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November 4, 2012

60 years of 'Mad' magazine

There are many things you still wish you had from your childhood.

Freedom to play, for one. The ability to make a fool of yourself and not care. How about your old toys? You’d be rich right now if you still had them.

Oh, and that pile of comic books and magazines that you stored in your bedroom closet. You wish you still had those, too. Just holding them would take you back to being a kid again, which is why you’ll want “Totally MAD: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity,” edited by John Ficarra.

When Bill Gaines inherited Educational Comics (known as EC) in the early 1950s, the company’s output was mostly “kiddie comics.” Gaines, however, was creative and wanted to experiment. He came up with a horror comic he called “MAD,” changing EC into Entertainment Comics.

Gaines was somewhat of an eccentric. His MAD office was filled with paper, rubber stamps and a life-size King Kong head. He was “unshaven, unkempt, and sometimes off the rails.” Once, after MAD changed offices, he had lunch at a nearby restaurant, then informed the management that he would bring guests to their establishment several times a week if he didn’t have to wear a tie.

They insisted on ties. Gaines never ate there again.

During Gaines’ years at the head of MAD, the magazine consisted of 48 pages of black-and-white drawings. There were occasional, thicker issues but the standard had no frills. And it was cheap — as little as a dime an issue in the early days.

In 1956, MAD’s toothy spokeskid made his debut.

Gaines didn’t like Alfred E. Neuman at first, and had to be convinced that there were “endless possibilities” for the iconic mascot. Alfred’s presence led to a lawsuit for copyright infringement at one point, but the magazine won. The “What? Me, Worry?” kid didn’t worry and neither, reportedly, did Gaines.

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