About the Recent MAD News…

January 26th, 2009 | Posted in General

There’s been a lot of discussion over “teh interweb” the last few days about DC Comic’s announcement that MAD will be switching to a quarterly as of issue #500 in April. I’ve read a lot of lamenting about “the good old days” and some expected responses about how it’s what MAD deserves because its “content has gone downhill” in the last 5, 10, 15, 20 years…. blah, blah, blah. Some people are determined to blame the content of MAD for the current state of the magazine.

Anybody who honestly thinks the problems MAD has had with its circulation and readership is a result of its content does not:

  1. Actually read the magazine
  2. Know anything about the current state of the magazine/periodical business

Those who write on message boards and in response forums that MAD has “lost its edge” and “isn’t what it used to be”¬¨‚Ć remind me of MAD scribe Desmond Devlin‘s “The Untold History of MAD” article from MAD #400, which recounted the following part of MAD‘s historical timeline:

Also in 1952: The second issue of MAD goes on sale December 9th, 1952. On December 11, the first-ever letter complaining that MAD “just isn’t as funny and original as it used to be” arrives.

That’s funny because back in the 70’s MAD got letters from people saying it had gone downhill since the 60’s, and those in the 80’s said the magazine wasn’t as sharp as it was in the 70’s… etc. MAD art director Sam Viviano nails it when he says that MAD was “at its best when you first started reading it.” I really get a kick out of people who register for the MAD message boards and post once to complain how terrible the magazine is, but in the process of doing so admit they haven’t really read it in decades and just picked it up on the news stand that day and were appalled to find it wasn’t exactly as they remembered it. I find most of the people I engage in a discussion of the quality of the art and writing content in MAD today are basing their opinions not on having actually read any number of recent issues, but simply by dismissing it from quick glances or hearsay from others who also probably haven’t read any recent issues.

Dismissing the current content of the magazine as poor and blaming it for MAD‘s struggles is just plain wrong.

Admittedly I might be a little biased, but I think the content in MAD has been on an upswing for the last several years. Particularly on the political side, MAD has been producing some of it’s sharpest content in a long time lately. They have some exceptional artists and writers still working for them, in particular Hermann Mejia, who if you don’t think deserves to be included in the same class as greats like Jack Davis and Mort Drucker then you don’t know what you are talking about. The fore mentioned Desmond Devlin is consistently funny and poignant in his skewering of pop culture and current events. John Caldwell‘s contributions are always funny and enjoyable. Features like “The Fundalini Pages” and “The Strip Club” are positive and entertaining new content that are a departure from the traditional model. Writers like Jeff Kruse, Barry Liebmann and several others have been doing some funny political work lately. The movie and TV parodies have unfortunately become smaller parts of the content recently, but still accurately point out the absurdities and shortcomings of their subjects as penned by Devlin, Dick DeBartolo, Arnie Kogen and others. Sergio Aragon?¬©s is as good as they get. There is plenty of good writing and art in MAD today. Is it all great? No, hardly. There are features that fall flat and MAD struggles to find a balance between the Farely brothers excuse for humor that kids seem to find appealing and something more intelligent. However nostalgia aside there were plenty of duds in the classic MAD days that appeared between the brilliance… it isn’t that much different today.

MAD‘s real problem is one they cannot avoid… they are a magazine. Name me a single magazine, outside tabloid trash peddlers, that isn’t struggling badly right now. I suppose that’s all about content also, right? TV Guide used to sell over 20 million copies a WEEK, and now they sell about 3 million copies… I suppose the quality of their TV schedules has badly declined. Playboy used to sell over 7 million copies an issue and today they are at 3 million copies…. of course we all know the quality of naked women has decreased dramatically since the 70’s. Newspapers are in serious trouble right now, and I guess we can blame that on the poor quality of news reporting and writing in the papers, yes? Look at reading materials that target the younger generation… comic books titles are considered wildly successful best sellers today at levels that would have seen them canceled as dismal failures in the 70’s. The magazine industry, its ad revenue business model and its inefficient distribution system has eroded substantially under the weight of other sources of media consumption and in the last 10 years dramatically from largely free internet content and the exponentially growing number of households with computers and internet access. This is especially true with the younger generation, who have been weaned on getting their media and entertainment through a web browser. MAD‘s circulation started declining around the time cable TV exploded in households and video arcades started popping up on every street corner. Since then things like constantly advancing gaming consoles, increasing TV content choices and ultimately “teh interweb” had directly competed for the attention and entertainment dollars of the younger generation.

