Al Jaffe, Mad Magazine’s Legendary Cartoonist, Dies at 102

Al Jaffee, the wise guy who could be funny at any age and who made millions of kids laugh with his “Fold-In” and “Snappy Answers to Dumb Questions” in Mad magazine, has died. He was 102. Fani Thomson, who was his granddaughter, said that Jaffee died in Manhattan on Monday from problems with many of his organs. He gave up work when he was 99 years old.

During the baby boom, teens and preteens had to read Mad magazine, which was funny and sometimes pointed out politics and culture. It also inspired a lot of comedians who came after it. Few members of the magazine’s “Usual Gang of Idiots,” as they called themselves, contributed as much and as consistently as the goofy cartoonist with a beard.

For decades, Jaffee’s writing was in almost every issue. In his unique style, his “Fold-Ins” took on everyone from the Beatles to TMZ. In 2011, a four-volume box set was released with all of them. People ate up his Fold-Ins like dessert. After reading “Spy vs. Spy” by Antonio Prohias and “The Lighter Side” by David Berg, they turned to the inside back cover to look at them.

The idea was to start with a full-page drawing and a question at the top, then fold two spots toward the middle to make a new, surprising picture and reveal the answer. The Fold-In was meant to be a one-time joke. It was done in 1964 to make fun of the biggest celebrity news at the time: Elizabeth Taylor’s divorce from Eddie Fisher in favor of Richard Burton, who was her co-star on “Cleopatra.”

On one side of the photo, Jaffee drew Taylor and Burton walking together. On the other side, he drew a beautiful young man being held back by a police officer. When the picture is folded in half, Taylor and the young man are kissing.

Al Jaffe, Mad Magazine's Legendary Cartoonist, Dies at 102
Al Jaffe, Mad Magazine’s Legendary Cartoonist, Dies at 102

Al Jaffe Legendary Cartoonist

The idea was so popular that Al Feldstein, the editor of Mad, asked for a follow-up. When Jaffee’s picture of 1964 GOP presidential candidates Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater was broken, it became a picture of Richard Nixon.

“That one really set the tone for what the brilliance of the Fold-Ins has to be,” Jaffee told the Boston Phoenix in 2010. “Someone from the left couldn’t just kiss someone from the right.” Jaffee was also famous for his book “Snappy Answers to Dumb Questions,” which was exactly what the title said it would be. In a comic from the 1980s, there was a man in a fishing boat with a broken reel.

His wife asks, “Are you going to catch the fish?” He says, “No, I’m going to jump into the ocean and marry the beautiful thing.” Jaffee didn’t just make fun of culture; he also helped shape it. His marketing jokes were about things that might actually exist, like a phone that automatically calls back, a computer word checker, and surfaces that don’t show graffiti.

On his wish list were also peelable stamps, razors with more than one blade, and cigarettes that go out on their own. From “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz and “Far Side” creator Gary Larson to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who celebrated Jaffee’s 85th birthday with a Fold-In cake on “The Colbert Report.”

As Stewart and the writers of “The Daily Show” put together the best-selling “America (The Book),” they asked Jaffee for a Fold-In. “When I was done, I called the producer who had asked me to do the job and told him, “I’m done with the Fold-In.

Where should I send it?” “Well, Mr. Jaffee, could you please bring it yourself?” he asked. The whole team can’t wait to meet you,’ “He told about it to The Boston Phoenix. Jaffee won a lot of awards and was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame at the San Diego Comic-Con International in 2013. 2010’s “Al Jaffee’s Crazy Life: A Biography” by Mary-Lou Weisman was the first book he worked on.

The next year, Chronicle Books came out with “The MAD Fold-In Collection: 1964–2010.” Art saved him when he was young, but it also made him suspicious of authorities for the rest of his life. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, but he spent his childhood torn between the United States, where his manager father wanted to live, and Lithuania, where his religious Jewish mother wanted to go back.

In Lithuania, Jaffee had trouble and was picked on, but he also got better at what he did. Even though he didn’t have paper or go to school, his father mailed him comic strips so he could learn to read and write. During his teens, he lived in New York City.

He was so talented that he was put in the High School of Music and Art. Will Elder, who would later be an illustrator for Mad, and Harvey Kurtzmann, who would later be an editor for Mad, were both in his class. (His mother, on the other hand, stayed in Lithuania and may have died during the war). He worked for a long time before making Mad.

He worked for Timely Comics, which later changed its name to Marvel Comics. For several years, he drew the “Tall Tales” panel for the New York Herald Tribune. Around the middle of the 1950s, Jaffee began to write for Mad.

After Kurtzmann left, he stopped writing for the journal, but he came back in 1964. After the 1970s, most people stopped reading Mad and it lost its edge. Almost all of the magazine’s stars died before Jaffee did. Even though he mostly kept drawing by hand in the digital age, he was always coming up with new ideas.

In 2009, Jaffee told Graphic NYC, “I’m so used to drawing and knowing so many people who do it that I don’t see the magic.” “If you think about it, I’m sitting down when all of a sudden a big picture of people appears. Even though I know that everything they do is a trick, I’m still amazed when I watch a magician. Think about what people think when they see someone draw by hand and it’s not a trick. It’s really beautiful.”