The end of MAD, once a boon in comics’ end-times

At The Nation, Jeet Heer writes about the impact of MAD magazine and references its origins, which came at a tumultuous time for the comic book industry and for EC Comics publisher William Gaines. From Heer:

The early years of Mad were genuinely dangerous times for Gaines. Lyle Stuart, Gaines’s business manager, was arrested for sale of “disgusting literature” in the form of an EC comic book story that parodied Mickey Spillane’s violent detective novels. (The story was called “My Gun Is The Jury”—a riff on Spillane’s I, The Jury). Stuart faced a jail term of a year before the judge threw out the case.

Besieged by the Senate, the legal system, parent groups, other publishers, and distributors, Gaines had to give up comic books. Turning Mad into a magazine was his lifeboat. Initially, Gaines and Kurtzman were simpatico, although they eventually split in 1956 when Kurtzman asked for half ownership of the magazine.

When they were on good terms, Gaines didn’t even mind when Kurtzman’s parodies of ads miffed advertisers. In fact, after the break with Kurtzman, Gaines decided to make Mad ad-free in 1957, a policy that continued until 2001 (nearly a decade after Gaines’s death in 1992).

Read the whole piece at The Nation.

After 67 years, MAD will cease printing new content later this summer, when DC Entertainment will then be putting out issues of the satirical magazine that will have new covers but will be totally comprised of “articles pulled from previous issues.” I’m sure someone already made this joke, but a company shuttering a magazine and replacing it with regurgitated issues packaged to look new sounds like something MAD would mock for eternity. In the mold of today’s clickbait celeb obituaries, here’s a barely written news “story” about the change supported by a bunch of embedded tweets that mourn the loss of MAD. I imagine MAD editors would mock that, too.

In 2017, I wrote for Hyperallergic about the national censorship campaign that crippled EC Comics’ primary pre-MAD source of revenue. Back then, when its distributor declared bankruptcy, EC’s Gaines ditched the gory crime and horror stuff but kept MAD. Relatedly, when the ship was threatening to go down, Gaines countered criticism of their crime and horror books with stories underpinned by socially conscious themes. Here are some notes on a new fascinating book on EC’s social-protest comics.