Saturday, June 9, 2018

Vital Viewing (What--Me Worry? Edition)


Nick Meglin died earlier this week at the age of 82. Not a famous name to be sure, but if you're the type of person who reads the mastheads of humor magazines (I know I am), you'll recognize him as first an assistant editor of Mad magazine from 1956 to 1984, and then co-editor (with John Ficarro) until his retirement in 2004, and even after that he was listed as a "Contributing Editor" for quite a while. Meglin started out as an illustrator, but quickly moved on to writing comic books for the legendary (and, at the time, somewhat notorious) E.C. comics in the early 1950s. He wrote dramatic fare but really found his metier with humor when he became one of the writers of Panic, EC's ripoff of its own comic book version of Mad. In the mid-50s, EC publisher William M. Gaines decided to give up on comic books after imposition of the "comics code", and turned Mad, much to the delight of founding editor Harvey Kurtzman, into a "magazine" (basically a black-and-white comic book sold alongside such periodicals as Life, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post.) Soon after that transformation was complete, Kurtzman was snatched up by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner (for whom he did the short-lived Trump years before the satire incarnate ended up in the White House, but became better known for the long-running Little Annie Fanny) and was replaced with horror comic writer/artist and Panic editor Al Feldstein, who was very good at producing a magazine on time but not necessarily the funniest guy in the world. That task was left to Meglin. Though only 10 articles were credited to him during his five-decade stint at Mad, he's been credited by all those involved with much of the uncredited humor in the magazine, such as introductions to articles and the names of departments (a satire of the movie Patton could be found in the Great Scott Department) as well as the pithy masthead quotes of Mad 's mascot, whom I'll get to in a second. Nor was Meglin's original career as an illustrator completely forsaken. Some of you might recall this drawing in the Letters to the Editor section:

 
 But Meglin's greatest contribution may have been that mascot I mentioned earlier:


Megin didn't create this fellow, who had originally popped up in late 19th-early 20th century advertising. Nor was it his idea to put him on the cover of something titled Mad; that would have been Kurtzman for an early paperback collection. Kurtzman also came up with the moniker Alfred E. Newman, though he never called the mascot that. It was just an odd name he used from time to time throughout the magazine. According to all concerned, it was Meglin who brought the mascot and the name together, and, furthermore, came up with the idea of having Alfred on the cover in a neverending (to this very day) series of situations, such as:


Richard Williams illustrated the above, but Meglin reportedly came up with the idea. Perhaps he did a rough draft (in which case he was lucky some cop wasn't driving by.)

OK, this is called Vital Viewing, so it's about time I coughed up the actual video. It's a couple of New Years Eve parties emceed by longtime Mad writer, longtime Match Game writer, and, in recent years, Giz Whiz podcast co-host Dick DeBartolo. After a short bit with publisher Gaines, they'll be two equally short bits with Meglin:




Before you ask, no, none of them were ever on The Gong Show.

R.I.P Nick Meglin.


10 comments:

  1. I never got into Mad magazine

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    1. Adam, I suspect your age makes a difference here. The magazine simply doesn't stand out the way it once did (even though a recent issue I perused still had a lot of funny stuff in it.) Mad's heyday was in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Back then it made fun of a mainstream culture (advertising in particular) that took itself quite seriously. Times change. As the cartoonist Art Spiegelman has pointed out, nowadays the mainstream culture makes fun (or, more likely, pretends to make fun) of itself, robbing Mad of much of its power. I mean, look at those irony-infused commercials they show during the Super Bowl. How in the world does Mad go about making fun of those?

      Also, these days Mad has competition from other media. The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, and Saturday Night Live all have a Mad-like sensibility, but it's easier for a person, especially a young person, to latch onto those than a magazine that comes out six times a year.

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  2. Me neither but I recognise it's worth and power

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    1. John, in its heyday, there was something slightly rebellious about reading Mad. It was the comic book equivalent of rock and roll. Of course, these days rock is so much part of the mainstream culture, it's not very rebellious at all.

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  3. MAD Magazine was absolutely central to my adolescence in the early 70s.

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    1. Debra, whenever your cat hijacks your blog, I'm reminded of Mad.

      Also, Debra, not only would Mad have been absolutely central to your adolescence, but, whether you know it or not, your adolescence would have been absolutely central to Mad. The magazine's circulation peaked in 1972. Not uncoincidentally, that would have been about the time that the teenage population in North America peaked. The magazine rose and fell with the Baby Boom.

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  4. Hi, Kirk!

    In my youth the smiling face of Alfred E. Newman became as familiar as a member of the family. In the mid 50s my big brother introduced me to Mad Magazine and E.C. Comics. Hooked from the start, I devoured those publications for the next ten years and was therefore exposed on a regular basis to the witty writing and illustrations of Nick Meglin. (My parents also ripped the Little Annie Fannie cartoons from Playboy Magazines and kept them in a drawer in our subterranean game room where they had a bar and entertained friends. I sneaked a peek and therefore became familiar with the work of Harvey Kurtzman during those childhood years.)

    I didn't know his name until now, but Nick Meglin was a major influence on me. I adopted his offbeat, ironic style of humor and use it often in my writing and the manner in which my blog posts are composed.

    The handwriting is on the snow. The world will most likely never again see a writer, illustrator and idea man with the same skill set as Nick Meglin. Thank you for posting this tribute, good buddy Kirk!

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    1. In that case, Shady, you also would have become familiar with the work of the great Will Elder, who illustrated Little Annie Fanny, and though he left with Kurtzman in 1956, is arguably the most important artist in Mad's history. The little-gags-in-the-background style we associate with the magazine is really Elder's doing. On top of that, even though he never did it regularly, he was the first Mad artist to render Alfred E. Newman (on the cover of The Mad Reader, a paperback collection)

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  5. Oh, how I loved Mad magazine. Subscribed for years. And I remember his face. I love the video and the talk about David "Coppahfield"

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    1. Mitchell, though it recently migrated to LA, a lot of New Yawk writers were originally responsible for Mad.

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