Al Feldstein, Helmsman At 'Mad' Magazine, Dies At 88

May 1, 2014
Originally published on June 18, 2014 4:29 pm
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A true mad man has died. Al Feldstein steered MAD Magazine to the height of its madness as its editor. It's a role he held for nearly 30 years, developing the iconic image of the magazine's mascot, Alfred E. Neuman.


What, me worry? When MAD magazine's first editor left and took the whole staff with him, Feldstein recruited a sharp new group of artists and writers. Al Jaffee, who is now in his 90s, was among them. He's the guy who created MAD's fold-in back cover.

AL JAFFEE: Al Feldstein was a very, very good editor. He didn't fool around. If he liked something, that was it.

CORNISH: Before MAD existed, Feldstein worked in comic books. He drew graphic horror and war stories. In 1954, a Senate subcommittee held hearings about those types of comic books and whether they were destroying the minds of young people.

AL FELDSTEIN: I was called before the committee in a private session.

CORNISH: Al Feldstein described his testimony in a documentary about comic books.

FELDSTEIN: My statements were, I do this for a living, if parents don't want their kids to dream the cartoons and editing write, they should tell their kids they can't read those books.

SIEGEL: Rather than fight Congress, comic publisher William Gaines switched to humor and satire and MAD Magazine was born. Feldstein signed up for the new venture. Under his reign, circulation topped two million.

Grant Geissman says, ironically, MAD probably influenced young minds more than those earlier comics did.

GRANT GEISSMAN: You know, MAD had this philosophy of don't believe everything you read, don't trust politicians, don't trust Madison Avenue advertising.

CORNISH: Geissman is the author of "Feldstein: The Mad Life and Fantastic Art of Al Feldstein!" He says the creators of "Saturday Night Live," "The Daily Show," and "The Onion" grew up reading MAD.

GEISSMAN: Any of those shows that came in the wake of MAD, they will say that those shows would not exist had it not been for MAD.

SIEGEL: When Al Feldstein retired, he moved to Montana. He continued to attend comic conventions and also starting drawing outdoor scenes. Grant Geissman says Feldstein felt his best work was always ahead of him.

Al Feldstein, the longtime editor of MAD Magazine, died Tuesday at age 88. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We failed to credit two audio sources. The audio we used was from the documentary Feldstein, produced by Olumide Productions LLC, and from the documentary Diagram for Delinquents: Fredric Wertham and the Evolution of Comic Books, written and directed by Robert Emmons Jr.]


CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.