MAD AD for Ballpark Franks

July 16th, 2007 | Posted in MAD Magazine

Back in April I got a very unusual job from MAD. The client was actually Ballpark Franks (well, actually the Sara Lee Corporation), and they were about to launch a new ad campaign called “hunger”. This campaign was to feature TV and magazine ads with men who, upon seeing a Ballpark Frank hotdog, sprout a hairy and muscular arm from their stomachs which in turn seizes said hotdog for it’s own consumption. Ooooookay.

Ballpark Franks and MAD were collaborating on a kind of mini-MAD insert, which was to go into a number of DC comic books as well as the newsstand versions of MAD (for some reason the subscription versions were not going to get it). It had a MAD cover, six pages of “content” and then a back page ad with the guy and the arm. The “content” was done by MAD artists (myself, Sergio Aragones, Hermann Mejia and Sam Viviano) and were gags about the arm/hunger concept. I also did the cover. Here are my contributions:

Cover Illustration

Click for a closer look

Sergio did two pages of “A MAD Look at Hunger”, with several Sergio gags about the arm and hotdogs. Hermann and Sam collaborated on two pages of “The Museum of Hunger”, with several famous pieces of art redone to include the arm at a hotdog (American Gothic, David, The Scream, etc.). Mine is of course a send up of “The March of Progress” image (not my concept, just my art), here retitled “The Evolution of Hunger”.

My buddy Mark Engblom commented in an earlier post:

Say, speaking of MAD, I was hoping you’d talk a bit about the ad campaign appearing in this month’s comic books. You did a piece for it that was a take-off on the classic “evolutionary progression” image that I thought looked great. Yeah, all the fanboys are griping (as usual) about the insert , but I thought it looked great.

Thanks for the compliments, Mark. Yes, I expected some venom from comic readers and particularly from older MAD fans. I’ve read some comments on some message boards by fanboys whining about have to page through so many ad pages in the middle of their comics. Give me a break. Comics have been littered with ads since their inception. The amount of content of the comics they read is not being compromised. Is their attention span so short they lose their place after paging though a center section of ads?? That is truly pathetic. As for the MAD purists, there is certain to be a similar backlash as there was when MAD went to color and started accepting ads like their DC comic book counterparts. There will be a certain amount of “sell outs” and “Gaines must be spinning in his grave” comments. Gaines was cremated, by the way. All I can say to those people is welcome to the 21st century. We all wish MAD was still selling close to two million copies per issue and they could afford to thumb their noses at ad revenues. Sadly this is not the case for MAD or virtually any modern magazine. There isn’t a magazine in production today that existed 20 to 30 years ago and doesn’t pine for the “golden days”. At least these ads are creative and fun. I loved the 3-D Spy vs. Spy Mountain Dew commercials, and nobody seemed to have a problem with them. What’s the difference? I admit I winced slightly at the use of MAD‘s format itself as an advertisement, but it was short lived. This is a job, after all, and MAD is a working magazine, not some holy relic.

An ad for hotdogs in comic books is just another job, as far as I’m concerned. If there are rabid MAD fans out there who feel betrayed by first the ads and then this kind of campaign, then I’m sorry you feel that way. MAD is doing what it is required to do to stay viable and in print.


  1. mengblom says:

    As far as ad inserts go, the Ball Park Franks ad is probably one of the least-intrusive ones I’ve seen in awhile. The ones that actually deserve the scorn heaped upon them are the ones that can actually alter or damage the comic book they’re inserted into…such as smaller-sized booklets printed on heavier stock, causing folds, ripples, etc.

    Also, I’ve read a few blogs that say the MAD ad was the most entertaining thing about the issue of (fill in the blank)…as a slam against the lousy comic book story, apparently.

    As for your illustrations themselves, care to clue us in on some of those cameos on the cover? Those people in the crowd look waayyy too specific to be generic spectators. Some even look familiar!

  2. Tom says:

    Well, I can definitely understand being upset over an insert that messes with the readability of the comic, doing some of the things you list. I’ve gotten a kick out of some of the comments I’ve read about the “penis arms” in the ads. You would think that these fanboys would be intimately familiar with the anatomical location of the penis, many being the only ones to handle their own if you know what I mean. Of course they do read comics, so human anatomical knowledge might not be a strong suit. I do not know anyone who’s penis comes out of their stomach.

    Some of the faces are real people, but no one I know. I googled images for “Baseball Crowd” and used several faces from the different pictures for some of the foreground people. Interestingly I did a second version of this cover for the client, where I was required to draw four different executives from the corporation into the crowd. I don’t know if I can post that image.

  3. Mark Hill says:

    It’s funny to hear opinions from people who think all art should a “pure” vocation without any advertising entering into it.

    The minute you become a fan of any popular artform, you take a seat in a venue where the creative folks are paid, (and today especially), mainly through advertising revenues. (Of course, unpopular art by definition has very few fans.)

    I worked a few years as an editorial cartoonist and then as a comic strip cartoonist. Both fields are declining, as the newspaper industry is struggling with subscription rates maybe even moreso than MAD magazine…but anything you see in a paper now is nearly 80% advertising-supported. (I suppose I’ve completely sold out now, doing work primarily for advertising, book & card publishing and corporate clients.)

    The point is, if you and your colleagues at MAD weren’t being paid largely via advertising dollars, these fanboys wouldn’t get to see much of your fabulous work at all. Perhaps an insert using the MAD format is a little different than they are used to seeing, but any intelligent fan, (I guess that’s the distinction invovled), knows ads take many forms now. And as ‘mengblom’ said, the Mad piece looks to be entertaining — which is rare in any advertising.

  4. SteveH says:

    Your work here is great Tom! The baseball crowd is cool with no black ink lines! Nice! The species development is very well done. Again you leave me feeling quite inadequate but thats perfectly OK old chap!

  5. JasonSeiler says:


    Not that important to get into anything with the ballpark/penis arm thing . . . not worth the time. Your Harry Potter piece was done well, wonderful caricatures of everyone. I enjoyed the Ballppark advertisement as much as anything else in the issue . . . even though it’s a Ballparlk ad, it reminded me of classic MAD or at least from when I read it as a kid . . . loved your hunger evolution piece . . . again classic!


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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