As It Happens

Spy vs Spy cartoonist says Mad magazine will live on in the satirical art it inspired

After 67 years, Mad magazine is effectively shutting down.

'You'll see Mad around no matter what, as long as we live in this mad, mad world'

Alfred E. Neuman at Comic-Con International. Mad, the long-running satirical magazine will be leaving newsstands after its August 2019 issue. (Kevin Sullivan/The Orange County Register via The Associated Press)
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After 67 years, Mad magazine is effectively shutting down. 

The last issue will hit newsstands in August. The illustrated humour magazine will still be available in comic shops and through mail to subscribers. But after its fall issue, it will just reprint previously published material.

But to quote the magazine's gap-toothed mascot Alfred E. Neuman, "What, me worry?" Or at least, that's Peter Kuper's mentality.

He's been drawing the Spy vs Spy cartoons in the magazine for the past 23 years, and he spoke with As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner about what Mad means to him. Here is part of their conversation. 

Have you been hearing from folks at the magazine?

I haven't been.

I mostly saw the same news you probably saw … so I'm still waiting to hear.

The way I look at it is Mad has survived many things over the years. 

There was the un-American activities committee in 1954, which killed all of the company that was producing that. And the only thing left standing was Mad. 

And then in 2008 and during my run after the [economic] crash, the magazine went quarterly … and you know we came back from that.

And considering, you know, the circulation of Mad now ... I think it's double that from Time and Newsweek combined —  which is totally not true. But, you know, I live in the United States where we just say whatever we want and you sort it out. 

You must work for Mad magazine. 

[Laughs] Correct. 

The circulation is still actually, it's like 140,000 copies. That doesn't sound like a death sentence just yet but, you know, we'll see.

A new exhibit celebrating the artistic legacy of MAD magazine that includes several examples of magazines over the years is displayed. (Andrew Welsh-Huggins/The Associated Press)

It's interesting that so many people ... are speaking out about how important this magazine has been to them. One of those people: Weird Al Yankovic. Today he tweeted, "I can't begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid – it's pretty much the reason I turned out weird. Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions."

I would follow him on all that except for the goodbye part, because … discovering that humour and politics could coexist, the whole idea of laughing at everything and not taking yourself too seriously …The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, the Onion, The Daily Show, all of those are the result in one way or another of Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of Mad's genius. 

And so it has embedded itself in our culture in a way that will never go away because you're basically looking at the children of Mad magazine in all these different art forms of humour, politics and just generally not worrying.

You talk about the rich history of political and social commentary. Can you give me some of your personal highlights? What stands out for you? 

There was a back cover that completely blew my mind that showed a soldier on his way back from Vietnam in a parade and he's carrying, instead of a gun, a giant syringe — implying that he's a heroin addict. 

And the idea that this humour magazine would have something that was so unhumorous as part of the mix along with Al Jaffe's fold-ins and all the other things that were going on in the magazine, gave me the sense … that there wasn't a line that had to be drawn between the social commentary and something that was just a gut laugh. 

What about the politically correct era that you know curtailed so much comedy and that many comedians have been speaking out about. Did that affect Mad?

In various degrees, no doubt, just because it is all pervasive. But at the same time I would say that ... they're in a lot of ways responsible for the kind of humour that has moved the line of what you can and can't say. 

We're in a cultural place where … you can step off the path and people will be insulted. But, then again, that has been the very thing that Mad loves to do. So I'd say it's mostly on the path of stepping off the path.

And so what if this is, in fact, the end of the path and there is no more new content for Mad?  

There will be no more laughter in the world will just all be sad and crying and just sit around.

In one form or another, as you said, because it's been embedded in so many other art forms, it will be there no matter what. 

Artists like myself who have been so influenced by it are going to continue to do something that is essentially the result of Harvey Kurtzman's influence and Mad's influence over the years. 

You'll see Mad around no matter what, as long as we live in this mad, mad world.

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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