Thursday, November 19, 2020

Mad's original crew were the greatest gang of idiots

It was genuinely surprising as an eighties kid to discover that the artists on the first couple of dozen of issues of Mad were producing the work they did in the 1950s - who knew that comic art could be so detailed and so slick and so modern-looking, even though it was drawn 20 years before I was born?

The extremely limited interactions I'd had with old comics at that age meant I was used to the crude shortcuts and chunky dynamism of regular monthly superhero comics, and the ones form the 1960s did not always age that well to these young eyes. But I also read those earliest Mad strips regularly, because those earliest strips were constantly reprinted in multiple forms. And I was always struck by how polished it all looked, nothing like the other things I'd seen drawn decades before the likes of Byrne and Perez.

That first crew that Harvey Kurtzman brought together were absolute comic geniuses. The work of Wood, Elder, Severin, Davis and all the others was so detailed, so rock-solid, with textures and depth that comics still haven't matched, all these years laer.

When we first think of Mad, most of us go to the gormless grin of Alfred E Neuman; or the eternal goofiness of the mighty Don Martin and the essential Sergio Aragones; or the right-on-target movie adaptions that were always right on target; or even, God help you, the lighter world of Dave Berg.

And while none of it is as beautiful as that original gang of idiots, that is literally the highest level of comic arts to follow up, so nobody should feel too bad about it. The first Mad comics are funny and seminal and the birth of a whole sub-industry, and spawned a title that outlived almost everybody who originally created it, and that glorious art on those glorious first issues is still as breathtakingly beautiful as it was, all those years ago.

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