Beloved cartoonist Al Jaffee has passed away.
Al Jaffee, the ingenious Mad magazine illustrator who was as adept at creating wacky cartoon gags as he was at producing caustic social commentary, and whose drawings, he cheerfully suggested, helped corrupt the minds of generations of young Americans, died April 10 at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 102.
The cause was multiple organ failure, said his granddaughter Fani Thomson.
For 55 years, he encouraged fans of the satiric magazine to mutilate it.
Al Jaffee, a cartoonist who folded in when the trend in magazine publishing was to fold out, thereby creating one of Mad magazine’s most recognizable and enduring features, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 102.
In real life, however, Mr. Jaffee was the opposite of a smart aleck: a genteel, unassuming man whose in-person humor was delivered with a wink, not a cudgel. He adorned each of his drawings with a tiny self-portrait, a kind of logo, with his name scrawled in his hair.
Al contributed to MAD magazine from 1955 until his retirement in 2020. His most famous contribution to American popular culture was his inside back cover for the magazine the MAD Fold-In which he created and drew from 1964 to 2020. But his contributions to MAD didn’t begin or end with his Fold-Ins. He created and cartooned other iconic comic ideas such as MAD’s Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, Hawks & Doves, Mad Medals, and more. He had more MAD ideas than he could possible draw so the great “Usual Gang” illustrated concepts he created and scripted. His portfolio for MAD is indexed at Doug’s cover site.
By the time Al joined MAD he had already put in a decade in comic books. He got his start for a few months in 1941/42 before World War 2 interupted his life (but not his cartooning).
He returned to comic books after WWII, mostly with Timely/Marvel.
When he got the regular gig at MAD he stepped away from the 10¢ floppy comic books. But his creativity was too great and he needed more space for his ideas, so he developed a daily and Sunday comic strip. Tall Tales ran from 1958 to 1966. Then with co-creator Frank Bolle he went another two years writing the Debbie Deere comic strip.
With the end of his daily newspaper deadlines Al began creating original material for MAD paperbacks.
MAD couldn’t keep up with the voluminous ideas flowing from Al’s fertile imagination, so other original paperbacks:
Edited to add what is perhaps Al’s least known series but outside of MAD his longest assignment.
For more than a quarter century, right under our noses, the legendary Al Jaffee—who has drawn cartoons for Mad since 1955, most notably inventing the Fold-In (yup, he invented it and draws it)—has been producing a regular comic for a Chabad-connected bimonthly in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. In every issue since 1984, readers of The Moshiach Times have enjoyed the tales of Shpy, a bearded agent, as he battles the evil Yetzer Hora (“Evil Inclination”).
With a closet full of disguises and more gadgets than 007, the Shpy volunteers his services when innocent people or ancient traditions are imperiled. He escapes from a giant Mixmaster when investigating a case of stolen hamantaschen, and thwarts a mysterious bee infestation that nearly spoils the fall holiday of Sukkot. In one installment, he invents a repellent to keep the sinister Yetzer Hora at bay, complete with a catchy slogan: “Let us Shpray.”
From 2020 is a career spanning interview with Al at The Comics Journal.
We shed a tear at Al’s passing while retaining a smile thinking of his inimitable humor.
images © respective copyright owners