Al Jaffee, veteran Mad magazine cartoonist, dead at 102

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Award-winning Mad Magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee has died at the age of 102.

Jaffee died on Monday in Manhattan from multiple organ failure, according to his granddaughter, Fani Thomson. He had retired at the age of 99.

Mad magazine, with its wry, sometimes pointed send-ups of politics and culture, was essential reading for teens and preteens during the baby-boom era and inspiration for countless future comedians.

Few of the magazine’s self-billed “Usual Gang of Idiots” contributed as much — and as dependably — as the impish, bearded cartoonist.

For decades, virtually every issue featured new material by Jaffee. His collected Fold-Ins, taking on everyone in his unmistakeably broad visual style from the Beatles to TMZ, was enough for a four-volume box set published in 2011.

The premise, originally a spoof of the old Sports Illustrated and Playboy magazine foldouts, was that you started with a full-page drawing and question on top, folded two designated points toward the middle and produced a new and surprising image, along with the answer.

The Fold-In was supposed to be a onetime gag, tried out in 1964 when Jaffee satirised the biggest celebrity news of the time: Elizabeth Taylor dumping her husband, Eddie Fisher, in favour of Cleopatra co-star Richard Burton.

Jaffee first showed Taylor and Burton arm in arm on one side of the picture, and on the opposite side a young, handsome man being held back by a policeman.

Fold the picture in and Taylor and the young man are kissing.

The idea was so popular that Mad editor Al Feldstein wanted a follow-up. Jaffee devised a picture of 1964 GOP presidential contenders Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater that, when collapsed, became an image of Richard Nixon.

“That one really set the tone for what the cleverness of the Fold-Ins has to be,” Jaffee told the Boston Phoenix in 2010.

“It couldn’t just be bringing someone from the left to kiss someone on the right.”

Jaffee was also known for Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, which delivered exactly what the title promised. A comic from 1980 showed a man on a fishing boat with a noticeably bent reel.

“Are you going to reel in the fish?” his wife asks. “No,” he says, “I’m going to jump into the water and marry the gorgeous thing.”

Jaffee did not just satirise the culture; he helped change it. His parodies of advertisements included such future real-life products as automatic redialling for a telephone, a computer spell checker and graffiti-proof surfaces.

Jaffee’s admirers ranged from Charles M Schulz of Peanuts fame and Far Side creator Gary Larson to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who marked Jaffee’s 85th birthday by featuring a Fold-In cake on The Colbert Report.

When Stewart and The Daily Show writers put together the best-selling America (The Book), they asked Jaffee to contribute a Fold-In.

Jaffee received numerous awards, and in 2013 was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, the ceremony taking 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 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) longed to return.

In Lithuania, Jaffee endured poverty and bullying, but also developed his craft. With paper scarce and no school to attend, he learned to read and write through the comic strips mailed by his father.

By his teens, he was settled in New York City and so obviously gifted that he was accepted into the High School of Music & Art.

He had a long career before Mad. He drew for Timely Comics, which became Marvel Comics; and for several years sketched the Tall Tales panel for the New York Herald Tribune.

Jaffee first contributed to Mad in the mid-1950s.

Mad lost much of its readership and edge after the 1970s, and Jaffee outlived virtually all of the magazine’s stars. But he rarely lacked for ideas even as his method, drawing by hand, remained mostly unchanged in the digital era.

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