I’m going to do something different today for Monday MADness and send you all via this magic link to the blog of Mark Evanier, to read a terrific piece about the late MAD editor Al Feldstein he wrote this past weekend. Feldstein was the editor of MAD for about 29 years, and Mark’s post really lends some insights into Al’s career and why it was very unique. He talks a lot about some of the things that made Al Feldstein a polarizing figure in MAD history. Some people will tell you Al had nothing to do with the things that made MAD great, that we was nothing but a manager and organizer and did almost nothing creative, that he made a disproportionate amount of money compared to the writers and artists that were the heart of the publication. Others might say he didn’t get enough credit for the magazine’s success.
I never met Al Feldstein, and I certainly never worked with him. He left MAD in 1984 or 1985 (depending on who you talk to) and I was busy graduation high school about then. I have gotten to know many of the people who did work with Feldstein, and the feeling I get is that Al was a hard-nosed editor that demanded respect of deadlines, didn’t tolerate sloppy work, was not very friendly, and ran an ultra-tight ship. One can argue that the creative people that made the funny content of the magazine needed someone like that or the magazine would never have gotten published some months, and I cannot disagree. As a creative type, deadlines are the only thing that keep me on task.¬¨‚Ä† Some of the animosity Mark mentions over the money I have seen some hints of from long-time MAD guys, and I would be hard pressed to blame anyone for that. Let’s face it, getting a magazine out like clockwork every issue doesn’t meant a thing if what’s inside that magazine is not something anyone wants to read, and MAD hasn’t been around for 60 years because it came out on time and with all the pages nicely keylined. Some of the other long-time editors, particularly Nick Meglin, had a lot more to do with the content that ultimately made MAD MAD than Feldstein, and Mark seems to agree in his article.
I do think Feldstein deserves a lot of credit for the success of MAD for several reasons. First, he did corral a whole cast of creative geniuses who probably desperately needed corralling, and got a magazine full of brilliant cartooning and writing out regularly… no mean feat. Anyone who thinks brilliant content is all that’s required for success need only look at what happened to Harvey Kurtzman after he left MAD. Second, as I understand it Al was instrumental in finding and contracting most of those creative geniuses who made that great content. Kurtzman took most of the contributors to his MAD with him to Hugh Hefner‘s camp and Trump, and when Bill Gaines hired Al to take over as editor he advertised and found the creative people who became the Usual Gang of Idiots like Mort Drucker, Frank Jacobs, Bob Clarke, Dave Berg, Don Martin and many others. Maybe finding one or two of those would be dumb luck, but the all-star cast he assembled speaks of shrewd judgement of talent and a vision of what he wanted for the magazine. That alone is reason for major credit for the success of MAD, even if Al didn’t provide any of the humor himself.
Anyway go read Mark’s post if you are interested. It’s well worth the time.
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