Facsimile Edition

Release: Jun 04, 2024

Cover: Oct 1952

E.C. (Educational Comics)


WriterHarvey Kurtzman
ArtistJohn Severin, Jack Davis, Wally Wood
Cover ArtistHarvey Kurtzman
EditorHarvey Kurtzman
Editor in ChiefBill Gaines

Then it hit us! A change of pace! A comic book! Not a serious comic book…but a COMIC comic book!

MAD was a staple of my childhood, in the form of the various specials and paperback reprints and, of course, the magazine itself. It was one of the biggest influences on my sense of humor and, frankly, on my view of the larger world and the workings of society, and a society is, I’m told, what we live in.

In the days before home video was a thing, MAD parodies were often the only exposure I had to a lot of movies and to TV shows that aired on a network other than CBS. In the isolated area where I grew up MAD was kind of like a Reader’s Digest of popular culture for me.

I don’t know how or when I started reading MAD, as I don’t recall it being mixed in with the comics purchased for my older siblings that we had lying about the house, but I also can’t recall a time before MAD was part of my life. I don’t even recall ever asking for it, I just remember having it.

All I do know is that, as with most of the comics I had in the earliest part of my childhood, is that my mom bought it for me, though I’m not sure what made her initially decide to do so. It’s possible that she read MAD when she was young, as she did read comics in her youth, but the MAD she would have read and the MAD I read, as can be seen in this facsimile edition of the first issue, were two very different things.

For me, MAD was a magazine-sized, black and white publication, featuring, as noted, parodies of movies and TV, satirical looks at certain aspects of society, and assorted gag strips.

The original MAD was a full-color comic, and while it had a satirical bent, it was focused more on doing so through original stories, being more of an anthology than the hodgepodge it would later become.

This premiere issue opens with a kind of mission statement and an appeal to readers to provide suggestions.

What follows are four illustrated stories and two short prose stories, both of which have an odd stream of consciousness feel, coming off like a story in the round, with multiple writers doing a “Yes, and…” though Harvey Kurtzman is credited as the sole writer of all the stories in the issue.

The first of the illustrated stories is a horror spoof that contains this fantastic visual:

Image of a comically-terrified man running off into the night from a scary looking house on a hill
By the incomparable Jack Davis

The story involves a young couple running out of gas on a dark and stormy night and reluctantly heading to a nearby mansion that is reputed to be haunted.

The spooky experiences the two have within are easily explained and eventually they get a can of gas from the caretaker and are on their way, though the readers are presented with the ending twist.

Four panels opening with a close up on the face of a smiling old man.
"Heh heh! There they go! Swerving madly down the road!"
Second panel zooms out a bit and we see a hand under the old man's chin.
"Good-bye, youngsters! Good-bye! And remember..."
Third panel
We see the old man's head is being held under someone's arm.
"...remember...there aren't any ghosts! Heh! Heh!"
Fourth panel.
A headless body walks away carrying the old man's head under its arm.
"...aren't any ghosts at all!"
Laughter fills the panel

The second story is a science fiction piece that some would consider prescient about a future human society in which we’re all completely dependent on machines, and we aren’t so much human as we are merely blobs, which gives the story – “Blobs!” – its title.

It asks – and answers – the question of what would happen to the blobs if the machines that maintain the machines that maintain the blobs were to break down.

A close up of a person's upside-down head, covered with cobwebs.
"Yes, dear reader! The machine did break!"

This is followed by the first prose story, which is about a boy who disappeared into infinity by way of a package of salt.

The second prose story follows, telling the tale of a secret operative in Ancient Rome who gets drafted into the war effort while engaging in an undercover investigation of fixed gladiator matches and eventually invents chalkboard erasers.

Next up is a crime story that demonstrates that not only does crime not pay, the job really stinks.

The final story is a western about a man who once he makes up his mind to do something doesn’t change easy out to avenge the death of his buddy.

He guns down several likely suspects, but the real killer keeps eluding him, until the truth is revealed and his determination is put to the ultimate test.

