Mad #356 (Nick Meglin and John Ficarra) - Charlie Kadau Issue - April 1997

This was a transitional issue for Mad.  The editors decided that they could boost sales by appealing to an older (and stupider) demographic that enjoys crude, sexual humor and below-average artwork.  Apparently, the editors that this demographic had much more money to spend on such stuff.  I call this the "Monroe & Melvin & Jenkins Era".  How did that work for you?  I think the transitional change for the issue and the era can be summed with the editorial decision to feature three pages and six examples of "Joey Buttafuoco's Guide to Chivalry" instead of movie or television parodies.

Monroe is a loser.  He reminds me of Sad Sack, the World War II character in a comic strip that became a comic book from 1949 to 1982.  Like Sad Sack, everything Monroe tries to do results in utter failure.  Monroe is surrounded by sleazy types including his mother who sets a poor example for him.  I suppose that some readers could identify with the plight of Monroe but not me.

Melvin & Jenkins are African-American young men who have opposite personalities.  Jenkins is smart and good-hearted but has terrible luck at anything he tries.  Melvin is lazy and prone to risky behavior but generally goes unpunished for his actions.  The characters never change and I wonder why a young black reader would find them to be funny or interesting.  As the Monroe drawings, M&J are poorly drawn in my opinion.  These pages seemed to reduce the high quality of Mad art that drew me to the magazine in the 1950s.

The other major change in the issue is the debut of Peter Kuper as the new artist for the popular "Spy vs. Spy" pages.  Kuper immediately changed the boys from the line style of Antonio Prohias (1921-1998) to an air-brush type drawing that became colored in future issues.  Prohias was very clever and exact with his short and somewhat melodramatic scenes.  Kuper expanded the feature to two pages but did not tinker with the theme.  Although Mad could not discontinue Spy vs. Spy any more than they could replace Alfred E., I grew tired of this repetitive joke decades ago.  I usually just scan it for anything that might be different and then continue to more thought-provoking articles. 

I like the Tom Bunk border and the Russ Cooper/Rick Tulka comparison article ("60's and the 90's") but I hate to see an issue without a film parody.  [JAM 5/13/2013]

Departments:
Spins And Needles - Kids' Classics as Told by Famous People
Angster's Paradise - Monroe & ... the Curse
A Tough Swill to Swallow - Absolut Vodka Ad Rejects
Head of the Crass - Joey Buttafuoco's Guide to Chivalry
Joke And Dagger - Spy vs. Spy
Coward's End - One Grim Day in a Waiting Room
The Generation Crap - The 60's and the 90's
Going a Bit Too Fur - PETArd's Animal Rights Newsletter
When the Going Gets Buff - When Other Magazines Resort to Featuring Nude Celebrities on Their Covers
Serge-In General - A Mad Look at Racism
You Be Or Not You Be, That is the Question - Hooked on Ebonics
Brute Farce - The Bad Cops Guide to Good Police Work
Berg's-Eye View - The Lighter Side
The Schmucks Stop Here - Melvi & Jenkins Guide to Personal Fitness
Pulpit Friction - One Sad Sunday at St. Sebastion's
Get the Puck out of Here - Future Editions of MTV's The Real World
Now an Absurd from our Sponsors - A TV Commercial We'd Like to See

Fold-In - Oil Executive