Mad Man: Celebrating Al Jaffee on his 95th Birthday!
He's drawn absurd animal comics, invented innumerable impossible items, and been responsible for mutilating the back covers of many millions of magazines. He's won the highest honors that the medium of comics has to offer, authored best-selling books, and appeared in more issues of Mad Magazine than any other contributor. He's Al Jaffee, one of America's best-known and most beloved cartoonists, and this past weekend marked his 95th birthday.
On March 13th, 1921, Abraham (Al) Jaffee was born in Savannah, Georgia to Mildred and Morris Jaffee, a pair of LIthuanian immigrants. Al demonstrated a love of art from an early age: Mary-Lou Wiesman's 2010 biography, Al Jaffee's Mad Life, describes how he and his three brothers would spend Sundays gathered around the comic section, watching his father use a fountain pen to carefully copy their favorite images. In 1927, after his mother moved the siblings back to Lithuania, Morris remained in Georgia, where he saved up funny papers and sent them as international care packages. Using these comics as reference material, young Al taught himself to draw his favorite characters, sometimes on paper, but often simply in the dirt with a stick.
The rest of Al Jaffee's childhood could be conservatively described as tumultuous. After a year in Lithuania, Morris brought his family back to America. A year later, Al and his brothers moved with their mother back to Lithuania again, where the remained for the next four years. In 1933, Al's father once again arrived to reunite with his family, but this time, his mother refused to return to America. So at age 12, Al and his two closest siblings crossed the ocean to New York, where they would be separated and live with different relatives, while his mother and youngest brother remained with the rest of their family overseas.
In the late '30s, Jaffee attended the High School of Music & Art, where he met Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, Will Elder, and other aspiring cartoonists. His first published comic work appeared in 1941, in various titles published by Timely Comics. He created several characters for editor Stan Lee, including funny animals Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal, who co-starred in some of the company's best-selling titles.
Jaffee entered the Air Force once World War II began, and worked as an artist for the military until 1946. Upon returning to civilian life, he returned to work for Lee and Timely, as a writer, artist, and editor,and in 1955, he reunited with Kurtzman, Elder, and Feldstein, when he contributed his first piece to EC Comics' newly reformatted Mad Magazine.
He followed Kurtzman and Elder away from EC to help launch the short-lived Trump and Humbug magazines, then returned to Mad in 1958, where he became a regular contributor. Around the same time, he created Tall Tales, a syndicated daily strip for the New York Herald Tribune and its affiliates, which ran from 1957 through 1963.
At Mad, Jaffee quickly established himself as one of the foremost members of the magazine's "Usual Gang Of Idiots". While he was clearly as adept at caricature and simple gag cartoons as any of his contemporaries, it became clear that his true forte was working in a far more unique capacity, creating features with elaborate structures that he could improvise endlessly within.
In 1964, he created the Fold-In, which began as a simple parody of the fold-out sections offered in glossy mainstream magazines, but soon became one of Mad's most popular and enduring trademarks. Within a few years, he introduced Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions and Don't You Hate?, a pair of features with straightforward, endlessly adaptable formats – Don't You Hate? was a simple series of observations about the drawbacks of modern life (usually organized around a topic like Christmas or politicians or smoking), while Snappy Answers used a self-explanatory formula, each panel presenting a trio of possible sarcastic retorts for some idiotic query.
For many years, Jaffee specialized in "invention" pieces, writing descriptions and drawing out elaborate diagrams for absurdly over-the-top devices --- some of which proved to be oddly prescient, such as vertical rotary parking lots, doggy-doo disposal systems, and adult sippy-cups (as seen below).
In 1968, Jaffee began to issue his own paperbacks under the Mad banner, including a Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions series that proved wildly successful (the first two volumes would go on to sell more than two million copies each), the much-loved Mad Book Of Magic (And Other Dirty Tricks), and a number of non-themed cartoon collections. In addition to his Mad books, he teamed with Signet/New American Library to release a series of original books throughout the '70s and '80s.
In the decades since, he has remained a vital part of Mad, appearing in nearly every issue, producing numerous original books (as well as collections of previously-printed pieces), and seeing his features adapted into animated form on Warner Brothers' Mad series. He won numerous awards from the National Cartoonists Society, including a Rueben for artist of the year in 2008, was inducted into the Eisner Hall Of Fame at San Diego Comic-Con in 2013, and was elected into the Society Of Illustrators Hall Of Fame in 2014. He has overseen (and illustrated) his aforementioned biography, and assisted in countless compilations of his cartoons. And he remains as vital as ever, continuing to produce outstanding new work, and maintaining an engaging and entertaining presence at conventions, book expos, and comic art festivals around the country.
So we want wish Al Jaffee a very happy 95th birthday, and express our sincerest thanks for all the snappy answers, clever creations, and laugh-out-loud comics he's created over the last eight decades. May many more years of Mad-ness lie ahead!