Sunday Mailbag

February 13th, 2011 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I’ve read your answer to the question “do you do any writing for MAD?” (you add background gags and jokes, but don’t write the dialogue, yes?), but who does the writing for MAD? How does that work?

A: Having never written anything per se for MAD, I don’t know firsthand about the writing process for them. I have learned a fair amount about it from writers who I have corresponded with, however. Several MAD writers occasionally drop by the MAD Blog just to make sure I am not talking smack about them, so if I have any of this wrong maybe they can set us straight or add to the description.

Most of the articles and features in MAD, like the artwork, are created by freelancers. Unlike the artists, who get assigned to do the art for an already written and edited article, most writers submit ideas for articles to the MAD editorial staff and don’t get paid for anything unless they article is “picked up” and they are paid to complete it. Here is how I understand how writing a typical MAD article works:

  1. A freelance writer submits one or several concepts for an article to the editors at MAD. This is true even of the writers who are regular contributors to the magazine. Sometimes what they submit are fully written features but often they are outlines or detailed descriptions of an idea for the editors to consider, called a “pitch”. From what I understand, the more familiar the editorial staff is with the writer (i.e. those who have done a lot of writing for MAD in the past), the less detailed and complete the submitted idea needs to be.
  2. The editors consider submitted ideas. Those they like they agree to buy from the writer. They contact the writer and have them complete the article. MAD has a standard page rate for writing that is somewhere between $1.00 and $1,000,000.00 per page (likely more toward the $1.00 end of that scale, but they won’t say).
  3. The writer submits the first draft script to the editors, who then edit it. The editorial staff takes a very active role in the production of all articles. They will consider, discuss and debate the effectiveness of the gags and readability of the article as a whole. Like the art direction, they will ask for changes to be made, cut some of the content, rearrange things… whatever they feel makes the article stronger, more impactful or (hopefully) funnier. The writer might be asked to refine the edited script, or the edited version might be ready for art.
  4. Once the article is done, the editors assign a freelance artist to do the illustrations.

Most articles in MAD have a credit on the first page for writer and artist. MAD has a group of freelance writers they use regularly like Dick DeBartolo, Arnie Kogen, Desmond Devlin, Jacob Lambert, Barry Liebmann, Jeff Kruse and many others. The editorial staff at MAD also write articles, so anything you see in the magazine without a writer credit was done by the staff. There are also some freelancers who both write and draw their contributions like John Caldwell, Teresa Burns Parkhurst, Peter Kuper and many of the comic strip and short one page article creators.

The one exception to the above process are movie and TV show parodies. Writers do not submit ideas for those. The editorial staff decides on which shows or movies they want to parody, and then assign a freelance writer to do the script. Most artists like myself just get assignments. We seldom if ever submit ideas for consideration.

I can tell you this if you or anyone reading is thinking about submitting an idea to MAD for an article… don’t submit an idea for one of their current or classic features. They don’t want or need any “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”, “Spy vs. Spy” ideas, etc. etc. or TV or movie satires. Come up with something new and original… they are always looking for that kind of material.

Thanks to Evan 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 your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!


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