NEW YORK (AP) — Al Jaffee, the award-winning Mad magazine cartoonist and ageless sage who delighted millions of children with the sneaky fun of the Fold-In and the sarcasm of “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” has died. He was 102.
Jaffee died Monday in Manhattan of multiple organ failure, according to his granddaughter, Fani Thomson. He had retired at 99 years old.
Mad magazine, with its wry, sometimes scathing parodies of politics and culture, was essential reading for teens and tweens during the baby boom era and an inspiration to countless up-and-coming comedians. Few of the magazine’s self-proclaimed «Usual Gang of Idiots» contributed as much, and as reliably, as the mischievous, bearded cartoonist. For decades, virtually every issue featured new material from Jaffee. His collection of «Fold-Ins,» encompassing everyone in his unmistakably broad visual style from the Beatles to TMZ, sufficed for a four-volume box set published in 2011.
Readers savored his Fold-Ins like dessert, turning to them on the inside back cover after watching other favorites like “Spy vs. Spy” by Antonio Prohías and “The Lighter Side” by Dave Berg. The premise, originally a parody of the old Sports Illustrated and Playboy magazine foldouts, was that you started with a full-page drawing and a question at the top, folded two designated dots to the middle, and produced a striking new image, along with the answer.
The Fold-In was supposed to be a one-shot joke, proven in 1964 when Jaffee lampooned the biggest celebrity news story of the day: Elizabeth Taylor left her husband, Eddie Fisher, in favor of «Cleopatra» co-star Richard Burton. Jaffee first showed Taylor and Burton arm in arm on one side of the image, and on the opposite side a handsome young man being pulled over by a police officer. He folds the image over and Taylor and the young man are kissing.
The idea was so popular that Mad editor Al Feldstein wanted a follow-up. Jaffee devised an image of 1964 Republican presidential contenders Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater that, when it collapsed, became an image of Richard Nixon.
«That really set the tone for what Fold-Ins intelligence should be,» Jaffee told the Boston Phoenix in 2010. «It couldn’t just be bringing someone from the left to kiss someone from the right.»
Jaffee was also known for «Swift Answers to Stupid Questions,» which delivered exactly what the title promised. A 1980 comic featured a man on a fishing boat with a noticeably crooked reel. «Are you going to reel in the fish?» asks his wife. «No,» she says, «I’m going to jump in the water and marry the beautiful thing.»
Jaffee didn’t just lampoon the culture; he helped change it. Parodies of his ads featured real-life future products like automatic phone redial, a computer spell checker, and graffiti-proof surfaces. He also anticipated peelable stamps, multi-blade razors, and self-extinguishing cigarettes.
Jaffee’s admirers ranged from Charles M. Schulz of «Peanuts» fame and «Far Side» creator Gary Larson to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who celebrated Jaffee’s 85th birthday by presenting a folding cake at «The Colbert Report». When Stewart and the writers of «The Daily Show» put together the bestseller «America (The Book),» they asked Jaffee to contribute a Fold-In.
“When I was done, I called the producer who had contacted me and said, ‘I’m done with the Fold-In, where do I send it?’ And he said, and this was a great compliment, ‘Oh, please, Mr. Jaffee, could you deliver it in person? The whole team wants to meet you,’” he told The Boston Phoenix.
Jaffee received numerous awards, and in 2013 he was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, the ceremony took place at San Diego Comic-Con International. In 2010, he contributed illustrations to Mary-Lou Weisman’s «Al Jaffee’s Mad Life: A Biography.» The following year, Chronicle Books published «The MAD Fold-In Collection: 1964-2010.»
Art was the saving presence of his childhood, which left him with a permanent distrust of adults and authority. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, but for years was torn between the US, where his father (a department store manager) preferred to live, and Lithuania, where his mother (a religious Jew) wanted to return. . In Lithuania, Jaffee endured poverty and bullying, but also developed his trade. With little paper and no school to attend, he learned to read and write through comic strips sent to him by his father.
In his teens, he settled in New York City and was so obviously talented that he was accepted into the High School of Music and Art. His schoolmates included Will Elder, a future Mad illustrator, and Harvey Kurtzmann, a future Mad editor. (Meanwhile, his mother remained in Lithuania and was apparently killed during the war.)
He had a long career before Mad. He drew for Timely Comics, which became Marvel Comics; and for several years he drew the «Tall Tales» panel for the New York Herald Tribune. Jaffee first contributed to Mad in the mid-1950s. He left when Kurtzmann left the magazine, but returned in 1964.
Mad lost much of its readership and edge after the 1970s, and Jaffee outlived virtually all of the magazine’s stars. But he was rarely short of ideas, even when his method, drawing by hand, remained largely unchanged in the digital age.
“I’m so used to drawing and meeting so many people who do it, I just don’t see the magic in it,” Jaffee told Graphic NYC publication in 2009. “If you think about it and think about it, I’m sitting down and all of a sudden this great illustration appears. of people. I am amazed when I see magicians at work; although I know they are all tricks. You can imagine what someone thinks when they see someone drawing freehand and it’s not a trick. It is very impressive».