Friday, February 14, 2014

Forgotten Books: Mad Strikes Back



I think that like science fiction, the Golden Age of MAD Magazine must be twelve. That's about how old I was when I discovered it. A friend of mine had one of the Signet paperbacks reprinting material from the first few issues of the magazine about ten years earlier. I'm not sure, but I think it was THE BROTHERS MAD, the fifth in the paperback reprint series.

Whichever volume it was, I loved it. I thought the humor was hilarious, and some of the art was just risqué enough that I knew it would scandalize my mother, which was always a plus. (My mother was easily scandalized. She liked Zane Grey's novels, but she couldn't read some of them because they were just too racy. Her favorite authors were Grace Livingston Hill and Emilie Loring, and that should be enough to explain her reading tastes to those of you old enough to remember those writers.)

Anyway, I'm getting a little far afield from this week's book, which I came across a while back and just got around to reading. It's MAD STRIKES BACK, the second volume in the paperback reprint series, and includes material from 1953 and 1954. The first edition was published in May 1955. The copy I read is a 14th printing from October 1963. Those books were popular back then. I saw them all the time on the spinner racks. Somehow, though, I never read this one.

There's an introduction by comedians Bob and Ray, then a number of comic strip parodies: "Prince Violent", "Teddy and the Pirates", "Manduck the Magician", and "Gopo Gossum" (the originals should be pretty obvious to most of you), plus a couple of take-offs on early television, "Captain TVideo" and "Poopeye", and a classic movie about a giant ape, "Ping Pong". Also assorted humor features.

I don't know who wrote all this stuff—Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman come to mind as probable suspects—but the art is by comics icons Wally Wood, Bill Elder, and Jack Davis. Wonderful art all around, with the highlights for me being Wood's "Prince Violent" and "Teddy and the Pirates".

As for the stories themselves...well, some of them are still good for a chuckle, but I was surprised by how much of the humor sort of fell flat for me. After I discovered the paperbacks about 1964, I started buying the current issues of the magazine and was a big fan for the next eight or ten years, but then satire and parody began to pale for me as a form of humor. I can still appreciate the cleverness of a lot of the material in this book, but it doesn't really make me laugh anymore.

Despite that, I still consider MAD STRIKES BACK to be well worth reading for the art and for the nostalgia value, and I'm glad I found it. So I leave you with that timeless philosophical question: "How's your mom, Ed?"

12 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I still have three or four of those paperbacks (including this one) that I bought when I was a kid. I loved MAD.

Walker Martin said...

I loved MAD also though I started very young at age 9 or 10 and also picked up the other EC comicbooks. The horror stories gave me nightmares and my mother threw away my entire collection.

I guess that's why these comics are worth so much nowadays. Our mothers made them collector's items by destroying them.

Jerry House said...

Hardly a forgotten book for me, James. The early issues of MAD seemed much edgier (and funnier) than today's pale copy.

Richard Prosch said...

I got this one as a kid too. Until I saw the later reprints, and as a regular reader of the newsstand magazine, I thought the original comic had also been printed in b&w!

Keith West said...

I think I missed this one. The paperbacks were all over the place in the early 80s, and I bought as many as I could. I preferred teh older stuff.

Todd Mason said...

Harvey Kurtzman was writing nearly the whole magazine by himself, which led to a bit of burnout; Feldstein mostly restricted himself to the EC MAD knockoff PANIC, and his somewhat less deft touch shows.

I, too, prefer the Kurtzman MAD to most of what followed and follows, but it's hard to say they didn't have an acute piece in many issues since HK moved onto TRUMP, HUMBUG!, HELP! and his work for others' magazines. I discovered the magazine and the Ballantine anthologies (or Kurtzman collections) when I was about 8yo...the golden book ages...

Richard said...

Such nostalgia. I discover the mag when I was about 10 and read it when I could borrow a copy as I didn't have anyplace to buy it (it was a behind-the-counter magazine and I was too young! Later I got a few back issues but never bought any of these collections.

Todd Mason said...

Wow, Richard--behind the counter where? Of course, by the '70s, I was able to buy a NATIONAL LAMPOON or two from a drugstore at age 10 (my usual comics drugstore at the time)...though my mother did take one of those back when she saw the content.

James Reasoner said...

MAD was never behind the counter in any of the stores around here when I was growing up. Most grocery stores and drugstores had it on the magazine racks.

Albie The Good said...

I HAD to comment here... this old paperback was a seminal part of my childhood...

Wallace Wood doing PRINCE VIOLENT was both hilarious and amazingly detailed! I remember try to ape his renderings with my own pen and inks in the fifth grade or so.

Thanks for the memory rush, pard :)

Kelly Robinson said...

I was a huge fan of both MAD and Cracked, though even as a youngster I recognized MAD as far superior.

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