The news wasn’t completely unexpected or shocking. Mad magazine’s last issue will be published next month.

After that we’ll have to get our humor and satire from the likes of Jon Stewart, Colbert and the others, all of whom owe their success to the “usual gang of idiots” that was the Mad staff for almost seven decades.

My memory, not too reliable, tells me the first issue arrived via the U.S. Postal Service wrapped in a “plain brown envelope,” just like the other sleazy stuff advertised on the back pages of comic books – ads for lonely hearts clubs, Charles Atlas body-building plans, and those titillating ads for “naughty” playing cards.

Living in the middle of the country in the middle of the last century was not as idyllic as it appeared on the surface. Sure, Americans enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world. We had refrigerators, washing machines, appliances galore. But there was a dark side: The Cold War. The threat of nuclear annihilation. You couldn’t escape it. At school there were drills in case the Russians attacked us. We practiced duck and cover in the school’s basement. Bomb shelters sprang up like mushrooms after a fall rain.

The result was, we lived under a kind of schizophrenia that kept stress levels high and was our constant companion. On the surface we had “things,” we could afford more things. But under it all lurked a darkness that no one would acknowledge.

Into that darkness like a comet was this scrawny, dumb-looking comic book, about 28 pages or so. It was Mad, on its cover Alfred E. Neuman, the original dweeb, or nerd. So irreverent. So unabashedly not classy. The artwork on the cover shouted to us that inside was real, truly original art: artists like Wallace Wood and Will Elder became known for drawing irreverent stuff on cartoon chests. Like “How’s your mom, Ed?” Or Neuman’s favorite: “What, Me Worry?” The slogan for the times, which would soon change.

It was great. Terrific artists, wonderful writers of satire. Superman became “Super-Duper Man”  and still couldn’t get a date with Lois Lane, who often said, “So he’s Superman, he’s still a creep.” And then there were the clean-cut teenagers of the Archie Comics – Jughead, Betty and Veronica, well behaved as if they just got off American Bandstand.

Here’s how paranoid life was back then: One spring day I was walking with my mother down a busy street in my neighborhood and suddenly my mother’s hand tightened on my arm as we passed a harmless-looking man standing as if lost in the crowd.

“He’s a Communist,” my mother whispered, as we made a wide arc around him.

A popular television show was “I Led Three Lives,” about a common man who was secretly a Communist. Every week we’d see average people getting hustled away by the FBI. They all looked just like my parents and other everyday people.

There was the Congressional Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, which took Mad to task for not being in step with the rest of society; i.e., aren’t we happy with all these things? They took it upon themselves to create the Comic Codes Authority, a quasi-government agency that would approve all comic books to make sure they toed the party line (sound familiar?) The editors of Mad wriggled out of censorship by adding a few centimeters to the page size and suddenly Mad comics became Mad magazine and escaped the censorship.

So for Mr. Neuman, a toast: “What, Me Worry?”


Comments are not available on this story.