Pat Blythe – It’s a Mad World

little-red-headed-dancing-girl

I want to start by saying THANK YOU everyone for your wonderful messages and FB responses regarding last week’s column. Yes it was both difficult and cathartic to pour it out in black and white. It seemed to have touched a lot of lives but I hope in a good way. So again, THANK YOU!

Curtsey

Those days don’t come around too often (thank heaven!). The following song by the English River First Nation says it all. I am so incredibly fortunate to have so many who care and share in my life. ….“but once it rains, the sun will come my way”. Enough said…..

Caught In A Storm – N’we Jinan

It’s a MAD world..

My neighbour and good friend Sam Taylor (he of the smoking Gretsch “new” blues) dropped over to return a 1974 Circus magazine and brought with him a 1975 edition of MAD. Remember MAD??? I used to love reading the satirical (and truly warped) cartoons. Their views on the mundane, our daily lives, and the sometimes idiotic world around us, were so spot on that if any of us had really stopped to think about it….. It’s the twisted writers, however, whose brains should be left to science. Chris would have loved to have conversed with them. In fact, scarily enough he could have written many of the pieces for MAD. His views were not dissimilar. However, the real reason Taylor brought it over was the section inside called Photo Monotony, The Magazine for Photographic Minds. But first, a little background on what was once an insanely popular magazine.

MAD will be celebrating their 65th birthday in 2017. Founded by editor Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William Gaines, MAD was originally launched as a comic book in 1952. To quote Wikipedia MAD “was widely imitated and influential, affecting satirical media as well as the culture landscape of the 20th century.” By 1974 readership had reached over two million. It is the last surviving title from the EC Comics line. MAD left no stone unturned. No ego was too large to crush. Nothing was sacred. Anything and everything was fair game. Pop culture, all public figures involved in politics or entertainment, even famous animals. What I’ve found in perusing this particular issue is….nothing has changed. What was relevant then, is even more than relevant now, simply because we insist on making the same inane decisions, the same mistakes over and over and over and….well….you get the picture. When will we ever learn????

I’m Going Slightly Mad – Queen

MAD converted to magazine format in 1955 which removed it from the “strictures of Comics Code Authority” which was, in effect, a censor for the U.S. comic book industry. Kurtzman left in 1956 and Al Feldstein took over as editor. MAD was sold to National Periodicals (D.C. Comics) and Warner Bros. by the end of the 1960s. In 2001 the magazine began running paid advertising, breaking an almost 50-year-old taboo. For years it had managed to avoid the call of the advertiser. This had allowed the magazine to lampoon and mock our grasping, money-oriented culture without fear of retaliation. For decades it was the most successful American magazine to publish ad-free. In earlier incarnations, MAD published between four and seven times per year, increasing to eight issues per year for almost 40 years. It now publishes six issues per year and continues to try and wake us up…..one page at a time….

Mad 1952 cover

Harvey Kurtzman’s cover for MAD #1 (Oct-Nov 1952)

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First issue in magazine format in 1955

In a 1977 New York Times article, Tony Hiss and Jeff Lewis wrote about the publication’s initial effect:

“The skeptical generation of kids it shaped in the 1950s is the same generation that, in the 1960s, opposed a war and didn’t feel bad when the United States lost for the first time and in the 1970s helped turn out an Administration and didn’t feel bad about that either… It was magical, objective proof to kids that they weren’t alone, that in New York City on Lafayette Street, if nowhere else, there were people who knew that there was something wrong, phony and funny about a world of bomb shelters, brinkmanship and toothpaste smiles. Mad’s consciousness of itself, as trash, as comic book, as enemy of parents and teachers, even as money-making enterprise, thrilled kids. In 1955, such consciousness was possibly nowhere else to be found. In a Mad parody, comic-strip characters knew they were stuck in a strip. “Darnold Duck,” for example, begins wondering why he has only three fingers and has to wear white gloves all the time. He ends up wanting to murder every other Disney character. G.I. Schmoe tries to win the sexy Asiatic Red Army broad by telling her, “O.K., baby! You’re all mine! I gave you a chance to hit me witta gun butt… But naturally, you have immediately fallen in love with me, since I am a big hero of this story.””

