Thrift store finds: Howling MAD

I was reading The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History last weekend. Bill Oakley, one of the producers of The Simpsons during its’ golden years mentions the series’ place in the world:

The Simpsons has transplanted MAD Magazine. Basically everyone who was young between 1955 and 1975 read made, and that’s where your sense of humor came from. And we knew all these people, you know Dave Berg and Don Martin- all heroes and unfortunately, now all dead. And I think The Simpsons has taking that spot in America’s heart.

I would agree with most of the above, but I’d mess around with the dates a little bit. I was obsessed with MAD Magazine well into the 1990’s, and most of the guys Oakley mentions were still producing work for the book. Sure, Dave Berg was still making jokes about hippies in 1992… and Don Martin had absconded to Cracked (you can click over here to read all about that, if you’d like), but the magazine was still very much present in the hearts and minds of most of my friends and myself.

MAD Magazine’s seen better days than now; quite a few fans were miffed when the magazine started printing advertisements… and MAD recently went to a bi-monthly schedule. There’s no denying that the shadow that MAD Magazine casts over pop culture is quite large indeed, but I think the book is no longer the repository for all things sarcastic in American humor, having been replaced with more immediate forms of snark. By the time the Mort Drucker parody of the latest big budget Hollywood disaster movie hits the magazine racks, that flick has already been thoroughly eviscerated by any number of comedy blogs, YouTube videos, and goofy podcasts. The magazine’s still terrific (I have a subscription for my classroom) and if you can get it in front of kids, they love it… they’re just not as likely to seek it out anymore.

Finding MAD was never a problem for me when I was growing up. Besides the monthly issues, they regularly released Super Specials full of old content that I scooped up whenever I found them ($3.50… Cheap!). This was the best way to see old material- when Batman came out in 1989, for example… MAD reprinted their spoof of the Adam West/Burt Ward TV series in a Super Special. For many years however, the only game in town for MAD reprints was chintzy paperbacks!

MAD Magazine paperback reprints were a HUGE deal, published by no less than THREE different publishers (Signet, Ballantine, and Warner Books) and stretch over 200 different titles. From what I’ve gathered, collecting these books is like wading into a bottomless morass of variant covers, disparate content and boxed sets. People who try to cobble together a complete collection of these books have been driven over the edge insane with all the various books to keep track of… although MAD writer Dick DeBartolo has provided a decent checklist HERE.

Today I’m going to look at one of the earlier MAD paperbacks, Howling MAD.

MAD paperbacks have been a source of my greatest regret when it comes to thrift store shopping. Earlier this year, someone dropped off a whole bunch of these paperbacks to the St. Vincent DePaul store. I found a couple of them and was really excited to buy them all… but the book section of my thrift store is notoriously messy and although they were only a buck apiece (marked up a little bit from the usual fifty cents a paperback the place usually charges). I decided to pass on them and wait a few days for the store’s monthly half-off sale. Yes, I am that cheap. Needless to say, when I went back for them a few days later, the books were gone, gone gone… and I learned a lesson. If you see something at the thrift store that you really want… pick it up! They still turn up pretty regularly, but it would have been cool to snap up a bunch of ’em in one fell swoop.

Howling MAD was mixed in with the paperbacks and only cost me a measly two quarters. The copyright date at the front of the book is 1967 and most of the material collected here seems to be from around that date… although there was a lot less topical stuff than I normally look for in a MAD collection. The only cultural “tell” that I could obviously see in the book was the extended parody of the CBS Nightly News with Walter Cronkite.

Other than that, many of the features reprinted in Howling MAD could be re-run today with very little confusion from a 21st century kid. Spy vs. Spy translates to any generation. I found that kind of interesting. I always thought of MAD Magazine as being the most current, reactionary thing going when I was a kid. It was very likely one of the first places that sowed in me a distrust of authority, as MAD’s default position is that everybody’s an idiot and out to screw you over in some way. I was surprised to find that most of the jokes in here weren’t as timely as I once imagined!

I also have to confess, I was a little bummed that there didn’t seem to be an all-inclusive theme to this collection. This is just a random jumble of MAD stuff. To be fair… that’s my problem, not the book’s issue. My preference is toward a collection with some all-encompassing reason… like a book of all movie parodies, or a collection of nothing but Don Martin cartoons.

Moving many of these strips from an expansive magazine format to a significantly smaller book format does the art no favors, as you can see in this The Lighter Side Of… feature:

Comics are chopped up and spread throughout Howling MAD in a functional fashion. It gets you to where you need to go, but it’s hard to appreciate in the same way as the magazine. Certain artists certainly fare better than others- while I don’t think Dave Berg’s work does well in this format single panel gag writers like Don Martin and Sergio Aragones’ work is a far better fit for the paperbacks. This probably explains why Martin’s paperbacks were so ubiquitous throughout these paperbacks (I’ll be looking at one of those next week), although some of the Martin cartoons chosen for this book are downright perplexing. I mean, look at this one:

…why, from all the Don Martin comics that you have to choose from, would you pick a strip like this to put in a paperback? One that extends all the way across the page like that? It seems weird to me.

Anyhow, the writing’s a sharp as always. This one was definitely worth fifty cents.

2 Responses to “Thrift store finds: Howling MAD”

  1. disaster movie is hilarious, i laugh for hours just watching that movie `”~

  2. […] how awkwardly positioned some of these comics are when reprinted in paperbacks. You can look at my Howling MAD post or my Superman post for visual evidence to […]

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