Al Jaffee, Iconic Mad Magazine Cartoonist, Retires at Age 99 … and Leaves Behind Advice About Living the Creative Life

Apart from Alfred E. Neu­man, there is no Al more close­ly iden­ti­fied with Mad mag­a­zine than Al Jaf­fee. Born in 1921, he was around for more than 30 years before the launch of that satir­i­cal mag­a­zine turned Amer­i­can cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non — and now, at age 99, he’s on track to out­live it. Just this week, the longest-work­ing car­toon­ist in his­to­ry and inven­tor of the Fold-In announced his retire­ment, and “to mark his farewell,” writes the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Michael Cav­na, “Mad’s ‘Usu­al Gang of Idiots’ will salute Jaf­fee with a trib­ute issue next week. It will be the magazine’s final reg­u­lar issue to offer new mate­r­i­al, includ­ing Jaffee’s final Fold-In, 65 years after he made his Mad debut.”

Over these past six and a half decades, Jaf­fee has drawn praise for his wit and ver­sa­til­i­ty. But all through­out his career, he’s also man­aged to com­bine those qual­i­ties with seem­ing­ly unstop­pable pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. “I am essen­tial­ly a com­mer­cial artist,” Jaf­fee says in this brief two-part inter­view from OnCre­ativ­i­ty. “I will not try to save time, ever, on my work by going through it quick­ly and just get­ting it done. I have to be as sat­is­fied with it as the per­son who’s going to buy it from me.”

When an assign­ment comes in, he con­tin­ues, “I will not deliv­er it until I am sat­is­fied that I would buy it.” This requires a clear under­stand­ing of the clien­t’s needs — “you are there to solve their prob­lems,” he empha­sizes — as well as the will­ing­ness to turn down not-quite-suit­able jobs.

Of course Jaf­fee said all this in his younger days, back when he was only 96. Per­haps it isn’t sur­pris­ing that a man in his hun­dredth year would decide to step back from his worka­day sched­ule (his Fold-Ins alone num­ber near­ly 500) and focus on the projects from which com­mer­cial exi­gen­cies might have dis­tract­ed him. “I do fine art for my own amuse­ment,” he say in this inter­view. “We should all feel free to amuse our­selves that way and just hang every­thing we do up on the refrig­er­a­tor.” But he also express­es the wish to “cre­ate a cou­ple more things before I kick the buck­et.” This after, as he puts it to Cav­na, “liv­ing the life I want­ed all along, which was to make peo­ple think and laugh.” Now Jaf­fee’s younger read­ers have the chance to think hard and laugh hard­er as they catch up on era upon era of his past work — not that, strict­ly speak­ing, he has any old­er read­ers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Every Cov­er of Mad Mag­a­zine, from 1952 to the Present: Behold 553 Cov­ers from the Satir­i­cal Pub­li­ca­tion

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

When Mad Mag­a­zine Ruf­fled the Feath­ers of the FBI, Not Once But Three Times

Watch Mad Magazine’s Edgy, Nev­er-Aired TV Spe­cial (1974)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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  • Doug P. says:

    Dear Mr. Jaf­fee, Thank you. Thank you for shar­ing your tal­ent with us. At half your age, I enjoyed your work in the 70’s and 80’s, and then recent­ly picked up a sub­scrip­tion to MAD last year for my younger two sons.

    I hope your jour­ney has been every­thing that you had hoped thus far. I bid you a won­der­ful retire­ment, sur­round­ed by fam­i­ly, friends, art, and what­ev­er else puts a smile on your face as you have done for mil­lions of us.

    Thank you.

    Doug P.
    Long time read­er

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