Mad World – Tears For Fears

In 2007 Robert Boyd from the Los Angeles Times wrote (and I think he describes t best), “All I really need to know I learned from Mad magazine…Plenty of it went right over my head, of course, but that’s part of what made it attractive and valuable. Things that go over your head can make you raise your head a little higher. The magazine instilled in me a habit of mind, a way of thinking about a world rife with false fronts, small print, deceptive ads, booby traps, treacherous language, double standards, half truths, subliminal pitches and product placements; it warned me that I was often merely the target of people who claimed to be my friend; it prompted me to mistrust authority, to read between the lines, to take nothing at face value, to see patterns in the often shoddy construction of movies and TV shows; and it got me to think critically in a way that few actual humans charged with my care ever bothered to.”

Paranoid – Black Sabbath

Tom Spurgeon, comics historian….”At the heights of its influence, Mad was The Simpsons, The Daily Show and The Onion combined.” Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam wrote, “Mad became the Bible for me and my entire generation.” My personal favourite, Patti Smith said far more succinctly, “After Mad, drugs were nothing.”

Alfred E. Neuman….

So far the ginger-haired boy with the toothless, shit-eating grin and the fly-away ears can be dated back to the late 1890s. “Discovered” by Feldstein who decided this was the visual logo he wanted to use as the image of MAD, he placed an ad in the New York Times for a portrait artist. Sixty-five-year-old Norman Mingo responded. When told what the magazine was, Mingo turned on his heals to leave. After showing Mingo various examples and postcards of this “idiot kid” and describing how he (Feldstein) envisioned the portrait, we now have the Alfred E. Neuman we know, love and instantly recognize today as the “Mad Mascot”.

“Mingo’s defining portrait was used on the cover of Mad #30 in 1956” as a write-in Presidential candidate. This “fixed his identity and appearance into the version that has been used ever since.” Mingo later became MAD’s signature cover artist throughout the 60s and 70s producing a total of 97 covers.

After a copyright infringement case was launched against the magazine regarding Neuman, MAD finally and formally adopted him permanently, winning the legal rights to use him in 1965.

The courts ruled Neuman was considered “a fatherless mutant of the public domain.”  He has graced all but a handful of covers of MAD in every guise imaginable, in a myriad of comic situations. Neuman is so closely associated with MAD that according to MAD writer Frank Jacobs “a letter was once successfully delivered to the magazine through the U.S. mail bearing only Neuman’s face, without any address or other identifying information.”

1956-mad30

Neuman for President….remind you of anybody?

Neuman through the ages BMM (Before Mad Magazine)….

MAD_Magazine_(no._21,_front_cover)

Neuman’s very first appearance in the parody Ad Comic Book cover Issue 21 March 1955

Alfred Pies

Neuman in 1894 Alfred calendar 1908

Neuman in an 1908 calendar

Alfred 1930s

Neuman selling auto parts in the 1930s

During its heyday in the 60s and 70s, MAD experienced phenomenal success and was a prominent magazine for decades. However, the 1980s saw a steady decline in readership and its present circulation is now around a steady 100,000. I must confess I have not picked one up or even read it online for at least 30 years. MAD is a magazine I associate with my youth….my wild and crazy days….as the magazine once was. Even though the magazine was revamped to appeal to an aging audience, the content is still associated with MAD’s past. There are probably many reasons why MAD is not top of the hit list these days, but not being pertinent….content associated with the past…..nope, I disagree. MAD’s commentary is as relevant now as it ever was, as these pictures from 41 years ago show you.

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Romantic Traffic – The Spoons

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…..as for Miss Liberty….. her bra burning days are over but are not forgotten. We have come a long way only to have some of these “rights” snatched away from us again. The battles are still ongoing.

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So, nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. Scary. Reading these makes me wonder if we’re any further ahead 41 years later?

As I squirrel away, it appears my fascination with the story of a magazine of my youth has taken me down another yet another gopher hole. My photo piece will have to wait until next week.

I leave you with Firesign Theatre….satire at its best. If you have thirty minutes to spare….

Nick Danger Third Eye – Firesign Theatre

Cheers!

Sources

Wikipedia, YouTube, The Paris Review

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7In “real” life Pat Blythe has spent the past 32 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry. After an extended absence Pat is now heading back to the GTA clubs, immersing herself in the local music scene, tasting what’s on offer, talking to people and writing once again — sharing her passions and her deep love of music. Together for 34 years, Pat also workedpblythealongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who shot much  of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, Plateau, Buzzsaw, Hellfield….) as well as national and international acts,  Currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, Pat is currently compiling a photographic history of the local GTA music scene from 1975 to 1985. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!

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