COMPLETELY MAD: A History of the Comic Book and Magazine by Maria Reidelbach

COMPLETELY MAD: A History of the Comic Book and Magazine

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

This copiously illustrated history of America's ""most successful humor magazine"" never takes itself too seriously, despite patches of banal social history and cultural analysis. Lots of sidebars cover all sorts of material Reidelbach (Miniature Golf, 1987--not reviewed) couldn't integrate into her main narrative, especially profiles of Mad's legendary publisher, William Gaines, and biographies of the many talented writers and illustrators he's employed over the years. Anarchic, irreverent, cynical, and absurdist, Mad began its nearly 40-year history as a four-color comic book edited by Harvey Kurtzman, who brought a new level of satiric sophistication to a medium reserved mostly for superhero dreck and cute funny animals. In fact, the early Mad parodied the funny pages with the same cleverness it would later bring to bear on advertising, movies, and TV. When the comic-book industry imposed new restrictions on itself in the mid-50's, Gaines transformed Mad into a magazine rather than submit it to the censors. While Kurtzman left for other projects, Gaines and his new editor, Al Feldstein, made Mad more accessible to a wider audience. Circulation grew from 325,000 to a high of 2.5 million, with a worldwide readership (in numerous translations and adaptations). Published domestically every 45 days, and with no advertising, Mad provoked the ire of social watchdogs everywhere--nothing seemed sacred to the self-described ""usual gang of idiots"" who mocked the many icons of modern life. Serious cultural critics like Marshall McLuhan, Paul Goodman, and Dwight Macdonald all found the popular humor mag worthy of analysis as a genuine reflection of tumultuous times. Reidelbach strains when she describes Mad's worry-less mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, as ""an archetype of the Jungian sort,"" and her imitations of the Mad style are as annoying as the book's cluttered design. Nevertheless, it's a fine overview of a vital part of pop culture, and a must-read for true Mad ""fan-addicts.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1991
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: "Little, Brown"