Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Boy was I sick this week! I'm talking sicker'n shit sick too, and not just a mere case of the sniffles that plenty of hot lemonade would cure either! REALLY LOW!!! sick. And after the way I've been feeling these past few days I in fact wouldn't mind a good old fashioned mild malady kiddie day off from school sorta sick, the kind that had me watching movies like VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET and long defunct game shows as well as PBS instructional programming! Got a bladder infection, dunno how that happened since it mostly affects women and octogenarian guys (what's next, hot flashes and gout?) but it sure wiped me out liked you couldn't believe! Almost as bad as a typical winter flu complete with the nausea (though as far as my puking went only some bubbly phlegm 'n Cranberry Juice remnants dared major huge hunks of last night's dinner to be found mainly because I couldn't handle anything on my guts nohow!), and if you can believe it I was so out of time that I didn't even go on this computer thing for an entire day that's how zapped I was. Not only that but my pee looked like Cherry 7-Up with cloudy stuff floatin' about in it and the stuff smelled worse'n Aunt Mabel's last gynecological sample so you know how bad off I was. OK, you can all stop laughing!

But fortunately I am the kinda guy who can take a bad situation and make funzies outta it, just like alla those kids in Cambodia who saw alla those skulls and femurs lyin' 'round and thought they'd make swell drums 'n drumsticks. Just a few days before my unchained malady I dragged a few boxes of old paperbacks out from the basement to eyeball (on an economy kick, y 'know), and among the reams of PEANUTS books dating back to my kiddiehood and Archie Publication "Double Digests" I came across what else but multiple copies of the early Ballantine-era MAD collections that had really scrambled my brains during the early years of my once-unbridled comic book obsession ca. age 12.

Now I know that in the here and now the early MAD credo is pretty much ancient hoo-hah, but when I was a kiddoid the Ballantine-era MAD books (the ones featuring material from the title's early comic book days as well as Harvey Kurtzman-helmed magazine material) were pretty much heavily desired at least in my brain. At that time the only available books featuring any of these early treasures were Signet's THE MAD READER and SON OF MAD, fantastic collections in themselves but only enough to leave one hungerin' for more of these fifties-vintage goodies. So when the opportunity would arise, such as a chance spotting of one of those late-sixties Ballantine editions with the awful Peter Max ripoff covers that a local news agency my mother didn't want me going into because they sold durty magazines (I swear she was thinkin' about making me wear horseblinders the way she'd tell me to "look straight ahead, don't look at any of the magazine covers, go straight to the place where they sell the book, pick it up and take it immediately to the checkout!") you can bet that I'd be snatching it up faster'n you can say potrzebie!

You could guess that I was happier'n a diabetic locked in a candy store when Ballantine eventually reissued their MAD line in '72-'73, and with the original covers that looked so boffo next to the "updating" Ballantine had used for their most recent excursion. I remember buying MAD STRIKES BACK at the National Record Mart at the Eastwood Mall with an honest to fanabla guy in with long hair and a beard checking me out and boy did I feel all grown upsy! I even took up Ballantine's offer on the last page of the book and ordered the other available MAD paperback THE MAD READER via mail...sending my sixty cents in coin which is probably the reason why I'm still waiting for my order to come in forty years later. I eventually picked that and the rest of the Ballantine books up as soon as they hit the stands (for some reason memories of me reading UTTERLY MAD while taking a dump on Christmas morn 1973 are firmly etched in my mind) and if you don't think these books were some of the highlights of my seventies existence then brother you don't know what obsession is!

In fact the early MAD era along with the entire EC mystique became one big reason to keep on chugging during those days of pimplefarm angst. And with a little luck and plenty of lawn mower money, not only did I eventually own all of those Ballantine books (and even some of the horror and sci-fi ones that Ballantine issued in the sixties) but I'd pick up extra ones here and there at flea markets or (years after) in ebay bulk auctions. I even snatched up a whole bunch of the 2002 fiftieth anniversary facsimiles that I-Books published at this remaindered book store in Greensburg PA because I thought they'd be cool to give to friends. (But since I have no friends and they look cool enough I thought it best to keep 'em-----hee!). And, after prowling through the boxes of books I've accumulated over the past few decades I discovered I possessed some down-to-earth rarities, like an edition of MAD STRIKES BACK with a blue cover not forgetting an original printing of THE MAD READER with "What's My Shine," Kurtzman's satire on the Army/McCarthy hearings that people remember so fondly because well, they are such good progressives and all and need to remind themselves why once in a while....

