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The World Goes Mad : After 39 Years, the Zany Magazine Gets Serious Treatment in a Big, Glossy Coffee-Table Book--Just the Kind of Thing It Mocks

November 06, 1991|RUSSELL MILLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Miller is a New York free - lance writer

Like all official histories, this vision of Mad has its dissenters. Don Martin, whose jittery, angular characters have blorted and shpliked their way into millions of Mad readers' hearts, stopped free-lancing there a few years ago, fed up with Gaines's policy of buying all rights to Mad art. He sees the fraternity differently.

"It's looked upon by the people there as a good thing, like one big family," says Martin. "I came to realize that it's only a good thing for Bill Gaines. I was so terribly loyal all those years that I turned down work because I had something for Mad magazine--which is ridiculous."

Though his work, owned by Mad and others, appears in "Completely Mad," Martin wanted nothing to do with the book.

"I felt that I had given enough to Mad magazine," he says. "They had all my work. I didn't feel I should contribute any more."

Jerry De Fuccio, who left in 1980 after 28 years as a Mad editor, did talk with Reidelbach. He describes Mad's offices as a paternalistic pressure cooker, its success as lavish serendipity, Gaines as a domineering Big Brother and "Completely Mad" as a whitewash.

"She was very careful to toe the company line," says De Fuccio. "Everything was goody-two-shoes."

Together with his fellow Mad alumnus Lou Silverstone, De Fuccio now edits Cracked magazine. Long derided as a low-rent Mad rip-off, Cracked has become more competitive since it signed Don Martin. "Completely Mad" ignores it.

"That was deliberate," says De Fuccio. "Bill Gaines never mentions Cracked."

Gaines says Reidelbach didn't bring up the subject of the rival magazine. "But if she had, I would have asked her to take it out. We don't like to give them any publicity."

For her part, Reidelbach says there just wasn't room. While Mad-influenced underground comics made it into the book, later-generation humor magazines such as National Lampoon and Spy were left out, too.

At least one didn't mind. When Little, Brown & Co. bought a half-page ad in the December issue of Spy (which throws a party or two a month), the magazine agreed to sponsor what marketing manager Adam Dolgins calls "a tiny party"--200 people.

"This," Dolgins says, "is our little salute to Mad."

Reidelbach reports that several Mad artists have seen her book. "They love the look of it," she says.

But does that convince her she did right turning Mad into a typical object of Mad's ridicule--a coffee-table book? No, says Reidelbach, "I can't defend it." But she does recall an early thought that might have made a difference. One of the ideas the designer had was to make a book that could actually be made into a coffee table.

"That," she adds regretfully, "was a little excessive for Little, Brown."

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