cy con­tent on a sub­scrip­tion-only basis and on the direct mar­ket, “a.k.a. spe­cial­ty and com­ic book stores,” writes Giz­mo­do, “like the vast major­i­ty of DC’s comics out­put is already.” MAD shaped itself in oppo­si­tion to Cold War para­noia and nev­er seemed to find a new edge after favorite tar­gets like Richard Nixon and Ronald Rea­gan left the scene. The mag­a­zine turned almost exclu­sive­ly to pop cul­ture par­o­dy in the 90s. As ABC News reports, MAD “peaked at 2.8 mil­lion sub­scribers in 1973,” then began its decline, with only “140,000 left as of 2017.”

The magazine’s found­ing edi­tor, car­toon­ist Har­vey Kurtz­man, passed away in 1993. His suc­ces­sor Al Feld­stein, who brought the mag­a­zine to inter­na­tion­al promi­nence, died in 2014. MAD’s long­time, tight-knit staff of writ­ers and car­toon­ists are most­ly retired, and most are san­guine about the wind­ing down. “It’s been a log­i­cal devel­op­ment,” com­ments anoth­er MAD car­toon­ing leg­end, Ser­gio Aragonés. To wit, after Issue 10 (MAD re-num­bered last June) comes out this fall, there will be no new con­tent, “except for the end-of-year spe­cials,” notes The Post. “All issues after that will be repub­lished con­tent culled from 67 years of pub­li­ca­tion.”

This still rep­re­sents a great way for new­com­ers to MAD to catch up on its wild­ly skewed view of the last half of the 20th cen­tu­ry, though some imag­i­na­tion is required to appre­ci­ate how sub­ver­sive their humor was for much of its run. MAD inspired count­less off­shoots in the decade after its found­ing, set­ting the tone for rad­i­cal cam­pus pub­li­ca­tions, coun­ter­cul­tur­al car­toon­ists, and com­ic writ­ers, some of whom went on to become Stephen Col­bert and Judd Apa­tow, who both wrote in the pages of MAD about how much the mag­a­zine meant to them dur­ing their appren­tice years.

The list of MAD devo­tees, both famous and not (I count myself among the lat­ter), runs into the mil­lions, but it runs along some obvi­ous demo­graph­ic divides. As the mag­a­zine is poised to become a gift-shop ver­sion of itself, trib­utes have poured in for its edi­tors, writ­ers, and cartoonists—all of them, to a man, well, men. And most of those tributes—those from promi­nent car­toon­ists and writ­ers claim­ing MAD as a for­ma­tive influ­ence, at least—are also from men of a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion, most of them straight and white.

Such mar­ket seg­men­ta­tion, one might say, speaks to the way MAD’s brand of polit­i­cal satire remained embed­ded in its hey­day. As laid-back car­toon­ists Jaf­fee and Aragonés rec­og­nize, you can’t stay young and rel­e­vant forever—though MAD had a remark­ably good run. The Post offers a notable exam­ple of Mad’s pas­sage into his­to­ry. When the cur­rent pres­i­dent “mock­ing­ly referred to Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Pete Buttigieg as Alfred E. Neuman”—the once-ubiq­ui­tous, gap-toothed sym­bol of take-no-pris­on­ers irreverence—the 37-year-old Buttigieg replied, “I’ll be hon­est. I had to Google that.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Gallery of Mad Magazine’s Rol­lick­ing Fake Adver­tise­ments from the 1960s

Al Jaf­fee, the Longest Work­ing Car­toon­ist in His­to­ry, Shows How He Invent­ed the Icon­ic “Folds-Ins” for Mad Mag­a­zine

Mad Magazine’s Al Jaf­fee & Oth­er Car­toon­ists Cre­ate Ani­ma­tions to End Dis­tract­ed Dri­ving

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (15)
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  • Lonnie says:

    Wow. You were some­how able to squeeze in a straight white male com­ment in there! That takes tal­ent

  • Ronny says:

    Their qual­i­ty dete­ri­o­rat­ed from their prime. They haven’t been that fun­ny for over twen­ty years, which is a shame because they used to be hilar­i­ous.

