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Monday August 23, 2010 4:11 am

Al Jaffee: Tall Tales, MAD Magazine & Mocca




Posted by Tom Mason Categories: Editorials

Al Jaffee Photo“Is this a blog post about Al Jaffee?”
“No, it’s about Harvey Kurtzman. I just can’t spell.”

Al Jaffee, the creator of the classic Fold-In for MAD Magazine, as well as “Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions,” has a style that’s all his own. Goofy, buoyant and bouncy, you can enjoy his work even before you get to the gag.

From 1957-1963, he had a syndicated comic strip called Tall Tales that’s one of those classic strips that’s recently been rediscovered and thank goodness for that. Jaffee, a Reuben Award winner, is also getting his own exhibit at Mocca, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, in New York City. Titled “Is This The Al Jaffee Art Exhibit?” the show will debut later this fall.

Continuing my series on cartooning and cartoonists, Jaffee wrote about himself and his work back in 1964. This is pulled from an oversized saddle-stitched magazine from Allied Publications with the creatively-challenged title These Top Cartoonists Tell How They Create America’s Favorite Comics. It featured an introduction by Beetle Bailey’s Mort Walker and was compiled by Allen Willette.

Here’s Al on Jaffee and Tall Tales:

Tall Tales“I was born March 13, 1921 in Savannah, Georgia. The first thing I remember was falling madly in love with the comics.

“When I was six, my mother and I went to Europe. Before going, however, my father had to take an oath, signed in blood, that he would send every day’s installments of my favorite comics. This he did throughout my six-year sojourn in Europe. I learned to read English this way. ‘Pow! Bam! Thud!’

“Returning to the United States in 1933, I was a normal, maladjusted greenhorn. I’ll always remember my first day in school at twelve years of age. After a series of tests it was determined that, while my drawing ability was superior, outside of spelling ‘Pow! Bam! Thud!’ (excellently), I was far behind everyone else.

“My big break finally came when Mayor LaGuardia created the High School of Music and Art in New York City. Here I received a background in fine arts.

“After graduation, I enlisted for pilot training, was accepted, and spent three and a half years flying through the corridors of the Pentagon.

“After the war, I entered the ‘burlesque’ of cartooning…comic books. The pace was rough, but a lot of money was there to be made.

“I joined a group that was producing a comic magazine called MAD. They wanted me to take less money than I was getting. Ridiculous? Not half as much as the fact that I took it. After working for a while on something called Trump magazine, my confreres and I decided to finance a new satire magazine. Humbug was its title. It was a flop.

“At that point, I decided to return to my first love…syndicated comics. I analyzed the problems of selling a feature. The most important one seemed to be that newspaper space was at a premium…so I decided on a one-column panel, and called it Tall Tales.

“My working habits are quite simple. When I’m writing, I lock myself in a soundproof room and surround myself with funny books. I use the free association method of getting ideas. That is, I might be looking at a gag involving a winter ski contest, and this could trigger a gag idea about ice skating, ice fishing, snowshoes, water skis, etc. A mental chain reaction is often started, and many ideas flow from a single bit of stimulation.

“I usually spend one day a week writing my feature, and three days drawing it. The rest of my time I devote to writing articles for MAD.”

Naturally, I have some notes.

His mom took him to Europe (Lithuania, according to Wikipedia) for six years and his dad stayed in the US and mailed him comic strips? I wish he’d written more about this period.

I think it says something about him and his work that he was able to work for (or create) competitors to MAD and yet still have a home there.

The essential Ger Apeldoorn has a nice selection of Tall Tales strips in a couple of different posts.

Abrams published a collection of Tall Tales in 2008, with an introduction by Stephen Colbert. Here’s a review of it from Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Here’s the New York Times on Jaffee.

Vice Magazine has a nice interview with Jaffee from 2006. Lots of art, but some of the ads on the site may not be safe for work (for language, not nudity).

At the Daily Crosshatch, Brian Heater has a three-part interview with Jaffee from 2009. The first part is here.

Mocca is going the Kickstarter route to finance their upcoming Jaffee show. Here’s the link if you’d like to start the kicking.

[Artwork: Photo of Al Jaffee (top); a sample of Tall Tales (bottom)]

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