Thursday, December 10, 2009

Telling Tall Tales

So, last night I went into NYC to attend an interview/lecture with Al Jaffee. If you don’t know Al, then you are way too young, or simply did not have the same ill-spent youth as did I. Al is one of the premiere cartoonists from Mad Magazine.

In fact, he’s the reason that I’m a smart ass to this day. After the event I was able to meet him and tell him that. I said that my father hates him, my wife hates him, but I think that he’s great. The evening was hosted by MoCCA (the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art), and moderated by Danny Fingeroth and held at Columbia University.

Al, you see, gave us (among many other things), Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, the Mad Fold-in Page, and well, a whole bunch of other iconic gags. In fact, I purchased his book Tall Tales, which is a collection of his syndicated work from the mid ‘50s to the early ‘60s. Back then one of the surest ways that a cartoonist could stay employed was to have a syndicated strip. Needless to say, the newspaper space for cartoons was limited, and if someone got their strip in, then it meant that someone else got booted out.

Al worked around this by developing a cartoon that was one newspaper column wide by 7" tall. In this fashion, he wouldn’t have to supplant some other struggling cartoonist, but would allow newspaper editors the ability to use his strip as a “filler” of sorts, and place it anywhere in the paper. Al took it a step further and made the strip wordless so that he could syndicate it overseas without having to have it translated.

This worked for some six years, when (according to the story that Al tells), some junior exec at the syndicate informed him that “Americans don’t like wordless cartoons”, and forced him to add words, which he did and was promptly dropped by 35 overseas papers. As could be expected, this caused some damage to his relationship with the syndicate, and they parted ways.

Well, with the publication of Tall Tales $14.95 (Abrams), several of the best cartoon from that series have been reprinted, and man are they still very funny. The cartoon I’ve reproduced here is one of my favorite in the book.

So if you are looking for a gift for someone this holiday season who had an ill-spent youth readingh Mad Magazine, you’ll want to check this out. Oh yeah, and if all that isn’t enough to get you to buy the book, it has an (all too) brief introduction by Stephen Colbert.

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