To Foldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before…

March 31st, 2008 | Posted in General

The Pixie-ish Al Jaffee

Al Jaffee is a wonder.

If you are lucky enough to meet the man, you’ll see that at 87 he is as sharp as a razor, still has a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and is ever the consummate gentleman.

I met Al only once, at MAD holiday party a few years ago when he was still a little wet behind the ears at only 84. I had the fairly newly published book MAD ART under my arm and intended to accost any and all MAD artists at the party and beg them to sign my book on their particular entries. I approached Al a little timidly as he was deep in conversation with Paul Peter Porges, and anyone who has every been in “deep conversation” with Porges knows it is no small matter. I introduced myself during a lull in the exchange (I think Porges might have fallen off his chair or was similarly distracted), expecting an accommodating smile, a scribbled signature and perhaps a little small talk to be polite to a fellow MAD freelancer about 1,000 rungs farther down the later than he was.

To my surprise he instantly recognized my name, rattled off the names of a few of the jobs I’d done in the last year or two for MAD and told me he loved my work and thought I was a great addition to the magazine! I was thunderstruck, to be honest. He signed my book “To Tom, with Admiration, Al Jaffee”. Wow, that sort of made my decade.

The NY Times ran a big article on Al yesterday, which I heartily recommend reading. Although he’s know for his “Fold In” feature, he has been of far more importance than that for MAD for over forty years. People sometimes forget that he also wrote and illustrated some many hundreds of other articles including “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”, product parody stuff, Rube Goldberg-esque imaginary inventions and other contributions too numerous to mention and of surprising diversity. Sergio refers to Al as “The guy who can do anything”.

Al Jaffee is nominated for the National Cartoonists Society‘s Reuben award for “Cartoonist of the Year”, and as worthy as the competition is I hope he takes home the gold. He’s been a marvel for a long time, and hope fully for a long time to come.


  1. pmcmicheal says:

    WOW, What an incredible opportunity to meet Al “AND” have him be an admirer of YOUR work! How cool is that!!!!! I discovered MAD as a boy in the 1970’s…it truly was my bible and my artistic inspiration. Tom, Some day a young artist will approach YOU with the same gleam in their eye as you gave Al Jaffe! I’m sure that will be a sweet moment!

    P.S. Thank You so much for adding my name to your links list!

  2. mengblom says:

    It would be a travesty if Al didn’t get the Reuben. I’d like to hear the reasoning of those NCS members NOT voting for him. Heck, the other two guys up for the same award will probably vote for Al, too! What a No-Brainer!

    Do you guys have some kind of “Lifetime Achievement Award” kind of thing for guys of Al’s stature? That might be the way to go, rather than making it a competition between the oldsters and up-and-comers.

  3. Tom says:

    Thanks, Pat!

    I cannot imagine Al NOT winning that award… although it is an issue of contention among members who consider the strict rules of giving the award based on the work of the previous 12 months and not based on any larger body of work vs. those that see it as an ultimate recognition of cartooning greatness.

    There is a lifetime achievement award, the “Milton Caniff Award”, that is supposed to honor the careers of cartoon greats. That is what the purists argue should be given to legends like Al who never got the “Cartoonist of the Year” award and are nearing the end of their careers (although Al outliving me is a fair bet).

    That said, whenever a cartoon legend is nominated they usually take home the prize, even if their work of the last year isn’t what is really being weighed. Once you win the Rueben you aren’t eligible for nomination again, so great cartoonists that for some reason or another were overlooked when their work was more plentiful or prominent get the nod when nominated later in life. In 98 Will Eisner, Jack Davis in 2000 and Matt Groening in 2002 are some in the last 10 years that really were lifetime achievement Reubens.


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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