Al Jaffee, the award-winning cartoonist for Mad magazine and the ageless wise man who thrilled millions of kids with the deceptive fun of the Fold-In and the sarcasm of “Snappy Answers to Dumb Questions,” has died. He was 102. According to his granddaughter, Fani Thomson, Jaffee died Monday in Manhattan from multiple organ failure. He was 99 years old when he retired.
Al Jaffee, Big Name to Mad Magazine
Mad magazine, with its humorous, occasionally pointed take on politics and culture, was required reading for teenagers and preteens throughout the baby-boom period, as well as an inspiration for innumerable future comedians. Few members of the magazine’s self-described “Usual Gang of Idiots” produced as much — and as consistently — as the impish, bearded cartoonist. For decades, almost every issue had fresh content by Al Jaffee. His collected “Fold-Ins,” which took on everyone from the Beatles to TMZ in his distinctly wide visual style, was enough for a four-volume box set issued in 2011.
His Ideas and Art
Fans devoured his Fold-Ins like dessert, flipping to them on the inner back cover after reading Antonio Prohas’ ‘Spy Versus. Spy’ and David Berg’s ‘The Lighter Side’. The idea was to start with a full-page artwork and question on top, fold two predetermined places towards the center, and generate a new and startling image, along with the answer. The Fold-In was planned to be a one-time prank, tried out in 1964 when Al Jaffee satirized Elizabeth Taylor’s divorce from her husband, Eddie Fisher, in favor of “Cleopatra” co-star Richard Burton. Jaffee originally depicted Taylor and Burton arm in arm on one side of the photograph, and a young, gorgeous guy being held back by a police officer on the other. Taylor and the young man are kissing when the photo gets folded in half.
The Idea Went Up For a Sequel
The concept was so successful that Mad editor Al Feldstein requested a sequel. When Jaffee’s image of 1964 GOP presidential candidates Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater was crushed, it became an image of Richard Nixon. In 2010, Jaffee told the Boston Phoenix, “That one really set the tone for what the brilliance of the Fold-Ins had to be.” “It couldn’t just be someone from the left kissing someone from the right.” Jaffee was also well-known for his book “Snappy Answers to Dumb Questions,” which delivered precisely what the title promised. A 1980s comic depicted a man in a fishing boat with an obviously damaged reel. “Are you going to catch the fish?” his wife inquires. “No, I’m going to leap into the ocean and marry the wonderful creature,” he adds.
Al Jaffee and His Early Life
Art was the savior of his youth, leaving him with a lifelong suspicion of authorities and authority. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, but spent his childhood split between the United States, where his father (a department store manager), wished to dwell, and Lithuania, where his mother (a pious Jew) yearned to return. Jaffee experienced hardship and bullying in Lithuania, but he also honed his skill. With no paper and no school, he learned to read and write by reading comic strips mailed to him by his father.
His Teenage Years
Al Jaffee was situated in New York City during his teens and was so obviously brilliant that he was enrolled in the High School of Music and Art. Will Elder, a future Mad illustrator, and Harvey Kurtzmann, a future Mad editor, were among his classmates. (His mother, however, stayed in Lithuania and was likely slain during the war). Before Crazy, he had a long career. He worked for Timely Comics, which later became Marvel Comics, and drew the “Tall Tales” strip for the New York Herald Tribune for numerous years. In the mid-1950s, Jaffee began contributing to Mad. He left the journal after Kurtzmann left, but returned in 1964.
“I’m so used to being involved in drawing and knowing so many people who do it that I don’t see the beauty,” Jaffee told Graphic NYC in 2009. “If you think about it, I’m sitting down, and all of a sudden, a large depiction of people arises.” Even though I know they’re all tricks, I’m still amazed when I witness magicians perform. Imagine what people believe when they see someone drawing freehand, and it’s not a hoax. It’s rather stunning.”
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