Speaking of THE MAD READER, I gotta mention that, besides this book being the first time comic book material had ever been gathered in paperback form and Alfred E. Neuman was used as a highly visible image on MAD product, this is one of my fave of the batch. That's only because there are two of those keenly-delineated Will Elder spoofs in it, the first being the high-larious "Starchie" and the second "Gasoline Valley," drawn in a fine twenties-thin line style that evokes a whole lotta old-timey comic strip luvvin' as much as the real deal. The rest of it is snat (and substituting "The Face Upon the Floor" for "Shine" probably a better choice overall) and if you don't think that possessing this book is one of the prouder moments of my life don't know what a cloistered life I lead!

Biddy with a first aid kit I'm sure
readers wouldn't mind taking on their
next camping trip.
"Starchie" of course remains a fantastico spoof of the long-running comic characters with the usual Kurtzman milking and exaggerating of the obvious, not forgetting the inclusion of a few things that were just "too much" for the pre-pubesprout who were reading it all totally unaware of the sexual sneak-ins and blatant gags being used. Take the panel where Biddy is flying out at Starchie with what looks to be a warm loving embrace and you see a bottle of pills, a hypo and marijuana flying out of her purse...when I first laid eyes upon this saga I had no idea what the gag was and asked my sister, who said something about that purse being a FIRST AID KIT and that the "boo" flying outta it was actually smelling salts! Well I guess a kid as 'tardoid as myself would believe just about anything back then as long as it was told to me in a straightforward, non-mocking tone! Of course the scene where Starchie and Bottleneck strip Wedgie naked and march him into their car seemed kinda dirty to me as did a whole lotta the full read nudity that could be found in the early MADs, but thinkin' back when I was ten years old one rear end was just as evil as another and it didn't matter if it was Raquel Welch's or Dennis the Menace's or the girl in the Coppertone ad for that matter. As long as the gluteus was being shown it was just as bad as a PLAYBOY centerfold 'n only little infants on bear skin rugs could get away with it because they were too stoopid to know!

The rest of the book is snat as well even if "Superduperman" (the story that clinched it for MAD and got DC threatening legal rumblings) ain't as har-har as I supposed 1953 audiences thought it was and "Dragged Net" bore little resemblance to the late-sixties series that played the syndication circuit for a good twentysome years after. It's still a boffo collection which ends with one of the two "Lone Stranger" stories featuring Jack Davis at his earliest but thankfully not slap-dashiest.

Spiffy followup that MAD STRIKES BACK was, even if it had its share of near-misses and outright flounders that didn't make it intact into the sixties let alone now. The PRINCE VALIANT sendup was just as trite as the strip it was spoofing, and maybe if CAPTAIN VIDEO had gotten around after Dumont went under we'd be able to appreciate "Captain Tvideo" and the references to cheap props a whole lot more. And since I always thought that POGO was a tiresome and unfunny comic strip to begin with "Gopo Gossum" doesn't do anything for me. However there are bright spots like the KING KONG spoof ("Ping Pong") as well as two comic strip sendups, the first being the shoulda-been-infamous by now "Poopeye" and the second being "Manduck the Magician" 'n both of 'em really deliver on those fantastico adolescent satire pangs that I was craving at the time! Of course I gotta admit that  these just weren't as funny as NATIONAL LAMPOON getting all scatological and bad taste like they were in the seventies, though you could tell that the 'pooners got their ideas from these old MADs to begin with and so $#^@& what!

INSIDE MAD holds a lotta youthful nostalgic memories for me...y'see, when I spotted a copy of the book after having a hard time tracking any of these Ballantines down I wasn't allowed to read it! Well, I wasn't allowed to read it until the weekends because my grades were getting sooooo bad and I didn't want to be classified as having the IQ of a twenty-week embryo thus making me prime meat for a retroactive abortion. So I waited patiently throughout the entire week doing my homework and acting like the nice li'l blootch I was supposed to be until....voh-luh! it was Friday after school and, after changing into my old duds, I got the book and read the entire thing cover to cover with nobody but Sam to pester me thinking that this was the funniest item to pass mine eyes since HITLERJUNGE QUEX. Sheesh, I can still remember lounging on the couch wearing those ever-tightening courderoys holding that book (which I of course still have!) sideways (the way these were meant to be read!) while Sam would be sniffing and slobbering on me and I'd give him a good punch in the nose so's he'd go away. And you're probably waxing romantic about your first gang bang in a telephone booth 'r sum'thin!

But with the line up that INSIDE MAD presents (not forgetting the "backwards" from Stan Freberg) it's hard to see this book failing on any fronts. "Mickey Rodent" and "The Katchandhammer Kids" show Elder at the apex of his mimicking career, while even Davis' "Mark Trade" is a keen rip at the long-running nature strip MARK TRAIL even if it is done more in the style of Davis than it is Ed Dodd. But then again the SMILIN' JACK  burlesque  SMILIN' MELVIN also rates hefty hosannas even if this was drawn by Wallace Wood before he eventually became the chief comic strip imitator in MAD's pages. Other highlights include "Shemlock Shomes" (a goodie though not as good as "The Hound of the Basketballs") and all of those Bill Elder ad spoofs that look like the same things he would end up doing for HUMBUG a few years later. Low point of the book is "Bat Boy and Rubin" which just wasn't funny probably because it just had nothing in common with the rill dill!

