I’m forgoing the Sunday Mailbag today to wish a happy 95th birthday to the great Al Jaffee.
The words “legendary” and “genius” get thrown around an awful lot these days, but if there is anyone in the world of cartooning to whom these words truly apply it would be Al. MAD Magazine has had many artists work for them whose level of talent and skill have been off the charts. Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Don Martin… the list keep on going. Some were incredible visual artists like Drucker, Wood, and Davis, some were unique combinations of written and visual humor like Elder, Kurtzman, and Martin. However for pure inventiveness, versatility, originality, and sheer, humor genius, Al Jaffee might be the best of them all. Kurtzman and the amazing Sergio Aragonés might be the only two, in my humble opinion, who would challenge Jaffee for that title.
At 95 Al Jaffee is still going strong. He’s still writing and painting MAD‘s iconic “Fold In”, which Al will tell you was a concept he came up with as the opposite to Playboy’s centerfold, which folded out. That kind of original, outside-the-box thinking is exactly what Al as all about. And of course the Fold-In is only a small part of what Al’s contributed to the magazine over the years. He’s been MAD‘s premier problem-solving, thinking man’s cartoonist for over 60 years, and he’s still as sharp and funny as ever. Case in point:
I was part of a group of the Usual Gang of Idiots attending a MAD event at the Savannah College of Art and Design a few years ago, at which Al was also present. I have to mention, as it’s pertinent, that at the time I was in a heavy mass-building phase in my workouts and I was particularly big and muscular. The whole group was having lunch and Al’s delightful wife Joyce, quite a cut-up herself, was commenting on my physique. She looks at Al, points to me and says “Why don’t you have arms like that?”
Al, without missing a beat, looks at her and says in his impossibly deep voice, “I’m too cheap to buy new clothes.”
It was several minutes before anyone at the table was able to stop laughing.
Happy birthday, Al!
And, Happy birthday to another important and highly talented MADman, Sam Viviano. Sam has been a true mentor of mine for many years. His contributions to the magazine, both through his terrific artwork and, in the last 15 years, as the art director, do not receive the kind of attention and appreciation they deserve. One of these days I will share the story of how I convinced him to conduct a private weekend workshop in inking for me. Happy birthday Sam!
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