1998

(One Totally Mad Experience)  My "Totally Mad" experience began in October of 1998 when I received an e-mail message from Ellen Brodsky, producer of Totally Mad and employee of The Learning Company in Fremont, California.  Ellen's message asked if I would be interested in a consulting job regarding a "top secret" project involving Mad Magazine.  She had gotten my name from Jason Levine.  She also mentioned that Tim Johnson and others were already involved in the project.

I replied that I was interested in the project if it was authorized by Mad.  She assured me that the Mad staff had been involved from the beginning.  We signed a consulting agreement and set December 2, 1998 as the first meeting of the indexing team.

We met at The Learning (TLC) complex in Fremont.  The facility was a $40 taxi ride from the San Francisco airport.  The lobby offered a panorama of the educational software programs currently available from TLC.  Inside was a huge maze of meeting rooms, computers, and mostly unoccupied cubicles.  Ellen directed me to the conference room for the all-day brainstorming session.

Several TLC employees joined the meeting, including Mark Courtney, the technical expert who would supervise the gigantic database of trivial information found in the 20,000+ pages of Mad.  Also present were two of the other "indexers" (one by telephone).  Before the project was complete, at least nine people were sending indexed data to TLC by e-mail.

I was the only regular Mad reader at the meeting.  I was also the only person at the meeting who had a social security number in the 1960s.  Unique among the eventual indexers, I had a complete collection of Mads.  The others received copies by mail.

The purpose of the brainstorming meeting was to establish a list of major and minor subject titles that would serve as an indexing guideline.  It was assumed that indexers would refer to the list as they reviewed issues of Mad to ensure the use of common terminology and spelling.  The list grew and grew during the six-month indexing process.  As any student of Mad knows, the magazine has covered almost every subject over the years.  In some ways, Mad defies such categorization.

I volunteered to be lead indexer for the early issues of Mad (Numbers 1 through 100).  This was a logical decision since I had just completed the third volume of a retrospective review covering these issues. [free advertising plug]  See Potrzebie Statistical Abstract:

Volume I    Mad 1-23 (and Panic 1-12)
Volume II    Mad 24-50
Volume III    Mad 51-100 (in MADlog #13)

I completed indexing of the first 100 Mads and was able to serve as secondary indexer for another 100 issues: 101-123, 128-130, 138-196, 280-290, 296-299.  I wish that I had had the time to provide comments on the other issues.  The deadline did not permit a third round of indexer reviews.

The indexing process was complicated by the special needs of the central database.  All subject had to be identified in several levels to position them in the correct issue, page, etc.  For example, if I wanted to identify Popeye in a crowd scene, the computer entry could require more than 200 keystrokes.  Accuracy was very important because ant entry could become invalid if one keystroke was incorrect.  Multiply this process by the hundreds of subject entries per issue.

I indexed Mads nights and weekends for six months, adding about 500 hours to the final product.  During the process, I used several references including the three volumes of Potrzebie Statistical Abstract.  Following are the references that I used almost daily.

100 Years of American Newspaper Comics
The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
Webster's Third New International Dictionary
Total Television
Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide

From the beginning, Ellen encouraged the indexers to add comments to indexed pages.  Comments could be used to ask questions or to provide background information.  I added comments to every issue based on knowledge gained from my recent researching.  I tried to identify some of the hidden humor (chicken fat?) and inside jokes that Mad artists and writers have always included in their articles.  Some of my comments (as edited by Ellen) can be found when the "i" (information) icon is highlighted on the veeblefetzer.

During the process, indexers received regular progress reports about the final product.  Enclosed is a photocopy of the early version of the "SEARCH-O-METER". [not included here]  After the indexing was completed, consultants received "alpha" and "beta versions of the database for review and comment.

As the project was nearing completion, I was able to visit The Learning Company a second time.  The Fremont facility was now a beehive of activity with most of the cubicles staffed with computers humming.  Ellen allowed me to test the product and comment from a user's perspective.  It was clear to me then that Totally Mad would be a total success.

In spite of the permanent damage to my eyes and fingerprints, I am quite pleased that I had the opportunity to participate in the Totally Mad project.  The seven-CD set is an excellent product that offers 47 years of classic humor in a convenient package at an incredibly reasonable price.  Consumers will get every issue of Mad (through 1998) in a searchable database format with music, videos, animation, interviews and lots of surprises.

In a recent e-mail message to Ellen Brodsky, I thanked her for giving me three credits in the "Blame" section that lists references and copyrights.  I told her that I could rest in peace knowing that I have some small degree of immortality within the Mad community.  [The Journal of Madness #11 - June 2001]