When Harvey And Will Returned To MAD

MAD's first editor, Harvey Kurtzman quit the magazine in 1956 after issue #28 because publisher, Bill Gaines would not give him more control and a large percentage of the product.  Will Elder went with him.  Kurtzman's demands were unrealistic.  He was a great artist and writer but he had difficulty meeting schedules.  He was a micro-manager who had very high standards for his creative work.  Gaines hired Al Feldstein to replace Kurtzman and MAD thrived with sales that grew for years.  Kurtzman struggled through Trump, Humbug, Help! and other projects but finally found a compromise at Playboy with Little Annie Fanny.  Publisher Gaines commented in several interviews over the years that Kurtzman & Elder were always welcome to come back to MAD -- under his terms.  And then, one day in 1985 it happened.

Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman had been contemporary editors for EC Comics.  Feldstein created numerous titles during that time.  Kurtzman had two war comics (Two Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat).  When Kurtzman started MAD, Feldstein started Panic (a direct but authorized copy of the MAD comic format).  When the Comics Code Authority forced EC to shut down its horror and crime titles, Feldstein was unemployed.  Kurtzman continued as editor of MAD, the magazine.   There is no evidence that Feldstein and Kurtzman had ever cooperated on an EC project.

In an interview in 2000 (Journal of MADness #10) Al Feldstein said that he had wanted Kurtzman & Elder to return to MAD.  He had one meeting with Kurtzman and his business manager (Harry Chester) while Kurtzman was editing Help!  Kurtzman & Chester decided not to come back to MAD at that time.

In 1985 MAD was preparing for a change in editorship.  Al Feldstein was planning to retire after editing 226 issues (#29-#254).  Gaines named Nick Meglin and John Ficarro to be co-editors of MAD going forward.  For two issues (#255-256), all three were listed as the editors.  It did not seem like a coincidence that the Meglin-Ficarra team decided to bring back Kurtzman & Elder for MAD #256 as Feldstein was retiring.  Following are the articles that Kurtzman & Elder drew during their brief return (19 issues).

MAD #256 - "MAD's 'Goetz Mask'" (page 35) - This is just a photo of Bernard Goetz, who shot four muggers in a New York subway, with a dotted line around the head.  There was not much effort required to produce this page but it did serve as notice that Kurtzman & Elder were back.  I suspect that the whole thing was created by Art Director Lenny Brenner after a short telephone call.

MAD #258 - "Where's the Beef? - The Weinburger" (back cover) - Al Jaffee came up with this idea that looks like it could have been part of a fold-in concept.  Ronald Reagan's defense secretary (Caspar Weinberger) is shown in a clown suit holding a giant "hamburger" full of weapons with Reagan's weapons lab in the background.  Elder probably added the "We Do It Ronnie's Way!" button; but other than that, his chicken fat jokes are missing.  The five lab workers are in typical Kurtzman poses. 

Kurtzman and Elder were moonlighting for MAD since they were still responsible for the Annie Fanny strips for Playboy until 1988.

MAD #259 - Rambo & Ronald Reagan (front cover) - Rambo is carrying a large hand-held missile while Reagan (with a smile) invites him to attack Central America.  Elder added the Izod alligator on Rambo's bare chest plus a tic-tac-toe scar.  Elder's Alfred E. Neuman is bracing for an explosion in the upper left corner.

MAD #260 - "Traveler's Blues" (pages 10-11) - Frank Jacobs wrote this parody of a Glenn Frey song for the first Kurtzman & Elder multi-page, multi-panel article for MAD since the 1950s.  The sequence consists of 12 drawings of an airplane parked, getting hijacked and then exploding.  The Elder touch can be seen in the small character who surround the plane.  There is a camel with a reverse hump in the second panel.  The pilots are surrendering in panel 7.  In panel 8, the plane is flying into the moon while palm trees and a light pole are bending toward Mecca.  When the plane lands on the desert (panel 8), passengers are throwing off clothes including one bra.  There is a star of David in the night sky on panel 8.  After the plane has exploded, two oil spouts appear in the final panel.  The boys really did not have much to work with in this song parody. 

MAD #261 - "Miami Vice" (front cover) - This cover with pink and pastel blue clothes is the best of the WEHK covers since the "Kate Keen" cover on MAD #5.  Don Johnson has a hair dryer in his holster instead of a handgun.  His badge is on a chain around his neck.  Philip Michael Thomas is fanning himself with a copy of GQ magazine.  Wanted posters in the background are for Ayatollah Khomeini, a shapely woman and an alligator.  Alfred E. Neuman is enjoying his time under the interrogation lamp to work on his tan.  And, there is a vice in the room.  Elder was not generally known for caricatures but he could do them. 

