Mad Art by Mark Evanier (book review).

I’ve been meaning to read Mark Evanier’s book ‘Mad Art’ for some time now and finally pulled a copy earlier this year. In the introduction, Evanier points out that Harvey Kurtzman was spending longer time in story accuracy for the two war-based titles and a third title that took less time might at least get his wages up. Hence, a comedy comicbook title called ‘Mad’ in 1952. It didn’t become a magazine until later and that was to prevent Kurtzman being poached by ‘Playboy’ magazine’ and giving it a bigger status on the newsstands than in the comicbook racks.

Of course, that didn’t stop Kurtzman leaving and taking most of his team with him. It was left to Al Feldstein to bring in new people, called the Idiots, and made careers for all of them. Such is Mad history. Evanier also points out that as important as the writers are to ‘Mad’, this book is about the artists. He’s yet to write a book about the writers. Are we living in a windmill vane for that to happen? Me worried? Well, maybe a little for history’s sake.

With chapter 3, we get the ins and outs of how an ‘article’ is created for ‘Mad’. I was surprised how late in the day the artist was brought into the process than direct involvement.

Although ‘Mad Magazine’ wasn’t a closed shop, they were very selective on who they hired to work there. When it came to doing real people, you needed to capture them well and make them funny at the same time which was a lot harder. As many of the ‘idiots’ involved noted. You could do other work and it was noted, but if you had work that appeared in ‘Mad Magazine’, then you were revered. Alas so many are gone now.

I have to confess that unless you have a magnifying glass handy then its tough to read the text of most of the Mad pages included. Maybe that was to make the emphasis on the art aspect instead. You certainly come away from this book with a lot more knowledge about the artists involved.

Alas and sadly, ‘Mad Magazine’ bit the dust in 2018 after a 67 year run. I doubt if its mascot, Alfred E. Neuman was ever worried, except with 3 Mile Island. Maybe one day, if the magazine is never revived, someone will think will think film. Then? Me worried.

In the meantime, try to grab a copy of this old book. It’s still out there in fresh condition and even if, like me, you only read a few issues over the years because of patchy UK distribution, ‘Mad’ is still an important part of comic comedy history.

GF Willmetts

July 2021

(pub: Watson Guptill, 2002. 304 page illustrated softcover. Price: good question, I think I pulled it for around £10.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-82303-080-4)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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