I might occasionally talk shit about my old man (what boy doesn’t?) but he always picked me up an issue of MAD.
I’m not sure when these wonderfully weird Basil Wolverton drawings were originally done/published, but they come from the Fall 1990 “Super Special” of weirdness. Note that the “Vote for Nixon” button on the cover illustration is likely an update to the “Vote for Landon” button below (Alf Landon lost in a landslide to FDR in 1936). The other internal/meta-textual differences are obvious too.
I love Basil Wolverton.
Book shelves series #49, forty-ninth Sunday of 2012
Unless I’ve somehow miscalculated, this is the last book shelf in my house. It’s difficult to describe the room it’s in—sort of like a storage corridor that serves as an attic (my attic is tiny) with an ersatz workshop. Kids paints and art supplies dominate the top shelf; photo albums and year books the bottom. The middle holds all sorts of books that I can’t bear to get rid of, including a coffee-table history of MAD Magazine which is one of the first books I can remember begging my parents to get me.
There are also many, many back issues of MAD:
Also, lots of old books with out of date info, like a book about Jacques Cousteau, a book of Indian recipes which is more of a cultural guide, and this book of my home state:
Several old music zines (I should probably donate them to a zine library).
I have several dozens of these history packets called Discovery that I loved as a kid—they’d come with a booklet that illustrated the historical event in context, including opposing viewpoints, and they also had cool activities and games. I think they really helped me to learn as a child, and I can’t bear to get rid of them. Apparently Dennis Miller sat for the portrait of Guy Fawkes in the second issue.
The Science in Science Fiction probably deserves its own post it’s so wonderfully weird and silly.
Although this is the last shelf in my house, I said I’d do these posts each Sunday of 2012—and there are four more. I’ll visit the bookshelves in my office, the books in my car, take another look at the books on my nightstand (where I started) and then do a review post. Then I will never, ever do anything like this again.
From the OED:
“A writer of satires or lampoons; applied to Timon of Phlius (268 BC).
1845 LEWES Hist. Philos. I. 77 His state of mind is finely described by Timon the sillograph. 1849 GROTE Hist. Greece II. xxxvii. IV. 526 The sillograph Timon of the third century B.C.
So sillographer, sillographist.
1656 BLOUNT Glossogr., Sillographer, a writer of scoffs, taunts and revilings; such was Timon. 1775 ASH, Sillographist. 1845 Encycl. Metrop. X. 393/1 Menippus indeed, in common with the Sillographers, seems to have introduced much more parody than even the earliest Roman Satirists.”
Famous sillographers include:
Timon of Philius (as noted above)
I’ve already documented my love of MAD magazine when I was younger. It pretty much was my cultural currency, and, perhaps unfortunately, much of my understanding of pop culture was warped through the lens of MAD. Anyway, I was psyched when Longlunch sent me this fun, playful link to the New York Times‘s “Fold-In Feature.” You remember Al Jaffee’s fold-ins, right? They always got all messed up after one or two folds…but they were fun. Interactive. I like that. More fold-ins here. Bleechh!
When I was a kid, I loved loved loved MAD Magazine: I loved Alfred E. Neuman’s gap-toothed grin on the cover, I loved Don Martin’s wacky comic strips, I loved the fake ads, I loved the movie and TV show parodies that I didn’t understand (to this day there are certain movies that I only know about via MAD), I loved the Sergio Aragonés doodles that hid in the margins, I loved “Spy vs. Spy,” I loved the endless recycling of strips and parodies that were older than I was by a longshot, I loved Al Jaffee’s “fold-ins” (even though they quickly wore down to unfunny illegibility within minutes), I even loved the perennially unfunny “Lighter Side of Strip.” I think most of all I loved the bizarre guttural language of MAD–the unpronounceable explosions of fricatives and glottals, the joyful and rude “smrzzps!” and “schlups!” and “putzes” that provided the perfect soundtrack for my pre-adolescent pre-angst. Surely, this was the special argot of the adult world, the perfect onomatopoeia of grown-up comedy. Even as a young kid, I knew that MAD was in some way offensive, that it somehow tested the bounds of decency. Of course, I mistook what was essentially puerile for something more urbane.
So I was initially disappointed when I received Maria Reidelbach’s Completely Mad for Christmas one year. I guess I was expecting it to be a special all-color glossy hardback anthology. Eventually, I got around to reading it, and thus I learned the history of EC Comics and the censorship trials that the brand–and comics in general–had to endure. To this day, again and again, comic books come under the fire of those who wish to censor (check out the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s short history of censorship in comics to learn more).
Under the editorial direction of William Gaines, EC Comics in the early 1950s specialized in horror, sci-fi, and true crime comics, publishing classic titles such as Tales from the Crypt and Weird Fantasy. These comics featured twisting and twisted plots, boldly illustrated with strong lines and graphic images. In a repressed and fearful age, EC Comics openly addressed problems of racial segregation and arms proliferation. The lurid artwork and progressive themes finally proved too much for Dr. Fredric Wertham, who addressed the supposed threat comics proved to the youth of America in Sedcution of the Innocent. Fitting right in to the McCarthyism of the era, Wertham’s book led to a Congressional hearing on comic books. In an attempt to regulate and control his own product, Gaines banded with other publishers to form the Comics Code Authority. This pre-emptive strike backfired, however–the CCA decided that they needed to censor every comic that came out, and give it this stamp of approval (still seen on mainstream comics today!)–
If you’re interested in reading the full (and necessarily vague) code, check out Once Upon a Dime’s article here.
A disappointed Gaines quickly left the CCA but the damage was done. They ruled that comics couldn’t be published with words like “horror” or “weird” in the title, effectively blacklisting EC’s major titles.
Gaines continued to publish new comics like MD, and Psychoanalysis, but the CCA had poisoned the well. EC Comics went under, plagued by censorship battles and distribution problems. Gaines focused all of his efforts on MAD, turning it into a full-sized magazine in 1955. MAD Magazine has been in continuous publication for over 50 years–although today the magazine prints paid ads. Yeah. That sucks, doesn’t it? So MAD has succumbed to commercialism–no wonder, considering that it’s the commodity name for such a crappy TV show. Even so, I’ll always recall gleefully devouring “Special Editions” of MAD, reprint digests chock full of references I didn’t get, thinking that I was gaining some forbidden knowledge. Maybe I was.