  • James Nelson says:

    Maybe you just got twen­ty years old­er Ron­ny

  • James Nelson says:

    I loved it in the 70s when it was as dif­fi­cult to get in Ire­land as Play­boy And I have been lov­ing it ever since.
    It’s always been high-class humor with high-class art­work.
    I was sad­dened when Cracked dis­ap­peared from the news­stands and I’m sad­dened again.
    The fold­outs and the string pic­tures, Capt klutz, all such great fun, and on paper. Kojak,
    Jaws, Juras­sic Park, and every dis­as­ter movie ever made, all par­o­died excel­lent­ly.
    I’m six­ty-three now and I won­der if our kids are get­ting, from their com­put­er screens, all that I got from the comics, the antic­i­pa­tion, excite­ment, that feel and the smell of paper.
    “So long as the mem­o­ry of cer­tain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.”

  • Dena Clark says:

    Every Sat­ur­day dur­ing the Six­ties my sis­ter, broth­er, and I would hound our moth­er for the lat­est issue when she would get back from gro­cery shop­ping, whether it was time for a new one or not. Buy­ing a sub­scrip­tion may have been the smartest thing she ever did.

  • Stephen Sheffield says:

    I loved that mag­a­zine; in my Edmon­ton, Alber­ta, apart­ment in the ‘sev­en­ties, I could not wait for next mon­th’s edi­tion to come out. Mort Druck­er, George Wood­bridge, et all — fan­tas­tic car­toon­ists with a sense of humour that was right up my street. The arti­cles on pack­ag­ing, the shop­ping cat­a­logues, the clas­si­fied ads such as A Smat­ter­ing of Span­ish by Schlager and Fong, and the bar-bells that were only dropped once and could be seen in the apart­ment sev­er­al floors down, how to install a TV, and so on, still have me laugh­ing when I often think about them even now. I real­ly miss that kind of humour — it cer­tain­ly shaped mine!

  • Don Dieffenbach says:

    They seemed to have lost their way some­time in the 90’s but the last cou­ple of years saw a return to form. With the mate­r­i­al Trump pro­vid­ed by just being it would’ve been hard to miss but some of the pop cul­ture spoofs were on par with the stuff I remem­bered as a kid read­ing MAD in the 1980’s. So long old friend…

  • Frank says:

    i noticed the same thing that Lon­nie did.…..another hate-filled lib­er­al jab at straight, white men.….….

    • Josh Jones says:

      There is no “hatred” either expressed or implied in this piece. You’ve sup­plied that inter­pre­ta­tion your­self.

  • Kavan says:

    I miss MAD mag…bring it back!! Pad­dles, Franken­stein I don’t care we need that humor in 2021!! Instead of chant­i­ng “lock ____ up” we should be ral­ly­ing “bring MAD back,!!

  • Mark Taha says:

    I used to be a reg­u­lar read­er and regret that it stopped pub­lish­ing in Britain. Espe­cial­ly enjoyed their musi­cal par­o­dies- pity they nev­er par­o­died “Cabaret “.

  • rogerio says:

    I loved the MAD mag­a­zine since moved over to Cana­da from Brazil in the 80´s. Each month was a expec­ta­tion to a new edi­tion.
    Very sad to know that an era is end­ing. That´s life…
    Got a few laughs out of it. Still do!
    Too bad my kids wont expe­ri­ence the world of MAD.

  • lemmy999 says:

    How is it a jab? The arti­cle was just talk­ing about the lim­it­ed demo­graph­ic that the mag­a­zine appealed to which con­tributed to the demise of the mag­a­zine.

  • Dave says:

    I read Mad occa­sion­al­ly in the ear­ly six­ties. Will always remem­ber one depic­tion in par­tic­u­lar :- On the left hand page was a pic­ture of the invad­ing mighty Vikings as por­trayed in school his­to­ry books. On the right hand page was a pic­ture of what real­ly hap­pened i.e. They were all vom­it­ing as they hit the beach etc.etc. It was not only fun­ny at the time, it made me ques­tion the accu­ra­cy of his­to­ry!

  • Randy says:

    Sum­mer, Scout camp and Mad Mag­a­zine. I hope its cre­ators have some idea of how much their pub­li­ca­tion added to those hap­py times.

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