I’m not saying that none of the problems with circulation are internal. MAD has been trying different tactics and directions in an effort to appeal to a new generation of readers, and some of it has met with bad results. You can bet the farm that a lot of the decisions to replace cartoon and illustration based content with in-house pages like photo outtakes, text driven and photoshopped articles and features like “spot the difference”, etc are a result of trying to accommodate cost cutting demands from upstairs. Corporate cost cutting efforts also cut a great portion of their staff quietly over the last few years, leaving them with a smaller staff that has been seriously overworked.¬¨‚Ć In their efforts to cut costs and to compete with the internet, these cost cutting ventures have been eroding the very content that separates MAD from all that free internet stuff… the cartooning and writing that you don’t find online very often. However I will again point out that what’s mostly causing the struggles of MAD and any magazine on the stands these days has nothing to do with the content. MAD saw its biggest drop in circulation from 1974 to 1984, when the content was still being created by the legendary talents that made MAD great. Even if the 2009 MAD was given carte blanche to create as its editorial department saw fit, would it make that big of a difference in today’s marketplace? I’d argue that a MAD today with all its past geniuses at the height of their powers creating every page in the magazine would be in the same boat today’s MAD is.

So what’s next? In my opinion MAD will need to find a combination web/print model if it wants to adapt to the 21st century, which is exactly what all magazines that want to survive will need to do.¬¨‚Ć There is ongoing discussion about how to accomplish this at MAD. I think it likely some of the more timely content will start appearing on the web in some form, and the quarterly will hopefully be more richly illustrated and written, to take advantage of the longer production time and the few advantages print has over electronic media. MAD is a valuable property and brand, and it won’t go away entirely for that very reason. It faces the same challenges as all magazines today do, which has less to do with what’s between their covers than it does with the health of the marketplace it is trying to survive in.

MAD is one of the few places that cartooning and illustration of its kind appears, and if it ceases publication entirely the world will be a poorer place.


  1. jimbodraw says:

    Tom – I could not have said it better myself. What will we do without a lampooning device like MAD?

    We need something.

  2. yondaime_kazekage says:

    well said mr. richmond..

  3. Antzo8 says:

    True to the last word. But unfortunately some people don’t like to use logic to form their opinions. Oh well. Good luck to everyone at MAD and hopefully they can get through it in one piece. Issue 500 should be a winner.

  4. […] to a quarterly sachedule, and spin-off magazines Mad Kids and Mad Classics have gotten the ax. Tom Richmond has commentary, and Kevin Melrose rounds up reactions from elsewhere around the […]

  5. Monty says:

    Bottom line when it comes to complaining about content, Tom…some people just like to bitch and whine, regardless of venue. I recently bought my first subscription to MAD, two weeks ago actually, not so much because of the humor, but because of yours and Mark Fredrickson’s artwork, which is worth the price alone as far as I’m concerned.

    I’m disappointed that the number if issues will now be decreased, but I understand it. As a editorial cartoonist, I’m seeing the same thing with newspapers, due to declining readership.

  6. Steve Hearn says:

    I’m off out now to the cartoon store to collect and pay for my latest MAD editions! The quarterly publishing schedule might actually help the sales of MAD, so I have my fingers crossed that the magazine will have a MAD 2009!

  7. […] via Tom‚Äö√Ñ√¥s MAD Blog ¬¨¬™ Blog Archive ¬¨¬™ About the Recent MAD News‚Äö√Ѭ∂. […]

  8. […] promised, MAD Magazine artist Tom Richmond has posted a lengthy and insightful article on the recent announcement that MAD Magazine was dropping to a quarterly […]

  9. Mark Engblom says:

    ” MAD saw it‚Äö√Ñ√¥s biggest drop in circulation from 1974 to 1984, when the content was still being created by the legendary talents that made MAD great.”

