Al Feldstein R.I.P.

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John F
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Al Feldstein R.I.P.

Post by John F » Thu May 01, 2014 2:05 am

Soul of Mad Magazine, Al Feldstein Dies at 88
By BRUCE WEBER
MAY 1, 2014

Al Feldstein, who took over a fledgling humor magazine called Mad in 1956 and made it a popular, profitable and enduring wellspring of American satire, died on Tuesday at his ranch in Paradise Valley, Mont. He was 88. His wife, the former Michelle Key, confirmed the death. In recent years, he was a wildlife and landscape painter in Montana, outside Livingston.

Mr. Feldstein had been a writer and illustrator of comic books when he became editor of Mad four years into its life and just a year after it had graduated from comic-book form to a full-fledged magazine.

The founding editor, Harvey Kurtzman, established its well-informed irreverence, but Mr. Feldstein gave Mad its identity as a smart-alecky, sniggering and indisputably clever spitball-shooter of a publication with a scattershot look, dominated by gifted cartoonists of wildly differing styles. Sources disagree about Mad’s circulation when Mr. Feldstein took over; estimates range from 325,000 to 750,000. But by the early 1960s, he increased it to over a million, and a decade later it had doubled.

He hired many of the writers and artists whose work became Mad trademarks. Among them were Don Martin, whose cartoons featuring bizarre human figures and distinctive sound effects — Katoong! Sklortch! Zazik! — immortalized the eccentric and the screwy; Antonio Prohias, whose “Spy vs. Spy” was a sendup of the international politics of the Cold War; Dave Berg, whose “The Lighter Side of ...” made gentle, arch fun of middlebrow behavior; Mort Drucker, whose caricatures satirized movies like Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” (“Henna and Her Sickos” in Mad’s retelling); and George Woodbridge, who illustrated a Mad signature article, written by Tom Koch: a prescient 1965 satire of college sports, criticizing their elitism and advocating the creation of a game that could be played by everyone. It was called 43-Man Squamish, “played on a five-sided field called a Flutney.” Position players, each equipped with a hooked stick called a frullip, included deep brooders, inside and outside grouches, overblats, underblats, quarter-frummerts, half-frummerts a full-frummert and a dummy.

“The offensive team, upon receiving the Pritz, has five Snivels in which to advance to the enemy goal,” Mr. Koch wrote, part of a nonsensical and hopelessly complicated instruction manual that nonetheless inspired the formation of squamish teams on campuses across the country.

In his second issue, Mr. Feldstein seized on a character who had appeared only marginally in the magazine — a freckled, gaptoothed, big-eared, glazed-looking young man — and put his image on the cover, identifying him as a write-in candidate for president campaigning under the slogan “What — me worry?” At first he went by Mel Haney, Melvin Cowznofski and other names. But when the December 1956 issue, No. 30, identified him as Alfred E. Neuman, the name stuck. He became the magazine’s perennial cover boy, appearing in dozens of guises, including as a joker on a playing card, an ice-skating barrel jumper, a totem on a totem pole, a football player, a yogi, a construction worker, King Kong atop the Empire State Building, Rosemary’s baby, Uncle Sam, General Patton and Barbra Streisand.

Neuman became the symbol of Mad, his goofy countenance often intruding, Zelig-like, into scenes from the political landscape and from popular television shows and movies. He signaled the magazine’s editorial attitude, which fell somewhere between juvenile nose-thumbing at contemporary culture and sophisticated spoofing.

Mad made fun of itself as well. The staff was referred to on the masthead as “the usual gang of idiots,” and the magazine warned readers not to take it seriously even as it winkingly promoted its importance. Its irreverence made it especially popular with teenagers — many comedians have confessed to slavering over issues in their adolescence — and in its tone and fearless targeting of sacred cows it anticipated social satire vehicles like The Harvard Lampoon, National Lampoon, “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and The Onion...

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/01/busin ... at-88.html
John Francis

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