I was saddened to hear today that after years of sagging sales, MAD Magazine is going quarterly (and all spin-off titles are getting the axe). While Peanuts was my first love in comics, MAD was assuredly my second. It was satirical but not pretentious, naughty but not malicious. With cartoonists as amazing as Sergio Aragonés, Antonio Prohias, Don Martin, Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, Harvey Kurtzman, Mort Drucker and many more represented therein, MAD ensured itself a dedicated section of my bookshelf that exists to this day.
That being said, the change is understandable and more than a little expected. With the exception of a year or so in high school, I’ve never been a subscriber. I was introduced to MAD through my dad, who enjoyed both the magazine and pocket books as a kid, and encouraged by my mom, who tolerated many quests through used book stores searching for volumes which lay undiscovered. While modern films were being parodied in it’s pages, I was reading older back-issues from the book’s heyday. As great as many of the contemporary artists are, they’ve always felt foreign next to my yellowed, dog-eared copies of Captain Klutz, and parodies of Harry Potter have always seemed less like a private joke between the artist and I than did old satires of the Godfather series, Star Trek and MAS*H.
The more obvious issue is that of online competition. In an age of Pitchfork Media and IGN, it seems absolutely comical that I ever paid for copies of SPIN and Game Informer. I still believe that MAD offers a level of quality cartooning largely unparalleled on the web, but sites like YouTube are overflowing with the sort of irreverence and subversiveness that was once the source of MAD’s immediate appeal.
Mark Evanier is right when he says that the brand and personality of MAD are still too valuable to die quietly. While there are a plethora of well-written comics online, very few of them are also well-drawn. If MAD could capture the web’s attention while maintaining the standard of cartooning readers have enjoyed for over 50 years, we’d be the “gang of idiots” for not reading.