As journalist Weisman (My Baby Boomer Baby Book: A Record of Milestones, Millstones & Gallstones, 2006, etc.) demonstrates, the life story of veteran MAD cartoonist is stranger than anything he has ever drawn for the magazine.
Though Al Jaffee (b. 1921) has been associated with MAD longer than anyone in the magazine’s history, few familiar with his work know the stories that underlie his barbed sense of humor. “A résumé of Al’s formative years,” writes the author, “reads like a comic strip of traumatic cliff-hangers, with cartoons by Jaffee and captions by Freud.” Or maybe by Kafka, for this account—of how the six-year-old boy was taken back to Lithuania by his immigrant mother, and then shuttled back and forth between a European homeland still steeped in the 19th century and an America where he ultimately felt like an outsider—is a whiplash series of transitions for the reader, let alone for the young boy who had to navigate them. Jaffee’s own voice dominates—even more than it might in an “as told to” autobiography—and the culture shock he details, down to the stench of the outhouse, amid a surge of anti-Semitism and the advent of Hitler, goes a long way toward explaining the distrust he has held for the world of adults and the revenge his defiantly adolescent humor takes upon them. With a few dozen illustrations by the 89-year-old cartoonist, who remains best known for the MAD “fold-ins” he has drawn for decades, the biography initially reads like an extended, single-source interview profile—it had its genesis as a magazine feature—yet belatedly broadens to include other perspectives once it progresses to his improbable career at the magazine.
Doesn’t provide as much depth as more conventional biographies, but Jaffee’s voice and life will hook the reader.