"A short-lived satirical pulp" was how Time magazine described Mad magazine, in their Sept. 24, 1956, issue. The comment was not really directed at Mad. The Time editors were trying to - unsuccessfully - dismiss Playboy magazine, and Mad was mentioned in comparison. Time magazine would come to eat this sentence in the coming decades.
Mad was the brainchild of Bill Gaines who - after taking over his father's publishing business in 1947 - launched the satirical comic in 1952. After his company was gutted by the 1954 Senate comic book investigations, Mad was all Gaines was left with. He poured everything he could into it, and Mad quickly became a very large success. It also became a whole lot more. Using levity to poke fun at the overly serious, hypocritical, and phony culture portrayed by the 50s media, Gaines' humor began to have some serious effects.
The editor of The Humanist magazine, Brian Siano, probably said it best, reflecting how Mad taught his generation that "the toys we were being sold were garbage, our teachers were phonies, our leaders were fools, our religious counselors were hypocrites, and even our parents were lying to us about damn near everything."
Award-winning author Tony Hiss completely agrees, stating readers (readers? Ha!) of Mad in the '50s were able to oppose a war in the '60s, and turn out a president in the '70s. Journalist Robert Boyd has stated more than once "All I really need to know I learned from Mad magazine." Even former Senator and Civil rights activist Tom Hayden said "My own radical journey began with Mad magazine."
Filmmaker Terry Gilliam cites Mad as a main influence in his life. Andy Warhol stated it taught him to love those who were different. Multiple Pulitzer Prize nominee Joyce Carol Oates found Mad to be irresistible. Actress and producer Mindy Kaling credits a youth spent reading Mad for her current success. Roger Ebert credits his entire career to Mad, stating he "learned to be a movie critic by reading Mad magazine."
Both Art Speigelman and Gloria Steinem also acknowledge Mad's influence (although neither of them turned out to be very funny).
There would be no Saturday Night Live without Mad, and there would be no Simpsons.
How did Gaines do all this? Firstly, he surrounded himself with an unusually large amount of talent, also known as "the usual gang of idiots." Writers and artists including Harvey Kurtzman, Dave Berg, Don Martin, Sergio Aragones and Al Jaffee all contributed greatly to the magazine's silliness, which also equalled its success. Kurtzman came up with the now iconic cover-hogging character of Alfred E. Newman, and Jaffee was responsible for the back page fold-ins.
Gaines also did something else, which even avid readers of "Mad" are unaware of. The magazine has no advertising. This in itself is remarkable. So much so it was studied by Pennsylvania State University, who could only conclude that the financial success of Mad "should be impossible."
Although Gaines sold Mad to Kinney Industries in 1961 (for millions), he continued to helm the publication for them until his death at age 70 in 1992. An entire country mourned the man who taught them to always look at the lighter side of things for more than 40 years, with his obituary reading "WHAT, ME DEAD?"
And about the "short-lived" comment by Time magazine. Gaines continuously reminded Time about it in Mad's 100th, 200th, 300th, and 400th issue. It is unsure who gets the last laugh, as Mad is currently owned by Time; they bought it shortly after Gaines' death.
(I would like to dedicate this column to my father, who I think would have enjoyed it).