"Camouflage Tricks of Big City Animals" (pages 24-27) - Rurik Tyler wrote this one but Kurtzman & Elder did a great job of creating the urban animals.  They also found ample room in the double splash for background humor.  The "MOVE Headquarters" (Philadelphia) has a "Sweeney Todd Barber Shop" (demon barber of London).  Everything has been stolen from the "Grand Opening" business.  One of the black basketball players has an afro comb stuck in his hair.  It is odd that the drawing is signed "W.E." without the usual credit to Kurtzman.  The hood ornament on the real car is a revolver.  This is a rather bleak ghetto scene by Elder.  The close-up of the "newspaper pigeon" reveals a headline: "Keep N.Y. Clean - Eat a Pigeon Today."

MAD #263 - "Great Moments in Advertising: The Day AT&T Went Too Far" (back cover) - This is a six-panel ad parody featuring a telephone conversation between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev written by John "Prete" Ficarra.  Reagan has photos of R2D2, C3PO and "Our First Phone" framed in his office, while Gorbachev with hammer-and-sickle birthmark has a frame painting of Rasputin.  The boys showed great restraint for article that presented huge opportunities for chicken fat.  This was the first of three back covers that co-editor Ficarra wrote for Kurtzman & Elder.

MAD #265 - "Garbage Pail Adults" (back cover) - This article was likely the result of a brainstorming session with editors Meglin, Ficarra, Charlie Kadau and Joe Raiola throwing in ideas.  George Steinbrenner's "contracts" are on toilet rolls.  Prince (rename "Prissy" be the editors) has a dog collar around his neck.  The Ayatollah is smoking a cigar on a sword while his beard is on fire.  One of his supporters has a shish kabob on his bayonet.  Another is giving his leader the middle finger.  Jesse Helms is watering money plants.  Kaddafi is juggling hand grenades while he sinks into quicksand.  South African Botha has a backwards telescope.  Arafat has a hawk on his shoulder.  And, John McEnroe is about to get a tennis ball in his mouth.  The parody skills of WEHK were well-utilized for this concept.

"How To Pick Up Guys" (pages 46-47) - Their work on this Arnie Kogen article is the best of any they did in their short return to MAD.  These seven panels are classics.  Panel 1: Dagwood is in the background passing a man eating the hanging plant.  Signs in the fast food hangout suggest the "Heimlich Meat Loaf" and the "Chuck Yeager Sandwich."  Clerk is wearing a Viking helmet and a bun.  Panel 2: At the football game is a robot holding a "Hi Tech" sign.  Other signs are "Hoo U." and "I Hate Fottball Poster Made Cheap." The boy in the back needs to go to the bathroom.  A man in the crowd is naked.  Panel 3: A policemen on skis is chasing the naked man from panel two also on skis.  Another skier is rolling in a snowball while a couple ski with the woman riding piggyback on the man.   Panel 4: Crazy Eddie is wearing a straightjacket in the back of the computer store.  The naked man from panel two is on one of the computer screens.  Panel 5: Little Annie Fanny is on the exercise machine.  An Oscar is among the health club trophies.  Panel 6: Man in the background is touching the wrong melon.  Woman in the foreground is carrying melons that look like her breasts.  The supermarket worker is Goodman Beaver.  He has been stamping price tags on fruit and the man's bald head in front of him.  Panel 7: The woman in this panel is one of Annie Fanny's friends from the Playboy strip.  Sign in the background points toward "Banned Books."

