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Al Jaffee's Mad Life: A Biography Hardcover – September 28, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Al Jaffee’s Mad Life lays bare in harrowing yet often riotous detail how a Southern boy, twice uprooted by his mother to Lithuanian shtetls on the eve of World War II, grew up to become a tireless satirist for some of America’s cheekier magazines.” (New York Times)

“I’ve been privileged to know many brilliant cartoonists, but the incredibly creative, supremely talented Al Jaffee is right up there at the top of the list.” (Stan Lee)

“When I am among other cartoonists talking about the giants in our field, one of the first names that comes to the conversation is Al Jaffee and we all agree, He is a cartoonists cartoonist!” (Sergio Aragones)

From the Back Cover

Jaffee’s inventive work has enlivened the pages of MAD since 1955. To date he has pickled three generations of American kids in the brine of satire, and continues to bring millions of childhoods to untimely ends with the knowledge that parents are hypocrites, teachers are dummies, politicians are liars, and life isn’t fair.

Jaffee’s work for MAD has made him a cultural icon, but the compelling and at times bizarre story of his life has yet to be told. A synopsis of Jaffee’s formative years alone reads like a comic strip of traumatic cliff-hangers with cartoons by Jaffee and captions by Freud. Six-year-old Jaffee was separated from his father, uprooted from his home in Savannah, Georgia, and transplanted by his mother to a shtetl in Lithuania, a nineteenth-century world of kerosene lamps, outhouses, physical abuse, and near starvation. He would be rescued by his father, returned to America, taken yet again by his mother back to the shtetl, andonce again rescued by his father, even as Hitler was on the march.

When he finally settled back in America as a twelve-year-old wearing cobbled shoes and speaking his native English with a Yiddish accent, schoolmates called him “greenhorn.” He struggled with challenges at least as great as those he had met in Europe. His luck changed, however, when he was chosen to be amember of the first class to attend New York City’s High School of Music and Art. There his artistic ability saved him.

He would go on to forge relationships with Stan Lee, Harvey Kurtzman, and Will Elder, launching a career that would bring him to MAD magazine. There he found himself at the forefront of a movement that would change the face of humor and cartooning in America.

A cliff-hanger of a life deserves a page-turner of a biography, and that is what Mary-Lou Weisman and Al Jaffee have delivered.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: It Books; 1St Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006186448X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061864483
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #884,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a lifelong Mad magazine consumer and collector, and reader of biographies and autobiographies of Mad artists and writers, this ranks near the top. If you're after more inside stories of the creation of Mad, and what life was like in the Mad offices, this provides some of that. But mostly, and most interestingly, it is the epic saga of the little boy who became Al Jaffee, one of Mad's maddest artists. Shuttled back and forth from Savannah, Georgia, to a shtetl in Lithuania, to New York City and back again to the shtetl due to his separated parents fighting for custody, the boy and his oddball brothers became artists and inventors to amuse themselves when they had nothing else. When he landed back in the Bronx as a teenager, Al fortuitously met a fellow artist and cutup in junior high named Wolf Eisenberg, who later became one of the founders of Mad, Will Elder. The following year Will and Al got into the famed LaGuardia High School of Music and Arts. There they befriended the first editor and auteur of Mad, Harvey Kurtzman. And the rest is history.

This book is a gem, due to the copious, beautiful illustrations by Jaffee (still going cantankerously strong at 89) and moreso by the absorbing saga of Jaffee's long, fascinating and tragicomic life. Highly recommended.
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There was about a three year period for me growing up in the 1970s when MAD Magazine was the bomb. From about 3rd grade until about 6th grade, nothing brought me more pleasure than a trip to the grocery store, heading towards the periodicals, and seeing that the new, bi-monthly issue of MAD was out. Not to mention all of the books, "super specials" (you'll know what that is if you're a fan), calendars, games and other memorabilia that celebrated irreverence so well, without ever really crossing the line.

I still remember the names of many of the contributors. Don Martin, Sergio Aragones, Frank Jacobs, Dick DeBartello, and who could forget Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side Of..."? My favorite, though was Al Jaffee. Nobody could make me break down into hysterics better then Jaffee. If you were a casual reader, Jaffee was the one the contribute the back cover "fold-ins" as well as the immortal "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions". Never knowing that much about the comings and goings of the magazine, I was eager to read this biography that came out only a couple of years ago.

Although this was a very well written and interesting look at the man's life, it sadly fell short of my expectations. What I was really wanting, was the majority of this book to be about the goings on at MAD Magazine. This book actually covers very little of that frame of Jaffee's life. It's about 90% "pre-MAD" and 10% MAD. Of the "Pre-MAD" portion, most of that deals with Jaffee's childhood. It's a very interesting (and a bit sad) childhood. Growing up in a Jewish family in rural Georgia in a fairly well-to-to home, Jaffee's eccentric mother, for whatever reason, takes Al and his little brothers away from their father rather abruptly to move to the "old country" of Lithuania.
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This was definitely a different type of comic book creator biography than most are probably used to reading. It is well over half-way into the book before Al Jaffee's comic book career is really mentioned.

It is a fascinating look at a very creative cartoonist who grew up in some very daunting circumstances, having been forced to go back to his mother's relatively primitive homeland of Lithuania twice during his formative years. There is a lot of reminiscing about that time period, but it is not boring or trite; if's simply fascinating. The book proceeds on to his work with various comic book companies, including Stan Lee at Timely/Atlas (what would become Marvel), some short runs working for Harvey Kurtzman and, of course, his legendary run with Bill Gaines at Mad Magazine.

This is a great read whether you're a comic book fan or not.
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When Al Jaffee was six, his mother took him and his two brothers and returned to the Lithuanian town she was from. A year later, his father came and took them all back to the States. Then, his mother AGAIN took the children to Lithuania. Through the details of Al's life as a serially displaced child--dealing with anti-semitism, lice, outhouses, strange foods and languages, and separation from his dearest love, the Sunday comics--we gain insight into the development of one of America's most loved and most influential cartoonists. It's a remarkable story, and Mary Lou Weisman does a first-rate job of bringing the reader back in time, both in the American and Lithuanian sections. This is not primarily a book about Mad Magazine, although there is ample coverage of that subject in the later chapters, once Al is safely back in New York. Nor is it a particularly funny one. But it will reward anyone with an interest in what it was like to be a Jew in Eastern Europe, pre-WWII, as well as anyone who enjoys survival stories. The illustrations by Jaffee himself are terrific, and help bring the various anecdotes to life even more. Some, like the skeletons a work crew dug up in the village and propped along the sides of the road (possibly a mass gave from WW1), are unforgettable; there are also reproductions of some of Al's early work ("Silly Seal and Ziggy Pig," anyone?) that are great fun. Weisman's accomplishment here is that she skillfully arranges the story without intruding on it except when necessary (providing some historical information, say). The story remains very much Al's, and it's a revelation to learn about the childhood that provided the psychological basis for all those Snappy Answers and Fold-Ins. Al never trusted grown-ups, even when he became one, and if you read this book, you'll understand why.
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