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What, me buried? Mad magazine scales back after almost 70 years

The venerable and influential satire source will be pulled from newsstands, feature no new content in future issues.

This 1956 cover illustration by artist Norman Mingo, depicting Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman, was presented at auction in 2008.
Heritage Auction Galleries

The presses aren’t quite stopping for Mad magazine, the venerable and influential satire source that has poked at the powerful since the 1950s, but they’re slowing down.

Owner DC Comics told CNET that the magazine will stop being available for sale on newsstands after an issue in August, labeled as No. 9 as part of a recent reboot. After that, Mad will be available only via subscription.

In addition, future issues will contain new covers but no new content inside, only reprints of classic Mad articles. New Mad material still will be generated for the annual year-end issue, as well as occasional books and special editions.

Dan Telfer, the former Chicago comedian who joined Mad’s leadership in 2017, tweeted that he’s looking for work “after being laid off from my 2-year stint as Senior Editor of MAD Magazine.”

The masses know Mad best for its distinctive mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, a boy illustrated with tousled hair and a missing front tooth. The centerpiece of most Mad covers, he’s seldom seen speaking but is connected to a carefree motto: “What, me worry?”

(Awareness of the character even reached President Trump, who in May razzed his potential Democratic rival Pete Buttigieg by quipping, “Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States.” In a sign of Mad’s diminishing relevance, the 37-year-old Buttigieg claimed to be unaware of the character. “I’ll be honest. I had to Google that,” he said. “I guess it’s just a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference.”)

Among those mourning Mad on Wednesday was musical satirist Weird Al Yankovic, guest editor of a Mad issue in 2015. “I am profoundly sad to hear that after 67 years, MAD Magazine is ceasing publication,” he tweeted. “I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid — it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird. Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”

Added comedian and “The Price Is Right” host Drew Carey, “Omg I’m crushed. One of the best comedy mags ever published.”

Mad began as a comic book in 1952, parodying the comics, movies and TV shows of the day. Two years later it switched to a magazine format. The subject matter of its spoofs expanded, and Mad settled into a mix of pop-culture spoofs, generally lighthearted (but occasionally quite serious) political satire, phony advertising, silly slapstick, gross-out humor and mockery of the peculiar norms of society.

In its 1960s and 1970s heyday, Mad showcased a stable of distinctive artists: Al Jaffee, known for his back-cover fold-ins and “snappy answers to stupid questions”; Don Martin, whose grotesque people had elongated heads, folded their feet and made bizarre sound effects; Mort Drucker, whose precise caricatures graced most movie parodies; Sergio Aragones, who drew gags placed in the magazine’s margins; Dave Berg, whose “Lighter Side” feature spotlighted the foibles of average people, and Antonio Prohias, whose “Spy vs. Spy” parodied the Cold War by depicting a pointy-faced agent dressed in black warring with a counterpart dressed in white.

A collection of stickers by artist Don Martin, included as a premium in an issue of Mad magazine, demonstrated his propensity for bizarre illustrations and unusual sound effects.
DC Comics

As its popularity grew, Mad spun off its sensibility into many offshoot projects, including dozens of foreign editions, an Off-Broadway musical called “The Mad Show,” an animated series on Cartoon Network and the sketch series “Mad TV” on Fox.

In what now seems like a Hail Mary, Mad attempted a reboot in 2017, abandoning its longtime base, New York City, for Los Angeles and replacing most of its leadership. The numbering of issues was restarted with a new Mad No. 1.

Mad’s influence was cited often by prominent fans. “I loved it,” Stephen Colbert wrote in the introduction to the 2012 book “Totally Mad.” “I saved up my allowance for it every week and bought it after church on Sunday at the Book Bag.”

The late Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, who occasionally was depicted in Mad alongside his TV partner Gene Siskel, wrote the intro to another book, “Mad About the Movies,” a 1998 compilation of film parodies. “Mad’s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin — of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas,” he write. “I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe.”