 MAD #266 - "We'll Make a Fortune" (24-28) - Kurtzman & Elder went wild with this television parody written by Dick DeBartolo.  This one has the look of their great parodies of the 1950s like "Howdy Dooit" (MAD #18), "Is This Your Life?" (MAD #24), "The Ed Suvillan Show" (MAD #27) and "You Are There Then" (Humbug #3).  There are numerous audience jokes in the double splash - one of Elder's specialties.  From left, man with flower pot on head, toothless man behind woman with extra set of teeth and cigar in her mouth, woman with sunglasses and giant hatpin, man with bald head shaped the same as man wearing wool hat, woman with woodpecker pecking her hat and baby who barfed on man behind them, man with finger in his nose, man with a very small head, a papoose, man with a hand coming out of his hat and three members of the "Hells Angles."  On stage there is a framed one dollar bill worth $1,000.  "Pat Somejerk" is almost hit by an arrow in the next panel and then a woman's sucker gets stuck to his tie.  The wheel jokes start at the bottom of page 24 with "IRS" replacing one of the dollar amounts.  The wheel then starts showing slot machine designs, backgammon, and the directions to Atlantic City.  Meanwhile, the woman's sucker has removed Pat's belt as he escapes from her.  On page 26 Vanilla's outfit changes to a flowered dress, then a striped blouse, a bathing suit, a military uniform, a cowgirl coat and then a tutu.  When the second contestant arrives, Pat has the sucker stuck to the back of his head.  In the next panel, the sucker has moved to the contestant's collar.  The sucker with some of Pat's hair on it then moves to the wheel.  In the final panel of page 26, the first contestant is now riding on the wheel.  On page 27, Vanilla is on the beach where she is wearing a fur coat with five arms.  In the background is a lighthouse with several boats that have crashed into it.  There is a foot sticking out of a pile of sand next to the beach pail ("Taiwan Genuine Junk").  Now the wheel is a Monopoly game and then a tea set as Vanilla continues to change clothes in every panel.  On the final page, the board letters include pi, two mugshots, M&M, a Hebrew letter and two hand signals.  As the show is ending, Vanilla has eight arms.  The male contestant is carrying all of the prizes and has just kicked Vanilla in the rear as a small dog jumps out of the letter board and onto the wheel. 

My guess is that Dick DeBartolo did not recognize the final product.

MAD #267 - "MAD's Fearless Forecast for the Upcoming TV Season" (pages 22-23) - In this article written by Barry Liebman, the Pope is wearing a "B'nai Brith" button and President Reagan forgot his pants.  The Pope's mitre is covering a strategic part of the painting behind him. Judge Pops Kane is cracking walnuts with his gavel.  In the final panel, there are two sets of eyes spying on the crowd.  Because of the format of the article, there are no running jokes from panel to panel.

MAD #268 - "Aliens" (front cover) - The alien has a handbag from "Ellis Island" and a slime bucket.  Ripley has a barf bag and her weapon is from "FAO Schwarz." 

MAD #269 - "MAD Celebrity Madballs" (back cover) - Nothing special here in another back cover idea by John "Prete."

MAD #270 - "Banana Republic Dictator of the Year" (pages 31-34) - Lou Silverstone wrote this article about a Central American leader.  The dictator is wearing a "Bush in '88" hat.  There are many holes in the wall including two that ruined a framed photo of a pretty woman.  Two photos on the wall show the dictator in the exact same pose eating a chicken leg as he currently eating.  There is a Latin pig in the clerk's drawer with writing on desk in Pig Latin.  Next to the pig is a "White House Scapegoat."  The trash can is an "Ed Meese In-Box."  "Our First Banana" is framed in panel three.  The interviewer's microphone and the dictator's chicken leg are switched.  The clerk is drinking his wine.  "Viva Revolution" and "Viva Zapata" are written on the walls.  On page 32, a giant "Greetings El Presidente" bullet passes over their heads.  And then another bullet ("Missed") passes from the other direction.  The lettering on the interviewer's recorder changes in each panel (JVC, CIA, NBA, IOU, JDL, WWF, KKK, KGB, UPS).  In the middle panel, the dictator blows smoke shaped like a banana.  All of the rebels look exactly like the dictator.  There is a bird's nest the opening of a large weapon and the sight target is a woman.  "Viva Prohias" is written on the wall.  On page 32, another large bullet "Missed Again!"  The firing squad are pointing in different directions at a man and his dog tied to posts.  The wall behind them has "Viva Papertowels" on it.  In the prison cell grafitti is on every wall with a sign that says "Graffiti Forbidden."  There is a centerfold of the fully-clothed dictator taped to the prison wall with pictures of fruit.  On the last page, prisoners are wearing shirts that say " I Love Bernard Meltzer."  As the interviewer is leaving town, there is a giant sign that says: "Need a Loan?  Quick Cash?  Call Col. Oliver North at 1-555-IRANSCAM."  Gravestones are for "Liberal Party Members."  The airplane is EL AL.  The final panel shows the stewardess ("Viva Va Voom") and the interviewer hold a microphone with severed wire.

