Growing up the library was a fairly surprising cool place to hang out. Mostly because it was away from the eyes of parents and authority figures. It was there that most kids would go for study dates during middle school, which basically amounted to going to the library hanging out for a bit with some girl and then making out with her in the alley behind the library.
Since I had no one to make out with, I’d generally spend this time lost in the musty book stacks, listening to music or perusing the magazine section. I can’t say I ever read Mad Magazine, but I always appreciated the last page. That special foldable page, where one picture inadvertantly led to some joke once it was folded together.
I always thought those pages were just made up by the entire magazine staff, so consider my mind blown after reading a New York Times profile on Al Jaffee. The 87 year old is responsible for those back page fold-ins.
?I work for a magazine that?s essentially for young people, and to have them keep me going, I feel very lucky,? Mr. Jaffee said. ?To use an old clich?, I?m like an old racehorse. When the other horses are running, I want to run too.?
As that deference implies, the second thing that strikes you upon meeting Mr. Jaffee is that the Mad wiseguy one expects is nowhere to be found. Mr. Jaffee is a genteel, unassuming fellow whose demeanor instantly suggests ?gentleman.?
That is especially surprising because in addition to the fold-in, he is well known for Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, another longstanding Mad feature that is basically a running clinic on how to insult someone. No insults here. But plenty of quick wit. When he was told that this article was intended for the Arts & Leisure section, where high culture is often documented, he tossed this off: ?It?ll be Arts & Seizure when people see Mad in there.?
Mad is, incongruously, a publication that seems to cultivate longevity, as evident from artists like Mort Drucker (first appearance, 1957) and Sergio Aragon?s (1963). No current contributor, though, goes back further than Mr. Jaffee. And while other Mad features, like Spy vs. Spy, have changed artists over the years, only Mr. Jaffee has drawn the fold-in. Since the first appeared in April 1964 all but a handful of specialty issues of the magazine have had one.
?A number of months ago I counted, and I came up with something like 396,? Mr. Jaffee said. ?I must have done No. 400 by now.?
He started work on No. 4-whatever, for the issue that goes on sale in mid-May, as he has all the others: with a rough pencil sketch. This one shows an altar scene invoking the ?Raiders of the Lost Ark? movies. ?Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? is due out soon, and the fold-in question is, ?What frightening ancient relic will be the focus of much attention and fanfare this summer?? The folded-in answer, of course, has nothing to do with Indiana Jones.
Makes me want to go back to the library and peruse the stacks of Mad Magazine. The best part is that the NYT has put together an interactive gallery full of Mr. Jaffee’s handy work.