MAD Archives Volume 4
$59.99, color, 243 pages
Writers and artists: The Usual Gang of Idiots
Reprinting MAD #19-24 (Jan-Jul 55)
This is such a wonderful and wonderfully perfect book, it makes me weep that it's the last.
Let's start at the beginning, as we should, with a wonderfully perfect Introduction by Mark Evanier. There we have codified an important comic-book-history fact as perfectly clear as perfectly clear can be.
As every comics reader knows, MAD began as a comic book, but became a magazine with its 24th issue. Most believe this was to escape the Comics Code, which essentially took down every other comic book in EC's stable. But that belief is wrong.
At the time, Evanier explains, MAD creator/editor/writer/layout artist Harvey Kurtzman was agitating for MAD to become a magazine, not only because it was the only way the painfully slow Kurtzman could make more money, but also to escape the comic-book ghetto and earn a little prestige. And Gaines reluctantly did so, even though Kurtzman bolted anyway, to Hugh Hefner's new magazine Playboy.
Isn't that a cool thing to know? I actually did know it already, but nobody writes comic-book history clearer than Evanier, and now I have a pithy quote to lift when I'm writing about this the next time I write about this. (Because, if history is any judge, there will be a next time I write about this.)
Then comes the book itself, reprinting the last five issues of comic-book MAD, and the first issue of magazine MAD. I was looking forward to these issues especially, because the first 12 or so issues of MAD have been reprinted zillions of times, but these issues not so much. I'd read pieces and parts, but never the whole enchilada. And now I have, and it was well worth the wait.
MAD focused primarily on comics and comic strips in its early issues, but in these -- perhaps anticipating the shift to magazine format -- a lot more TV and movie parodies began to slip in. Oh, there are comics and comic strips galore, including classics like "Gopo Gossum," "Poopeye" and "Mickey Rodent." But we also see parodies of some great '50s movies, including "The Barefoot Contessa," "The Caine Mutiny" and "On the Waterfront." And other material creeps in, too, such as "Scenes We'd Like to See" (which became a regular feature for years) and oddball targets like supermarkets, sound effects and fine art.
But whatever the target, MAD's aim rarely missed. Not only was Kurtzman a certifiable genius whose approach to humor influenced subsequent generations to this day, but he was abetted by an all-star cast of artists, primarily Jack Davis, Will Elder and Wally Wood. Others contributed, but the bulk of these issues are by Kurtzman and his Trinity, and they are just as perfect as perfect can get.
Which is a shame that DC isn't planning a Volume 5. I can understand why this is a natural stopping point, with Kurtzman leaving and the shift in format. But for the sake of posterity, history and just plain yuks, I wish they'd continue until sales pooped out. I know I'd be perfectly willing to be first in line for each volume with my $60, and I doubt I'd be alone.