  MAD #271 - "MAD's Modern Day Puzzlers" (pages 24-25) - The drawing for this article were all by Harvey Kurtzman.

"A TV Commercial We'd Like To See" (back cover) - Gerald Ford hits several golfers with his club and golf balls.  He injures several Secret Service agents and then poses with Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.  Nixon is wearing a bandage on his forhead. 

MAD #272 - "MAD Visits an Organ Transplant Hospital" (pages 44-47) - This was Will Elder's last issue for MAD and it was a great one.  Kurtzman & Elder took a Lou Silverstone script and drew an excellent double splash page with 13 panels to follow.  Patients in this hospital include Frankenstein's Monster, the Invisible Man, a man who looks like a bird, a man with eyes in the back of his head, and a man with two heads at opposite ends.  Observing doctors see, hear and speak no evil.  A small boy is holding balloons shaped like lungs.  Igor steals a brain while a dog steals a long piece of an intestine.  Sign near the operating room is "Bodies by Fischer."  In the panels, one of the doctors is an ape and another has made a mouse puppet from a glove while the patient pinches Cyndi Leper.  A doctor uses a hand drill to open a wine bottle.  A brain surgeon is wearing a "Burger Queen" bib while Harpo & Chico Marx are sharing one set of scrubs.  A union seamstress is sewing the top of a patient's head.  Another patient (holding flag and lottery ticket, and wearing Statue of Liberty hat) is resuscitated by a nurse who flashes him.  The same patient is later seen with a party hat and horn holding a beer.  Before examining the patient, doctor soaks the end of his stethoscope in ice.  The operation is being filmed on "Gross & Barf TV."  During the filming, the name of the station is changed to "Wretch & Barf."  Will Elder died on May 15, 2008 of Parkinson's disease.

MAD #273 - "A MAD Look at Some Widely Held Misconceptions" (pages 22-23) - Harvey Kurtzman continued to contribute to MAD for five more issues without Will Elder.  Kurtzman was an excellent artist with a signature style.  He used carefully placed vertical lines to give depth and perspective to his drawings.  In this article written by Mike Snider, Kurtzman stayed on script with a minimum of side gags.

MAD #274 - "Why Owning a VCR is Better than Going to the Movies" (pages 37-39) - Kurtzman always wanted his drawings to correctly show movement and action.  His goal seemed to be to tell the joke without words.  In these drawings, he uses hand gestures and motion lines to represent the story arc.  Foregrounds and backgrounds are separated by the shading and lines.  The petting couples at the bottom of page 8 are in an impossible configuration with five legs and five hands.  Many of his women do not have noses.  All of his sounds have exclamation points except for one small "yawn."  Kurtzman's drawing of car driving at night is an excellent example of his minimalist but effective style.

MAD #279 - "All-Purpose Video Game Instructions Kit" (pages 36-37) - For this Frank Jacobs article, Kurtzman used black Pac-Man style computer characters over a lined and checked maze.  Within the maze are rockets, spaceships, dinosaurs, army tanks and aliens chasing, screaming, shooting and running in a game from a different generation than his own.  This seemed like an odd assignment for an old timer but Kurtzman made it work with a look like no other seen in MAD.  It is impossible to capture the visual possibilities of a twelve to the twelfth power story grid.  But like his border drawings on the cover of MAD #24, there is energy and action here that fits the purpose.

MAD #281 - "The MAD People Watcher's Guide to a Political Convention" (pages 24-25) - Kurtzman put hundreds of political types in this double splash page.  He was not caricaturist.  His characters are expressive but anonymous.  His drawings create mood and situation.  The drawing is meant to be viewed as a whole without attention to the details.  Unlike Elder, he did not want to divert attention from the focus of the article.  The Kutzman crowd is a gathering of personalities - all flawed but actively involved in the moment.

MAD #284 - "Play Pictionary with the MAD Artists" (page 15) - Kurtzman was called back for one more "Prete" article.  This all-hands-on-deck experiment calling for 18 artists to each create drawing in 60 seconds.  Six artists drew "Hitler's Mother" and six drew "Gluttony."  Kurtzman was in the group of six who drew "Frank Perdue's Living Room."  His drawing shows a sad chicken leg with a bowtie under a chandelier.  It is a sad ending for a great artist and a great visionary who created a national treasure.  Harvey Kurtzman died on February 21, 1993 of liver cancer.  He was one of a kind.