Whenever I appear at a comic book convention, there is one thing I can always count on happening, and I’m not talking about seeing fat, sweaty guys in spandex superhero suits… It never fails that I end up defending MAD‘s taking on real ads in the magazine back in 2001 with some irate attendee. Sometimes they seem to really take this personally… like the fact that there are ads in MAD is an affront to their personal liberty.
Usually the person I have the debate with is an old hippy or codger, and they seem very offended that MAD has “knuckled under to The Man”. They also usually loudly question MAD‘s ability to continue to produce cutting edge satire amid the perception of their being answerable to advertiser’s direction. Anyone who thinks that obviously doesn’t know the people behind MAD very well. Having had the privilege of working with people like Sam Viviano, Nick Meglin, John Ficarra, Charlie Kadau, Joe Raiola and others, there is no reason to be worried about the content of the magazine in the least. Despite the self-depreciating humor that has always been a MAD tradition, MAD takes pride in it’s craftsmanship and the content of it’s magazine… a lot of it. The staff is involved in every single aspect of the content of the magazine from cover to cover, and they know what they are doing. They are given the editorial control they require, and aren’t afraid of going after whatever subject they want. At this point I usually mention the time they devoted a large portion of an issue to the “50 Worst Things about Video Games” (MAD #457, Sep ’05), which roasted virtually every video game company, trend and hype. In that same issue there were multiple ads for… video games! Funny, the video game companies continued to buy ads in MAD (and other DC comics). The addition of ads in MAD has meant only one thing to readers: 8 extra pages between the 48 they are used to seeing. What it has meant to the magazine is that they have the revenue to publish in color, with better paper and keep their accounting books in the black.
Logic dictates that with no compromise to their content, a MAD with ads is preferable to no MAD at all. Still there is almost no convincing some people. Many equate MAD with their childhood and some seem to consider any changes to MAD to be assailing those memories. Usually at this point I ask them when was the last time they bought a copy of MAD. Invariably they will say it’s been 15 or 20 years, but they still “page through it” at the newsstand… apparently just to make sure it hasn’t changed. I find it hard to take the opinion of someone who stopped reading MAD a long time before the ads started appearing seriously. An argument can be made that the reason MAD was forced to accept ads in the first place is because readers like this person stopped buying it.
There’s usually no winning this argument, as many of these folks just can’t accept that MAD has ads in it even if they haven’t actually read the magazine in many years. There is even some resistance to the fact that it’s in color now… yet another change that negates the comfort of having an unchanged MAD on the stands even if they never buy it.
The thing is that no magazine hangs around for 50 plus years and does not change itself to reflect the times and to try and stay fresh to attract new generations of readers. That is exactly what MAD is doing with it’s shortened segments and features like the Fundalini Pages, the color, the subject matter it makes fun of… they are trying to appeal to an increasingly plugged in younger generation. Unfortunately that means they might alienate some of their longtime fans and readers who either can’t relate or don’t like change. What’s MAD‘s recourse? Keep things old school, gain no new readers and watch their readership slowly die off? That’s short term thinking, and certain death for the magazine.
I certainly wish it was different, but it is what it is. My friend by this time has decided to move on, and gives me one last parting shot… usually something to this effect:
“Well, I’m sure Bill Gaines is spinnng in his grave.”
I could answer that Bill accepted advertising in the original comic book MAD back in the early 50’s, or that his longtime friend Dick DeBartolo has repeatedly said he believes Bill would have no problem with ads if it meant the survival of MAD and work for his “Usual Gang of Idiots”… instead I just call back after him:
“Gaines was cremated.”
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