This one’s a real gut-punch, gang. I never thought I would find myself eulogizing the most stalwart American institution that ever lived, struck down just when we needed it the most.
As a kid, laughing over MAD was a bond my uncle and grandfather shared, so naturally, I wanted in. I literally learned to read from that magazine just so that I could get in on the jokes. When I was learning to draw, I copied Sergio Aragones’ margin drawings. Jack Davis was the first artist whose name I learned and whose handiwork I could recognize by style. Every year, when I went off to summer camp, I took a briefcase filled with MADs. Their biting satire taught me the most noble joys of comedy: speaking truth to power, and bodily secretions. In high school, I had an Alfred E Neuman shirt that I wore so beyond threadbare that it literally fell apart on me. As I got older, I learned about William Gaines’ faceoff with the McCarthy witch hunts, and was inspired by the courage his entire crew. When I was feeling spunky enough to start getting tattoos, one of my first was Black Spy and White Spy, flanking my collarbones like the angels of conscience.
As a younger professional illustrator, I was struggling with my work at the time, unfulfilled and stressed beyond belief. I was trying to be something I wasn’t, and denying the cartoonist in me. It was like I was walking around trying to talk in someone else’s voice. I spoke to Jack Davis on the phone, and he told me that he was 86 and just wanted to have fun cartooning. Those simple words brought into sharp focus what I needed from my career to survive, and honestly changed my entire life.
Years later, my daughter was born, and that first Christmas, my wife commissioned Mr Davis to paint a portrait of the kid. It’s an objectively beautiful piece, but it means universe to me because it’s an image of the driving force for the rest of my life, painted by the man whose work shaped everything leading up to that point.
When The Walking Dead’s television success brought it into MAD’s crosshairs, I knew I had been part of something culturally important. When I was later contacted to do a Davis/EC-style horror spoof as a takedown of Josh Duggar, it was officially the highest honor I could imagine as a cartoonist: to be published alongside the pantheon of idiots who were, and remain, my greatest lifelong heroes. Of all the high points in my career, getting that paltry paycheck with Alfred E Neuman’s face on the envelope has been the zenith, just because it officially meant I had breathed a whiff of that rarified air.
So today, I read the news that MAD Magazine is being cancelled, and I lament the loss. Not just for what it has meant to me in my life, but for the larger undeniable cultural impact that this institution has had, carrying the torch for some 70-plus years. I mourn this loss as deeply as I would a loved one. For as long as I can remember, this stupid magazine has been like a friend who comforted me, and a mentor who guided me. I can safely say that without its deep and indelible mark, my life would not be the same. I would not be the same. The world will be truly poorer in its absence.
MAD was always too beautiful for this world. It could stand defiantly in the face of any opposition, but was ultimately gutted by the world itself becoming a joke.