Sunday Mailbag- MAD Content Ownership?

March 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: ¬¨‚ĆIn regards to recurring characters like Spy vs Spy, Melvin and Jenkins, and Monroe etc does mad own the rights to those characters (I’m assuming they DO own Spy vs Spy) or does the original artist/ writer still own them?

A: Since it’s inception, all the work done for MAD is created as work-for-hire. That means MAD owns the copyright to the specific work and any and all characters or concepts created through that work. That means MAD owns “Spy vs. Spy”, “Melvin and Jenkins”, “Monroe”, concepts like “Celebrity Death Betting Odds”, “The MAD Fold-In”, “The Lighter Side of…” etc. MAD can reprint them as they like, or assign new artists and/or writers to work on them (like Peter Kuper doing “Spy vs. Spy” or when Tom Fowler briefly did the art for “Monroe”). MAD owns the rights to all the art I do for them. I needed special permission from Warner Bros to print some of it in my book in the chapter on how caricatures work in a MAD parody.

Work for hire is generally a bad deal for creators, and because of that some cartoonists refused to work for MAD. Arnold Roth famously refused to do work for MAD in its early days, even though he was pals with Harvey Kurtzman, because of the work for hire thing. I would never fault anyone for refusing to do WFH. I usually do not agree to it, but MAD is an exception I have no problem making.

I am not sure about more recent characters, concepts and properties. It’s possible that some of the “Strip Club” work or features like “Planet Tad!!!!!” have special agreements with MAD wherein their creators still retain the rights, but I doubt it. Subject to the correction of the MAD editors, I believe all work that appears in the magazine is ©MAD Magazine/ E.C. Publishing and owned by them.

Thanks to Clive for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Simon Oleny says:

    It seems to be that pre-existing material re-printed with permission happens sometimes, ala the Tom Lehrer Dept


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