    This fact ties into my own theory about MAD’s declining fortunes. I think the prime appeal of MAD in its first few decades (during the straight-laced 50’s and early 60’s) was that it was simply one of the only places…if not THE only place…for kids and teens to enjoy irreverent parody and snarky societal commentary. Once the 70’s rolled around, I think this spirit of irreverence had begun spreading out into other formats and venues, to the point were here in the 21st century, kids marinade in irreverent, snarky humor 24/7. Think about it: after several decades of stuff like Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park on TV, added together with various internet humor internet sites (Funny or Die, countless YouTube videos), and you realize the desire for the kind of irreverent humor pioneered by MAD is an itch that’s more than scratched by today’s firehose-stream of it from dozens of different sources. So, when MAD goes from being the ONLY place to get your fix of satire and parody to one of literally hundreds (if not thousands), it’s no wonder it gets lost in the shuffle. It’s too bad….and the challenge for MAD is to once again grab the miniscule attention spans of today’s humor-saturated youth.

    • Tom says:

      I couldn’t agree more. The kind of humor MAD brought to prominence is everywhere today. There wouldn’t be an SNL, “The Onion” or a “Daily Show” without MAD, and the internet is ripe with MAD-like satire and humorous observation. These days people confuse “originality” simply for who can shout the loudest. MAD was one of the originators, and it’s held on for so long that now it’s accused of being a lesser imitator.

  10. Bob Byrne says:

    Well said. Sad news, hopefully the story will be picked up by mainstream media, the same thing happened here when The Beano and The Dandy (long running kids comics) announced they were winding down, sales and interest picked up. MAD is an institution and I think the bad news will spur old readers to support the mag.

  11. Brad says:

    Well this is NEWS to me! Darn it! I just started getting my subscription 2 months ago, and Mad is going to be quarterly. That is sad. I completely agree with you Tom about Mad being on an upswing because of the likes of Herman Mejia and you forgot to add your self to one of the reasons. Your contributions are spectacular, especially that last spread with Obama. Truly awesome!

  12. Mark Hill says:

    Many publications have experienced the same sort of financial belt-tightening recently and after doing so, find themselves answering questions about their content.

    Here in Denver, The Rocky Mountain News was put up for sale last month. Since then, the editorial page has been filled with letters accusing the paper of changing its quality standards, etc — which “obviously” caused the current circulation problems.

    But these accusations ignore the fact that the same thing is happening across the country, at papers like the The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and The Seattle Post Intelligencer. As you alluded, most magazines are in the same (sinking) boat. Time Magazine and NewsWeek both reported last week that staff morale is in the dumps now, with circulation numbers down and reader criticism pouring in.

    It’s like watching a a fan base boo the home team because its losing games…most fans don’t know why the team is losing, just that they don’t like it. Unfortunately, almost everything in print media is losing right now.

  13. Eustace says:

    Playboy is skipping its August issue this year…
    U.S. News & World Report dropped from 52 issues per year to 12…
    Home Magazine was canned, as the housing market crashed…
    TV Guide recently changed hands for one dollar…
    Entertainment Weekly lost more than 80% of its newsstand sales in less than six months…
    The New Yorker lost a fourth of its ad pages in one year…
    The Publishers Information Bureau reports that every single category of advertisers reduced its ad budget in 2008..
    Major magazine distributors like Anderson News have upped their distribution fee per copy, even when the magazines don’t sell…

    …and people post online about Mad turning off readers because they “bashed Bush” too much.

  14. Tamer Selim says:

    Well said, as always, Tom! This definitely isn’t an isolated MAD problem…

    I wish you and the rest of the MAD gang all the best during this transition — while I hate seeing the print version diminish, it’s hopefully a great opportunity to leverage such a great brand in some new ways!

  15. Kevin Richlin says:

    Thank you for the news and your insightful response, Tom. I will do my part and continue to subscribe to Mad and your blog for decades, or at least until the last day of the Mayan calendar!

  16. Robert Loy says:

    Actually, due to silicone and implants I’d say the quality of naked women HAS decreased dramatically since the 70‚Äö√Ñ√¥s.

