Writers/Artists: The Usual Gang of Idiots
Cover artist: Charles Akins
Editor: John Ficarra
Publisher: E.C. Publications
Price: $5.99 US/CAN
I was first introduced to the world of comics back in the late 1970s thanks to a particularly nasty arm fracture that required me to be hospitalized for a couple of days. My brother and two neighbor friends brought me a comic book each to occupy me in my hospital bed, and by the time I finished Batman Family #19, I was hooked. Which brings me to October 2011, and my most recent hospital stay (which explains why there were no updates to Eye on Comics from Oct. 6-14). Among regular visits from my wife and son was a quick one from a friend at work, who dropped off other material to pass the time: a Sudoku book and an issue of Mad. It’s been years — decades, really — since I’d read an issue, and my colleague, who’s aware of my love of comics, clearly thought she’d try to tickle my funny bone and appeal to the imp in me. It was interesting to delve back into the world of Mad again, if only to see how much the magazine has remained the same over the years… and how much it’s changed.
The first thing that struck me about this issue of Mad — which is now published six times a year — was how out of touch I am with some aspects of pop culture. While I’ve heard of Angry Birds, I’ve never played the game, and the cover proclaims the online game is one of the focal points of this issue. Of course, the spoof isn’t so much about the game itself, but a chance to create awkward, avian incarnations of political and entertainment personalities and cast them in the roles of apparently plumed projectiles, as per the premise of the game, I guess.
I was thrilled to find more from artist Sergio Aragones than the cartoons in the margins for which he’s so well known. He also offers a series of full-color strips about the pop-culture phenomenon that is Lady Gaga. But again, I felt I was left out of the loop. I’m completely unfamiliar with Gaga tunes. I’ve seen the outrageous costumes, but I’m at a loss to figure out why so many have deemed her to be sexy and interesting. Now, you’d think strips poking fun at Gaga and society’s fascination with her would appeal to me, but again, I was disinterested. Still, I have to give Aragones credit for remaining topical, and his art in those scripts is as full of personality and goofiness as ever.
The meatiest segment of the magazine remains the same as I remember: the TV/movie spoof. This time around, the Amy Poehler sitcom vehicle Parks and Recreation is in Mad‘s crosshairs. I’ve always found it odd when comedy fare — especially a show as silly as Parks and Rec — finds itself the focus of satire. The jabs writer Arnie Kogen takes at the show are merited, for the most part, but they’re also obvious at times and even a little mean-spirited, I guess. Mind you, what the writer lacks, artist Tom Richmond more than makes up for with his contribution. His skill at caricature is tremendous, and he’s carrying on the Mad tradition established by such stalwarts as Mort Drucker and Jack Davis. In fact, his work here reminded me so much of the spoofs from Mad of two or three decades ago, I did some online research to determine how Richmond has been working with the magazine. He’s been a mainstay for a decade, but it looks like he’s been a member of the Usual Gang of Idiots for much longer.
As I made my way through the issue, the first few pages revealed Mad has become something of a showcase for indie cartoonists. The most noteworthy of their number to contribute is Peter (Hate) Bagge, who offers a single-panel toon, illustrating another creator’s list of “Signs That Your Parents Are Trying to kill You.” And that subject matter and title spotlighted exactly who Mad is meant for, and why I’m not among them. The level of humor in the magazine is meant to appeal to a younger reader. Much of the material is meant for readers to whom gross-out humor and more obvious gags will appeal. On the other hand, the age of those crafting the material is apparent in many other toons. On the same page as the Bagge panel, there are references to 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the notion the modern Star Wars movies suck. I’m not sure if the editors are trying to compile material that appeals to different age brackets or misconstrue what they think to be funny as something its younger demographic will find amusing as well.
One of the highlights of my renewed Mad experience was reconnecting with “Spy Vs. Spy” and discovering cartoonist Peter Kuper has taken over for the property’s creator. While Kuper has maintained the same classic style of the strip, he’s also managed to instill his own richer, slightly surreal spin on things at the same time. Ultimately though, I think I’ve outgrown Mad magazine, but that’s not entirely a condemnation of the publication. It’s more of an acknowledgement of who I was, who I’ve become and how my tastes have changed over the years. It was fun to revisit Mad again, if only to see some of the evolution and which traditions survived into the 21st century. 5/10
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