MAD is an American humor magazine founded by publisher William Gaines and editor Harvey Kurtzman in 1952. Aimed at young readers, it satirized American pop culture. It deflated stuffed shirts, poked fun at common foibles. Its publisher, Gaines, had suffered greatly from censorship which had literally destroyed his prior line of EC horror comics.


MAD was first published as a comic book entitled "Tales Calculated To Drive You Mad", written almost entirely by Harvey Kurtzman, but it was converted into a magazine to escape the strictures of the Comics Code Authority, which was imposed in 1955 following Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency. The immediate practical result was that MAD acquired a broader range in both subject matter and presentation. Magazines also had wider distribution than comic books.

Throughout the 1950s "MAD" featured brilliant parodies of American popular culture illustrated by such luminaries as Jack Davis, Bill Elder, and Wally Wood, each with his own style. They combined a sentimental fondness for the familiar staples of American culture--such as Archie and Superman, to name two--with a keen joy in exposing the fakery behind the image--see their pieces entitled "Starchie" and "Superduperman."

MAD was noted for its absence of advertising, enabling it to skewer the excesses of a materialist culture without fear of advertiser reprisal. The magazine often featured numerous parodies of ongoing American advertising campaigns. During the 1960s, it satirized such topics as hippies, the Vietnam War, and drug abuse. The magazine gave equal time to counterculture drugs such as pot as well as to mainstream drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. Although one can detect a generally liberal tone, the magazine always slammed Democrats as mercilessly as Republicans.

In a parody of Playboy's "foldout" cheesecake pictures, each issue of MAD from 1964 on featured a "fold-in" on its inside back cover, designed by artist Al Jaffee. A question would be asked, which apparently was illustrated by a picture taking up the bulk of the page. When the page was folded inwards, the inner and outer fourths of the picture combined to give a surprising answer in both picture and words.

Other long-running features included Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of..." which often satirized the suburban lifestyle, and Antonio Prohias' wordless "Spy vs. Spy," the neverending battle between the Black Spy and the White Spy that has lasted longer than the Cold War which inspired it.

The image most closely associated with the magazine is that of Alfred E. Neuman, the curly-haired boy with a gap-toothed smile and the statement "What? Me worry?" Alfred's image first appeared on the cover of the magazine within the first few years of its existence. The original image of an unnamed boy with a goofy grin was a popular humorous graphic many years before MAD adopted it. The character takes his name from Alfred Newman, a member of a well-known family of film composers, who made a series of blackout radio appearances that had amused Kurtzman years earlier.

MAD also provided a showcase for some of the best satirical writers and artists of a generation. Artists such as the aforementioned Davis, Elder and Wood, as well as Mort Drucker, Sergio Aragones, and Don Martin, and writers like Dick DeBartolo, Frank Jacobs, Tom Koch, and Arnie Kogen appeared regularly in the magazine at various times in its history. Newer contributors include Rick Tulka, Hermann Mejia, Desmond Devlin, Mike Snider, John Caldwell, Bill Wray, Anthony Barbieri, Drew Friedman, Tom Bunk, and Barry Liebmann.

Original editor Kurtzman left in 1956 following a business dispute with Gaines, and was replaced by Al Feldstein, who oversaw the magazine during its greatest heights of circulation. Feldstein retired in 1984, and was replaced by the team of Nick Meglin and John Ficarra, who continue to edit the magazine today.

MAD is often credited by social theorists with filling a vital gap in political satire in the 1950s to 1970s, when Cold War paranoia and a general culture of censorship prevailed in the United States, especially in literature for teens. The rise of such factors as cable television and the Internet seems to have diminished such influence of MAD somewhat, although it remains a widely distributed magazine. In a way, MAD's power has been undone by its own success; what was subversive in the 1950s and 1960s is now commonplace. However, its impact on three generations of humorists is incalculable, as can be seen in the frequent references to MAD Magazine on the animated series The Simpsons.

For tax reasons, Gaines had sold his company in the early 1960s to the Kinney Corporation, which also acquired Warner Bros by the end of that decade. Though technically an employee for 30 years, the fiercely independent Gaines was largely permitted to run MAD without corporate interference. Following Gaines' death in 1992, though, MAD became more ingrained within the AOL Time Warner conglomerate. In 2001, the magazine broke its long-standing taboo and began running advertising. A TV show was introduced in 1995 based on the magazine: MAD TV, which aired comedy segements in a fashion similar to Saturday Night Live and SCTV. There is no editorial connection between the sketch comedy series and the magazine. Meanwhile, MAD-related merchandise, which was scarce during the Gaines years, has appeared regularly.

Imitators and variants

MAD has had many imitators through the years. The three most successful of these are Cracked, Crazy, and Sick. Most others were short-lived exercises, such as Zany (4 issues), Frantic (2 issues), Ratfink (1 issue), Nuts! (2 issues), Get Lost (3 issues), Whack (3 issues), Wild (5 issues), Madhouse (8 issues), Riot (6 issues), Flip (2 issues), Eh! (7 issues), Trash (4 issues) and Plop. Even MAD's own company, E.C, joined the parade with a sister humor magazine called Panic, which was produced by future MAD editor Al Feldstein. Most of these productions aped MAD's format right down to choosing a synonym for "mad" as their title. Most also featured a cover mascot along the lines of MAD's Alfred E. Neumann.

But as it carries on past its 50th year, MAD has outlasted them all.

Other humor magazines of note include former MAD Editor Harvey Kurtzman's Humbug and Trump, the National Lampoon, and Spy Magazine, but these cannot be considered direct ripoffs of MAD in the same way as the others mentioned here. Of all the competition, only the National Lampoon ever threatened MAD's hegemony as America's top humor magazine, in the early-to-mid-1970s. However, this was also the period of MAD's greatest sales figures.

Gaines reportedly kept a voodoo doll in his business office, into which he would stick pins labelled with each of MAD's imitators. He would only remove a pin when the copycat had ceased publishing. At the time of Gaines' death in 1992, only the pin for Cracked remained.

MAD is published in local versions in many countries, including The Netherlands and Sweden (see for instance the MAD parody of Fucking Amal in Swedish [1]).