Spy vs. Spy

Antonio Prohías

Spy vs. Spy is a black and white comic strip that debuted in ‘Mad Magazine’ #60, in 1961, and was originally published by EC Comics. The strip always features two spies, who are completely identical save for the fact that one is dressed in white and the other black.

The pair are constantly warring with each other, using a variety of booby-traps to inflict harm on the other. The spies usually alternate between victory and defeat with each new strip. They were created by Antonio Prohías, a prolific cartoonist in Cuba known for political satire.

Prohías’ parodies of newly-installed Cuban dictator Fidel Castro attracted criticism, and faced with the loss of work, possible arrest and threats of execution, he fled to the U.S. in 1960 – 3 days before Castro took over the last of the Cuban free press. Prohías sought work in his profession and traveled to the offices of ‘MAD Magazine’ in New York City. After a successful showing of his work and a prototype cartoon for ‘Spy vs. Spy,’ Prohías was hired. Prohías completed a total of 241 strips for ‘MAD,’ the last appearing in 1987. Reflecting on his career, he stated, ‘The sweetest revenge has been to turn Fidel’s accusation of me as a spy into a moneymaking venture.’ Ironically, Prohías was censored by ‘MAD’ publisher William Gaines on at least one occasion. One strip was altered because the Spies were depicted as smoking, and Gaines had a strong anti-smoking stance.

The cover copy of the ‘The All New MAD Secret File’ on ‘Spy vs. Spy’ provided early insight to the characters and Prohías’ views on the Castro regime and the CIA (who were constantly attempting to oust Castro): ‘You are about the meet the black Spy and the white Spy — the two MADest spies in the whole world. Their antics are almost as funny as the CIA’s…When it comes to intrigue, these guys make it way outtrigue. They are the only two spies we know who haven’t the sense to come in out of the cold. But they have a ball – mainly trying to outwit each other.’ In 1962 the strip was renamed ‘Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy,’ as it was the debut of a third spy, the ‘Lady in Grey’ (or the ‘Grey Spy’). The Grey Spy only appeared sporadically but always triumphed, using the infatuation of the Black and White spies to her advantage. Prohías stated ‘The lady Spy represented neutrality. She would decide for the white or black Spy, and she also added some balance and variety to the basic ‘Spy vs. Spy’ formula.’


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