  17. Mugshotz says:

    Dropping from 12 to 4 published a year seems a bit rash to me. I’d think 12 to 6 would help things out and yet keep the magazine’s finger on the button of relavent topics. My hope this that is a temporary thing, and once the economy and MAD’s Geniuses figure out where to take the magazine in the 21st Century, we can see more published every year. My suggestion…. more Parodies, more Parodies, more parodies. Well they are my favorite, so what else am I to say? 🙂

  18. CW says:

    See the post at the top of the page:


  19. Shaggy says:

    Very well said. There are just so many people out there nowadays that seem to need something to complain about. I admit, its been a while since I have picked up a copy of the magazine for myself, but I always flip through the pages when I see the latest issue on the magazine rack…..and I still think its a good one to read.

  20. Speaking as a newbie UGOI, as far as text-based pieces I’ve always thought “Planet Tad” was/is very funny. Well-done humor that actually tells a story…and appeals directly to MAD teenage boy demo. (Like me x 30 years.)

  21. Nate says:

    It’s a bad situation for the magazine industry. I can only hope that MAD somehow can come to grips with the 21st century and continue publications via online and print.

    In MAD’s case though, it’s true that there’s SOOO much other satirical material out there, I’m not for sure how kids would eventually begin to love to read again – in print!

    The quality of the magazine has improved A LOT over the past few years! From the art, writing and everything else (well, except the advertising), it’s been growing – in my opinion. I have noticed the cutbacks recently with the ‘Lighter Side’ being reproduced and all of the Photoshop material, so I knew that they could’ve of been doing that well.

    When I interned at MAD in 04, it was a very fun enviroment, but I’m sure recently it’s been very stressful.

    I do know though that MAD is too big of a name to ever disappear. I can’t imagine what influences I would’ve had growing up if it wasn’t for MAD, and I really hope my kids (when I have them) can grow up with the same magazine – even if it is mostly online.

  22. T Campbell says:

    “MAD is a valuable property and brand, and it won‚Äö√Ñ√¥t go away entirely for that very reason…

    “MAD is one of the few places that cartooning and illustration of its kind appears, and if it ceases publication entirely the world will be a poorer place.”

    It doesn’t sound to me like you’ve entirely made up your own mind about whether MAD has a future or not. I can sympathize: my inability to make up my own mind about the latest developments in comics culture was why I was never all that comfortable as a blogger. But the ending of the piece undercuts you slightly. It shouldn’t: your TV Guide-Playboy-newspaper axis is a smart, strong argument that deserves its own post.

    • Tom says:

      There is a difference between “entirely disappearing” and “ceasing publication entirely”. Time Warner may try and move MAD onto the internet and try some kind of multimedia evolution of it. Some form of MAD will probably continue to keep the value of the “brand” up for licensing and reprint revenues. Even if successful that will be very different from the current print incarnation, and it’s the end of that incarnation that would be a terrible loss, IMO.

  23. Kurausuki says:

    Playboy used to sell over 7 million copies an issue and today they are at 3 million copies‚Äö√Ѭ∂. of course we all know the quality of naked women has decreased dramatically since the 70‚Äö√Ñ√¥s.”

    Actually, kinda funny you would compare that. Back in the 70’s the nude was a lot more risque and erotic, pushing the limits. In this day and age, a nude is seen more as a very tame, and not really worthwhile. Though the fact they only dropped to 3 million when there is easily accessible free stuff from a Google search says something.

    Someone above commented that MAD became one of many doing the same thing. With the attention span of the younger crowd, and even some of the older crowd these days, simply being one won’t cut it. Even if the quality is better than it was before, as a whole there needs to be some change to make it stand out above the sea to be noticed. It doesn’t matter if you are the best bolt in the bucket, unless you are painted Gold instead of left silver like the rest, you blend in all the same.

    I’ll admit, I never picked up a MAD magazine more than a glance at the bookstore. Nothing in it really ever drew me in. However, don’t discount what I’m saying as biased against it. I’m simply observing the arguments presented in this single article as I read it.

  24. Aaron says:

    I read my first issue of MAD in 1973. And it was awesome. I’ve been a reader ever since. I still read it, but the ones I read now belong to my 13 year old son. We read them together, a lot of times and laugh our butts off! I personally am glad that MAD has changed with the times. Its always relevant and always extremely funny. I LOVE IT!

