'What, Me Worry?' Celebrating 70 Years of Mad Magazine
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‘What, Me Worry?’ Celebrating 70 Years of Mad Magazine


Publisher William Gaines reads a copy of his Mad magazine in 1989. Mad mascot Alfred E. Neuman grins down from behind him.

Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

In 1954, lawmakers convened the “Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency,” which accused comic books of poisoning the minds of America’s youth. Gaines, the publisher of EC Comics, testified and defended his horror titles. “This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman’s head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?” asked a senator. “Yes, sir, I do,” replied Gaines, “for the cover of a horror comic.”

The lawmakers disagreed, and forced the comics industry to create the Comics Code Authority, which automatically banned any comic book with “horror,” “terror,” “crime” or “weird” in its title. To survive the purge and sidestep the censors, Gaines and Kurtzman performed a savvy switcheroo and transformed Mad from a 10-cent comic book into a glossy magazine.

“For the past two years now, MAD has been dulling the senses of the country’s youth,” wrote Kurtzman in his introduction to the first issue of Mad, the magazine. “Now we get to work on the adults.”

Yaross Lee, the humor historian, co-edited a scholarly volume (with John Bird) called “Seeing MAD: Essays on MAD Magazine’s Humor and Legacy.” In it, she explains that the expansion into a magazine format not only freed Mad’s writers from censorship, but also expanded their satirical targets to include parodies of movies, TV shows and popular music.

“Mad’s M.O. was simple in both formats,” Yaross Lee writes, “take a comic conceit and push it over the top.”



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Written by Dave Roos

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