NYCC 2012 Interviews: Mad Magazine Editor John Ficarra

- 10-17-12Featured, Interviews Posted by Anne Sisk

This year marks the 60th anniversary of MAD Magazine and editor John Ficarra took a moment to talk to us about Totally MAD, the longevity of a MAD sense of humor and the right artwork to use for wrapping fish.

I’ve heard about this [60th Anniversary book that Ficarra was holding) and I’m excited to take a look at it. Sixty years – can you give me a quick overview of the book?

John Ficarra: We had no plans to do this but Time Home Entertainment came to us and said, “Would you like to do the book for your 60th?” and we said “That’d be great!” I didn’t realize what a heartbreak this book would be. MAD has done over 26 thousand pages of material. This book is 256 pages. So, I had to leave out a ton of great stuff. In fact, I wrote in the back – I wrote an afterword where I spoke about that. And this book, I tried to represent MAD on a lot of different levels. I tried to represent all of the talent that’s been at MAD – going back to Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder to the current staff of Drew Friedman and people like that. I tried to make it a pop culture store – so you could see in every decade what the popular movies were, what the popular TV shows, what the language was like, what the fashion was like. And then I also tried to do it from a political point of view, because MAD does a lot of politics. So, you can pretty much take an American history course – albeit through a funhouse mirror – an American history course if you buy the book.

The other great thing about the book is it’s relatively inexpensive and in the back there are what we call “The Soul of MAD” – prints of 12 of our classic covers that Bill Gaines and I picked out years ago, including the very first Alfred E. Newman and some of the others like Alfred as the Scarecrow and things like that. So, they’re suitable for framing – or wrapping fish, as we like say.

The other thing the book has is, if you go through it, it has every cover we’ve ever done running along the bottom. And the stock is just wonderful. It’s really a great paper so it showcases the art terrifically – much more so than the toilet paper we printed on for so many years. And it’s slightly oversized, so the book is bigger than a MAD page, so you get to see the art even better.

And the last thing is, I hired Frank Jacobs to write a series of essays about the questions we’re most asked: Who is Alfred E. Newman? Have you ever been sued? The MAD trips? Who was Bill Gaines? What is MAD like after Bill Gaines died? So, he wrote terrific essays, he dug up some old photos that many people haven’t seen to accompany the essays – so there’s a lot in the book and you can preorder it now at MadMagazine.com.

MORE AFTER THE JUMP

One of the things that you hear often is that humor doesn’t really translate outside of its time period – but here you can have 60 years worth of MAD and it’s still funny. Why do you think that is?

Ficarra: You’ve got it slightly wrong. It translates across six decades because it was never funny. And that’s true across all decades. We try to do humor, a bit of both. We do humor called “evergreen humor,” which is the kind of humor that you’re talking about. And then we’ll do topical humor. Hopefully, I’ve mixed a little bit of both in the book. “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” are just as funny now as when we first ran them. But, Eastside Story when we were talking about Khrushchev, you may not find that as funny – but you might think that this book has a big nostalgia appeal. People remember it and look at the art and say, “Oh my god” and be transported back to the 50s and 60s and 70s when they were first discovering MAD and started reading it.

The other cliché that I’m going to apologize for but still use is that print media, we keep hearing, is dying. How is MAD going to survive that – how is the MAD sense of humor being translated into this new –

Ficarra: For a while, it wasn’t easy. Fortunately, DC Entertainment came along and has really put a lot of effort and money behind the brand because they believe in the brand. Now, we have a daily blog where we’re able to do topical humor every day, sometimes two or three different pieces. We have an app for the iPad, so you can get – actually, if you get the print edition of the magazine, you can get the digital version for free on the iPad. Or, if you want just the digital version, it’s like $10 – it’s absurdly cheap. We’re in the process now of putting all 518 issues up for sale for the iPad so you could, in fact, have your entire MAD collection in the palm of your hand… if that’s where you’d want it. We also have a television show. We have several foreign editions and we have books like this one and several others coming out. So, we’re working on a lot of different fronts. At any given time, one sector may be down but the other sector’s going well.

There’s always a little bit of MAD in your life. In addition to this book, there’s another collection of issues coming out?

Ficarra: Yes, that’s the MAD Archives. Books 3 and 4 are now out, so that brings you the entire run of 23 and as a bonus, they put in Issue 24, which was the first comic book. They’re beautiful. They’re also done on great paper and really nicely packaged. They’re available – and also coming on the 23rd is MAD’s Greatest Artist Series and this time it’s Mort Drucker. That’s another fabulous book celebrating another big talent in MAD history.

Anything else upcoming?

Ficarra: We’re working now on the MAD 20, which is our bestselling issue of the year. That’s the 20 dumbest people, events and things of the year. That’ll be out in mid-December. Like I said, that’s always our bestseller of the year. People seem to like us summing up the year through the lens of MAD. Beyond that, there will be more books next year. The app just continues to get better and better and we’re getting more features on that as well as the blog. So, it’s really a very exciting time for MAD. So, you should be looking at all areas. We also do digital books, which are available for every platform – the Nook, Amazon, Kindle, all of it.

 

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