  25. Dasgoot says:


    I think you’re definitely right about the quality of MAD – I was one of the ones that thought it was down in quality a couple years ago, until I picked up a copy and actually read it. I still do and I think it’s as good now as it was when I started reading it as a kid.


  26. Cliff Roth says:

    Ironically I posted about MAD the same day as your post about them switching to a quarterly publication. I have only recently gotten back into MAD, largely due to your blog. I sure hope they don’t end up like Cracked (which, growing up I preferred…..ok ducking now).

    I think the world would be a little worse off if the print version disappeared.

  27. Ignatz says:

    While it is painfully obvious that the publishing industry is in critical condition, Mad included, the bigger problem I see is DC’s absolute inability to foresee this and to make the moves needed to boost Mad’s bottom line sooner. The evidence in my eyes is quite damning:

    1. DC’s pathetic excuse for a Mad website. If web content is an obvious direction to include, then they have failed miserably. Tom, your website is more dynamic than Mad’s. Content is minimal, layout and design are uninspired and the most telling sign they’ve neglected this for too long: The page devoted to Mad books currently for sale doesn’t list all the books currently for sale, let alone offer links to buy them!!! (I won’t even get into the zero mention of Mad licensed merchandise for sale.) Way to entice the kiddies to help the economy, DC!

    2. Uh… Mad TV? You’ve had for the past 13 years a popular (enough) TV show reaching millions of people each week and DC couldn’t find a way to work with the show to plug the magazine? That would be a great venue to… oh wait. Show’s canceled (for now). Missed that boat…

    Look, I know it’s really bad out there. Playboy’s got a cable channel, a strong web presence, and of course, boobies, and the mag is struggling. I get it. But for DC to slash Mad the way it did without EVER aggressively addressing web and tv in the past, leaves a great deal of doubt that they’ll figure it out in the future.

    All this suggests, perhaps, that DC is resting on the value of Mad’s name from its past and is dropping the ball to ensure it’s future as a timely publication. We know the Mad brand is valuable, but I don’t need another large bound edition of repackaged classic articles. (I’ll still buy it, I’m obsessed that way – I just won’t be able to find out about it on Mad’s website) Mad needs serious attention and DC has too many pokers falling out of the fire.

    • Tom says:

      “but for DC to slash Mad the way it did without EVER aggressively addressing web and tv in the past, leaves a great deal of doubt that they‚Äö√Ñ√¥ll figure it out in the future.”

      In all fairness I have to point out that MAD did attempt a greater web presence way back in 2000, when it had original content weekly online. In fact technically my first work for MAD was via the on-line content they briefly had.

      This is good fodder for a blog post. Maybe later this week.

  28. Robert Gidley says:

    Hmm…this does explain why there’s no subscription cards in my latest issue (#498). Dammit, I use those to mark my place! And the extras make dandy fingernail cleaners!! MAD owes me subscription cards!

  29. C.J. says:

    I personally think the problem is that they are just not funny. If you aren’t funny and it’s your job to be then you will start to loose business. It happens.

    • Tom says:

      If you can honestly say you have read a few recent issues of MAD and still say it’s not funny, then fair enough.

  30. […] future. Here is a little info from Tom Richmond who I have written about in the past on the blog. (Toms Blog entry)¬¨‚ĆYou can see by the entry that even great artist like Tom are effected by the changes. Tom is an […]

  31. […] be more old news for most, but Mad Magazine has ramped down its publishing schedule. Tom Richmond quells some of our fears by talking about the good old days, which I found […]

  32. Bearman says:

    Just bought my first issue in a few years…plan on doing a full review on my blog in the next week or so but overall I enjoyed it. Two things:

    It was nice seeing your finished product with the inauguration in print. Only thing I would have done differently is have Al Gore standing next to Kerry and both of them thinking the same thing.

    What is the target audience for Mad?? An ad for tatoo removal?? ha ha

  33. […] Tom Richmond does a great job of explaining the perspective on the news from the point of view of a current illustrator for the magazine. He says many of the naysayers don’t understand the publishing industry or haven’t read it in a long time. […]


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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