Mad Magazine's AL JAFFEE

This October marks Al Jaffee reign as Mad Magazine’s longest running contributor, clocking in 59 years and over 479 issues. Since 1952, the comic book turned magazine infused a childish silliness with biting political depth and orignal artwork. By engaging readers to add their own “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” and even mangling the magazine to solve the “Fold-In” picture riddle, Mad was one of the first enterprises to treat consumers as co-conspirators. The result was an entirely new forum for humor in an era when few questioned whether father really knows best. It’s allure for children and teenagers simultaneously fueled outrage from the FBI to Congress the collective imaginations of future comedy writers and cartoonists. Writers behind The Simpsons, The Daily Show, The Onion, and The Colbert Report credit Mad Magazine for inspiring them.

The sheer joy Jaffee’s work provides fans offers to fans is inverse proportion to what he and his three brothers experienced growing up. In his biography Al Jaffee’s Mad Life, co-authored by Mary-Lou Weissman, Jaffee details how his father, who enjoyed drawing, turned his four sons, especially his eldest two, Al (nee Abraham) and Harry, onto the funny pages. When Al’s mother uprooted the boys from their stable homelife in Savannah, Georgia to spend six impoverished, hungry years in Zarsai, Lithuania, Al lived for packages his father sent of newspaper clippings of the “funny pages.” While his father managed to get his then abused and neglected boys back to the States, Al’s mother moved them again to a Jewish ghetto in Lithuania. Their father father managed to get the boys out narrowly avoiding the Nazi takeover, although their mother didn’t make it to the train station on time to say goodbye. It was the last time, Jaffee saw his mother, who perished in the Holocaust. An artist through and through, cartooning became a refuge.

Al was so gifted that when he landed in the Bronx, his teacher recommended him to attend the first class of High School and Music & Art, which the then Mayor LaGuardia had just created. There Jaffee met his future partners-in-crime Will Eder, Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin, and Al Feldstein and gained classical drawing skills. Cartooning wasn’t part of the curriculum or even respected, although it didn’t stop Jaffee from doodling. Luckily, between the admiration he garnered from classmates, teachers, and an advertisement for Flit cigarettes drawn by Theodore Geisel, Jaffee decided to make a go of cartooning. As you will hear in our interview, Jaffee is first and foremost a mensch.