Monday, May 17, 2010

"Small minds run in the same gutter."


Comedy influences. Without a doubt, the most mind altering experience I had as a child was discovering MAD Magazine. I have a most vivid recollection of walking into an Owl drugstore in Fullerton, CA in 1958 and gazing upon the cover of issue #42 of aforementioned MAD Magazine. It is still hard to explain the effect it had, but I would have to consider it a near-like pre-psychedelic experience viewing the intensely colourful and surrealistic cover featuring the artwork of Frank Kelly Freas. It was mind-blowing. A new door upon the unusual had opened up. Next to all the other periodicals upon the newsstand, MAD beckoned the initiate into a secret world of the creative anarchist. This was pure joy.

As an impressionable mind of 8 years old, I further explored the world of MAD and discovered the naughty child inside of me had fellow co-conspirators in the adult world. I'm not alone among so many who discovered in MAD Magazine at this time a sincere and healthy disrespect for tyranny masking as authority. MAD was the American Orwell. The '50s were a great time of brainwashing and MAD stood boldly in the forefront denouncing propaganda on every level. And it was also so damn funny.

The 1950s for MAD was the golden era. The best comedy writers and artists did their most significant work for this magazine--a magazine that Congress had tried to destroy in its early days as a comic book. Hearings in the Senate and all. Corrupting innocent children's minds. How smart for publisher William M. Gaines to turn it into a slick magazine and infiltrate the status quo as a legitimate periodical. And besides their own clever team of artists and writers, other well known comics like Ernie Kovacs and Bob & Ray would contribute to the magazine.

I loved the magazine. Became quite obsessed with it. Of course, Mom detested it. Wouldn't let me buy them. Ripped them up and threw them in the trash. It was forbidden literature. But I had a pretty decent collection for a while, there. As a kid, the great joy was going through the trash cans of nearby apartments and looking through stacks of magazines and newspapers and occasionally discovering the rare gem. In 1961, I actually found issue #29, a rare 1956 magazine tossed away behind a Fullerton apartment (of course, finding copies of Playboy, Swank, Rogue and Cavalier were also amazing and stimulating discoveries).

Anyway, I sincerely believe that if it hadn't of been for MAD Magazine, my development as a free thinking individual would have sincerely been impeded. MAD made us question authority with humour. And I am thankful to publisher William M. Gaines, original editor Harvey Kurtzman and later editor Albert B. Feldstein, as well as the "usual gang of idiots" for helping my education.

My interest in all things MAD continued. I bought every issue of Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine. That publication was financed by Hugh Hefner and Playboy, who would also publish Kurtzman and artist Will Elder's Little Annie Fanny in various issues of Playboy. I'd sneak a peek at those when I could.

It's interesting that so many of MAD's artists were well known as science fiction illustrators. It seemed we both had those two sides to our imagination. I loved humour and horror. I loved satire and science fiction. I loved mirth and mystery. For me, they were the two points on the compass. For the artists involved, I'm not sure if it was a similar mindset or just part of the job description.

There is so much information and feelings regarding all of this, I could ramble on into infinite boredom. I would like sometime to talk about the other comic influences I had. Especially Ernie Kovacs and his TV surrealism. Stan Freberg and his audio and visual delights. Jack Parr and the art of the intelligent interview. The Goon Show. Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and British humour in the '50s and '60s. But I'll stop here for now. I would like to say, however, if you might have been living in Riverside, CA one Halloween in the early '60s, you might have seen a trick-or-treating kid at your door dressed in an Alfred E. Newman Halloween costume. I know who that person was. He was in exile. But he was in his element as well.