I’ve marked centennial birthdays around here before, specifically for both Jack Kirby and Will Eisner, but this one is a first. This time we’re celebrating the 100th birthday of a creator who is still with us: Al Jaffee. He turns 100 this very day, God bless him; hopefully he’s celebrating with loved ones and is in good health and equally good spirits.
While he did a variety of features for Mad magazine over the decades, Jaffee is best known for his fold-ins at the back of every issue. As per usual, I’m going to take a very personal look back on Jaffee’s career with this post.
Though superhero comics are clearly my bread and butter, I’ve blogged about Mad before. There was one post about Mad that had a musical theme in 2017, and another on the effective end of the magazine in 2019. In the latter post, I mentioned that my first exposure to Mad was the twenty-fourth issue of their Mad Special (later called Super Special). My first brush with Al Jaffee in those pages was “The Mad Motorists Guide to American Wildlife”:
The issue also had his “Crime Foilers for the Average Citizen”:
And this was my first fold-in:
As mentioned in both of those prior posts, that Mad Special belonged to my childhood buddy, Ed. The first issue of Mad that I ever bought for myself was #200 (Jul. 1978). Here’s the fold-in:
I said before that I bought Mad Super Special #25 (Winter 1978) at the same newsstand shortly after Mad #200, perhaps the very next week, but the more I think about it, I believe I bought both at the same time. Here’s the fold-in:
The Specials/Super Specials were nearly all reprint material, but Jaffee’s fold-ins were (at least as far I can tell, I can’t claim to have checked all of them) fresh, new material.
Trademark Graffiti was another regular feature of Jaffee’s. My first exposure to it was in that first Super Special I purchased:
Then it popped up again in Mad #201 (Sept. 1978):
Wacky inventions was another long-time gimmick of Jaffee’s, which we got a taste of with that “Crime Foilers” piece. My first Mad paperback was actually Al Jaffee’s Mad Inventions, bought around the same time as my first regular Mad (#200) and Super Special (#25) and at that same newsstand. Again, I very well may have purchased all three at once.
See how beat up this thing is? I read the hell out of it back in the day. Here’s the back cover:
And here are some samples from the interior:
It really captures the flavor of the time, as two of the chief concerns of New Yorkers during this era were crime and dogs pooping on streets.
And then there’s the “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” feature. Here’s the first one I ever saw, from Mad #215 (Jun. 1980):
But of course, the fold-ins remain Jaffee’s greatest claim to fame. Jaffee’s first fold-in appeared in 1964, specifically Mad #86 (Apr. 1964) and went on for over half a century. Even in more recent years, Jaffee could still give the feature a lot of bite, as we can see with this fold-in from 2019:
You could find this one specifically in Mad #9 (Vol. 2, Oct. 2019), shamelessly swiped wholesale from Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books blog—you can find their original article with the art here.
Ever try to do these? They’re hard! Speaking personally, for me they’re impossible, as I’m pretty sure I tried to create a few of my own as a kid but failed miserably. On the Totally Mad CD-ROM set put out by Broderbund in 1999, they had audio from Jaffee explaining his method:
You start off by doing the answer first. The page I take, I cut the page in half and I move two pieces together and I make a complete drawing, which is the answer. And then I spread them apart and try to fill it in with something that will make sense. And the big picture—and of course, you just never get this on the first shot—you go back and forth and back and forth and eventually something starts to show up that works both ways.
Jaffee’s last fold-in was published last year in Mad #14 (Vol. 2, Aug. 2020). Here’s a look:
The momentous occasion was covered by The New York Times, which you can read here.
I have to confess, it was only during my research for this post that I learned that these fold-ins were Mad’s satiric response to Playboy’s centerfolds. You really do learn something new every day, kids.
Happy 100th Birthday, Al Jaffee. Thanks for the memories and enjoy your retirement.