Since the news broke a few weeks ago about DC finally moving MAD out to Burbank to join the rest of the comic publishing division, I’ve read a lot of opinions on what the results of such a move are going to be. They range from yet another obituary on the death of MAD (these started right around the time Harvey Kurtzman left the magazine in 1956) to those who think in this day and age it doesn’t matter where it’s published, because all the artists and writers are freelance anyway and where the magazine is put together is immaterial.
It’s that last one that gets me. Those who would think that really have no idea of the importance of the editorial and art staff of MAD.
While it’s true that the writers and artists of MAD are, and always have been, freelancers, it’s always been the editors and art directors who make MAD magazine what it is. This started with Kurtzman, who literally had his hands and pen on every word and image that appeared in the publication. Later editors like Al Feldstein, Nick Meglin, John Ficarra, Joe Raiola and Charlie Kadau shaped the “voice” and humor of MAD. They were and are far more than just proofreaders that trim down scripts and correct punctuation. They are all talented writers in their own right, as well as shrewd judges of what “works” and what does not, and what is truly “MAD”. They start shaping the magazine by selecting the features and submissions by writers that make it into the magazine, continue by editing the articles gag by gag so what remains is quintessential “MAD”, and follow through by choosing the artists (if needed) to match the needs of each feature. The art staff takes over, laying out each article and directing the artists so that each written gag is served properly and everything “works”. Don’t get me wrong, the editorial and art staff let the writers and artists be themselves and allow us to do our thing, but they are always there to be sure our thing is still “MAD”.
I’m not worried MAD will lose its “voice” because it is changing coasts. Let’s face it, if they want to they can still potrzebie, furshlugginer, and hoohah, to their hearts content out west. My big concern is that, for the first time in MAD‘s 65 years history, there may be no natural passing of the torch on the editorial and art direction side. Consider… Feldstein took over for Kurtzman in 1956. Meglin and Jerry DeFuccio came onboard shortly thereafter, with Defuccio spending 25 years in the editorial staff and Meglin contributing for 48 years, the last 20 as main Co-Editor. In the 1980’s, Ficarra joined the editorial staff, followed by Kadau and Raolia, the latter now senior editors and John co-editor with Nick after Feldstein’s retirement in 1984, and now “VP of something-or-other”. On the art direction side, John Putman was art director for a long time, followed by others including Lenny Brenner and Sam Viviano, many of whom spent time as production artists before assuming the art director mantle and in Sam’s case “V.P of Art Schmucks” or something like that. In the last decade or two names like Dave Croatto, Jonathan Bressman, David Shayne, Greg Leitman, Jacob Lambert and others have started as associate editors and moved up to as high as senior editor, while on the art side people like Nadina Simon, Amy Vozeolas, Patty Dwyer and Ryan Flanders (among others) have moved from production and design to art direction, Ryan currently being “Design Director”… whatever that is.
My point is that in its long history, MAD has always operated with a kind of “handed down” system of what makes MAD “MAD”, both philosophical and technical. Today’s senior editors and art directors were yesterday’s “contributing editors” and “production artists”. They were weaned on the magazine and apprenticed in a fashion with the old guard, to eventually become the new old guard. Along the way they brought their own sensibilities to the equation, but still understood the MAD zeitgeist and kept it intact.
This tradition may not continue with this move out west. While no one has made anything official, my feeling is very few IF ANY of the current staff will be willing to leave their lifelong homes in NYC to migrate to California. This would mean a whole new staff who never had that time under the wings of the wise old clods, defenders of the veeblfetzer and champions of the nebbish… the “Usual Gang of Idiots” from a long line of Idiots. This may truly be a total reboot of the editors and art directors. That will mean a big change. Even leaving “voice” aside, the technical aspects of laying out, placing the text and pacing something like a movie parody is tremendously complex. You do not just start doing it from scratch.
I’m hoping that the current staff, barring an actual move to Burbank, will sign on as “consultants” for a transitional period of time. They can work over the internet with the new staff and maybe fly out there every other month for a few days to help the west coast clods get their furshlugginer feet wet with their first dozen issues or so. I’d hate to see 65 years of humor DNA go the way of the dodo bird.
What, me worry?
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