A shot of an Old West saloon. A short cowboy is standing on a crate and leaning on the bar. Hooting and hollering is going on in the background. A dead cowboy in a white hat is in the foreground.
"Yep...that';s who it wuz who killed Melvin. It was Tex hisself! And when he made up his mind to do somethin', he didn't change easy! Gimme a drink, Joe!"

The biggest strength of the comic is that it features work by legendary artists: Jack Davis, Wally Wood, and John and Marie Severin.

As a result, it looks great.

The humor, however, is very much of its time.

Not to say it’s particularly offensive to modern sensibilities, just that most of it isn’t really funny to modern sensibilities.

Not that there were no chuckles – the panel of the guy running out of the house is hilarious, and the gag of constant repetition about how Tex doesn’t change easy and the exposition of what it is he made up his mind about were clever – but like I said, it’s very much a product of 1952.

The humor of the first prose story is in large part predicated making references to common consumer products of the day, some of which aren’t around anymore. If the brand of salt that the boy disappeared into still exists, I don’t know what it is based on the description of the box art.

The second story kind of presages The Flintstones in that most of its humor is built on anachronisms – “zoot-toga” “Dixieland lyre-player” “I’m a Roman Doodle Dandy” – a lot of which wouldn’t land for anyone who isn’t particularly versed in the culture of the early 1950s.

While the illustrated stories all stand alone, there is a bit of a connective thread that runs straight through from the cover in that each of them features someone named Melvin.

Overall, it’s fun to look back to the beginning, but my bias towards the MAD of my youth prevents me from fully enjoying MAD in its own youth.

That said, while it doesn’t have much in common with the magazine I know, most of the stories did feel familiar, as in terms of overall tone and style they had a fair amount in common with Little Annie Fanny, another of Harvey Kurtzman’s creations that appeared in a different magazine I read a lot as a kid that my mom most assuredly did not buy for me…

Playboy's Little Annie Fanny
Harvey Kurtzman
and Will Elder
Volume 1

That does, however, remind me of something about MAD, my mom, “adult” content, and me.

As I said, my mom bought MAD for me all the time, usually because I asked for it/threw it in the shopping cart, but also just on her own sometimes. If she’d gone to town during the day I might come home from school to find that she’d grabbed me some comics and maybe a MAD paperback.

Don Martin
Adventures of
One of many I recall.

The point is, even when I was as very young she had no qualms about handing me some MADness – possibly because she didn’t actually look inside – and generally neither she nor my dad were particularly restrictive about the media I consumed. Again, they weren’t going to hand me a copy of Playboy, but they wouldn’t have lost their minds if I got my hands on one. (Which, as noted, I did. Many, many copies, and copies of lots of other things besides.)

Still, that sort of thing was something I felt the need to keep on the down low, so one time when I was staying at a friends house and he told me, in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, that he wanted to show me something secret that his older brother had given him I fully-expected it to be a Playboy stash.

It was a stash of magazines.

Specifically, MAD.

He kept a stack of MAD Magazines – mostly from the ’70s, as I recall – hidden from his mother.

It blew my mind. I mean, he was a year older than I was!

When I returned home from my sleepover I was still so stunned by the idea that I actually told my mom about it. (And made her promise not to rat out my friend, even though I thought it was ridiculous that he had to hide them.)

She just shrugged, agreed that it was weird and excessive, and said, “Well, some people just don’t think their kids can handle things like that.”

(Frankly, sometimes when I take stock of how I turned out I wonder if I was able to handle things like that.)

But to return to the matter at hand, this inaugural issue certainly isn’t bad – after all, it says right on the cover that it’s mad – and I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be like the magazine that I knew. Its just very much a product of its time, and the first iteration of something that would last for decades and evolve over time to adapt to the changing times.

Though I didn’t necessarily find the contents to be rad I’m glad and not sad that the idea proved to be more than a fad and that this facsimile of the first MAD was available to be had.

Born and raised in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jon Maki developed an enduring love for comics at an early age.

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