Gotta say that UTTERLY MAD is prob'ly the least fave of the Ballantine MAD books, and the lack of Elder comic spoofs is clearly the reason why. Still it holds up at least for Christmas morn doody reading with such entries as John Severin's "Melvin of the Apes" and "Book! Movie!" which I thought was another rather off color entry to appear in a comic book even with all of the "good taste" censorship stamps all over the thing. In fact there seemed to be an outpouring of bad taste in this 'un especially in the "Frank N. Stein" spoof where a number of bare rears are clearly visible. John Severin's rendition of "Robin Hood" stunk, but at least one of those funny Phil Interlandi "Scenes We'd Like to See" cartoons from the magazine era was slipped in the back saving this from being a total wreck!

THE BROTHERS MAD was the final Ballantine paperback before Signet took 'em over, and the fact that it first came out in 1958 is kinda stymieing considering just how different the mag was from the material they were reprinting by that time. And sheesh, Ballantine was even keeping the old MAD logo on their covers for who knows what reason other than to signify that the stories in this book are of the "original" comic book/magazine done up back when it was under different management and what you're getting in these books differs from the stuff popping up at the news stand these days! Either that or Ballantine never got the memo, but it sure makes for an interesting theory considering the comic book vs. satire mag aspect of MAD, or even the whole Kurtzman vs. Feldstein controversy that I hear rages on between those who think MAD petered out when Kurtzman left, or stayed alive at least until '65, or just totally lost it when they decided to go for the gross out booger crowd sometime in the nineties.

But as far as going out on a good note THE BROTHERS MAD went out good on an entire symphony, not only with more classic comic book-era faves but even some early mag spoofage that certainly was scarce in them other editions. There's another "Scene's We'd Like to See" here, not to mention some top-notch early faves as "Woman Wonder," "Black and Blue Hawks" (which must have been so popular that the characters made a cameo appearance in Jack Davis' FLASH GORDON spoof via the pages of HUMBUG!) and even another "Melvin of the Apes"  and "Shemlock Shomes" (the aforementioned "Hound of the Basketballs") which only goes to show you that if you get an idea that pays off, milk it for all its worth! Most of it is good, if not pleasantly dated, the Dave Garroway and Shadow spoofs being among 'em. For me it's Elder's comic strip sendups, this time a FEARLESS FOSDICK "Crazyroot Cream Oil" ad and some early magazine entries that make this a total keeper, and just glancin' at the cover of this 'un immediately brings back memories of being a kid let loose in the local department store comin' across the wide array of comic-related booty in the book department just starin' at the covers with an awe-inspiring abandon. I guess that's what they had kids do before they invented ritalin.

And so there you have it, the early days of MAD set down in nifty pocketbook form that seem just as much a part of Baby Boomer growing up suburban slob living as fast foods and afternoon doses of ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS. And y'know, sometimes when I'm driving about and I come across some really sleek looking 1950s ranch house somewhere, maybe one with a swimming pool with diving board and slide inna back,  I kinda envision what the family who lived there back '62 way might have been doing on some hotcha summer day back when kid-dom just hadda've been at its all time high. I always get this strong feeling that their kids were probably big on MAD and comic books and tee-vee and those things I never did get a complete diet of back when I was a kid which only makes me long for it even more in the here and now! Sometimes I think that maybe one of those kids is still living in that hotcha house and yeah, he's got his MADs all tucked away to be pulled out on rare occasion when the urge for past pleasures become too hard to hand in the cold cyborg days of the "teens."  And boy would I just love to drive up that drive 'n knock on the door and introduce myself, but who know's...the guy's probably at work or something and even if he's home he's probably reading those very same MAD paperbacks he's been cherishing for a half century and really, I don't wanna intrude on his free time.

So readers, if you want to read the roots of it all, from sarcastic stand up comics to stand up comics posing as social reformers to kiddie level fart and booger humor being presented to kiddies to the "Powers That Be" acting as the "Rage Against The Machine" look no further than these books..................................excuse me, I think I'm gonna go outside and burn 'em all right now!


Viracocha Jason Aristotle said...

Wow! did your post ever bring back memories of my youth. Just viewing those covers still bends my mind. Pretty wild stuff!! I'm going to check with amazon to see if I can find them

Viracocha Jason Aristotle said...

Well, thank to your great post I just ordered some great Mad books from amazon. Thanks for your post!