Al Jaffee

Mad Fold-in

Al Jaffee (b. 1921) is an American cartoonist. He is notable for his work in the satirical magazine ‘Mad,’ including his trademark feature, the ‘Mad Fold-in.’ Jaffee was a regular contributor to the magazine for 65 years and is its longest-running contributor.

Between 1964 and 2013, only one issue of ‘Mad’ was published without containing new material by Jaffee. In a 2010 interview, he said, ‘Serious people my age are dead.’ With a career running from 1942 until 2020, Jaffee holds the Guinness World Record for having the longest-ever career as a comic artist. In 2013, Columbia University announced that he had donated most of his archives to the college.

Jaffee was born in Savannah, Georgia. His parents were both Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. He spent his childhood moving back and forth from Zarasai, Lithuania and Far Rockaway, Queens. His mother Mildred stayed in Europe and presumably perished after the Nazi invasion. Jaffee studied at the High School of Music & Art in New York City in the late 1930s, along with his brother Harry and future ‘Mad’ personnel Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin, and Al Feldstein.

Jaffee began his career in 1942, working as a comic-book artist for several publications, including ‘Joker Comics,’ in which he was first published in 1942, and continuing in others published by ‘Timely Comics’ and ‘Atlas Comics,’ the 1940s and 1950s precursors, respectively, of ‘Marvel Comics.’ While working alongside future ‘Mad’ cartoonist Dave Berg, Jaffee created several humor features for Timely, including ‘Inferior Man’ and ‘Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal.’

Jaffee originally considered himself strictly as an artist until he was disabused of the notion by editors and art directors who were reviewing his portfolio. ‘When prospective clients laughed and asked ‘Who wrote the gag?’ my response was ‘I did, sir.’ Which was very confusing since I didn’t realize any writing had taken place. I mean, writers used typewriters, smoked pipes, wore scarves, right? When enough of them said, ‘Oh, then you’re a writer too,’ I took their word for it. Who was I to argue with prospective employers?’

During WWII, he worked as an artist for the military in various capabilities. His work included the original floor plan for the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. While working at the Pentagon, he met Ruth Ahlquist, whom he married in 1945. In 1946, Jaffee returned to civilian life, working for Stan Lee again. For approximately a year and a half in the late 1940s, Jaffee was editing Timely’s humor and teenage comics, including the ‘Patsy Walker’ line.

From 1957 to 1963, Jaffee drew the elongated ‘Tall Tales’ panel for the ‘New York Herald Tribune,’ which was syndicated to over 100 newspapers. Jaffee credited its middling success with a pantomime format that was easy to sell abroad, but his higher-ups were unsatisfied with the strip’s status: ‘The head of the syndicate, who was a certifiable idiot, said the reason it was not selling [better] is we gotta put words in it. So they made me put words in it. Immediately lost 28 foreign papers.’ Jaffee also scripted the short-lived strips ‘Debbie Deere’ and ‘Jason’ in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since 1984, Jaffee has provided illustrations for ‘The Shpy,’ a lighthearted Jewish-themed adventure feature in Tzivos Hashem’s bimonthly children’s publication ‘The Moshiach Times.’

Jaffee first appeared in ‘Mad’ in 1955, one issue after its transformation from comic book format to magazine. When editor Harvey Kurtzman left in a dispute three issues later, Jaffee went with Kurtzman. Jaffee contributed to Kurtzman’s first two post-Mad publishing efforts, ‘Trump’ and the creator-owned ‘Humbug.’ After ‘Humbug’ folded in 1958, Jaffee brought his unpublished material to ‘Mad,’ which bought the work. ‘Bill Gaines took out every ‘Trump’ and ‘Humbug,” remembered Jaffee, ‘called me into his office, sat me down on the couch next to him, and went over every issue and said ‘Which is yours?’ And as he came to each one, when he saw my stuff, he OK’d to hire me.’

In issue #86 of 1964, Jaffee created his longest-running ‘Mad’ feature, the ‘Fold-In.’ In each, a drawing is folded vertically and inward to reveal a new hidden picture (as well as a new caption). Originally, Jaffee intended it as a one-shot ‘cheap’ satire of the triple fold-outs that were appearing in glossy magazines such as ‘Playboy,’ ‘National Geographic,’ and ‘Life.’ But Jaffee was asked to do a second installment, and soon the Fold-In became a recurring feature on the inside back cover of the magazine.

In 2010, Jaffee described the earliest Fold-Ins: ‘I thought to myself … now it’s folded in and I’ve got to have something on the left side here, and something right side here. And the only thing that popped into my head was that Elizabeth Taylor had just dumped Eddie Fisher and was carrying on with Richard Burton. So I had Elizabeth Taylor kissing Richard Burton, and a cop is holding the crowd back – and just for the fun of it I put Eddie Fisher being trampled by the crowd. What a cruel thing to do! And then, when you fold it in, she’s moving on from Richard Burton and kissing the next guy in the crowd. It’s so simplistic and silly and juvenile! And anyone could have done that!’

‘I showed it to Al Feldstein, and the first thing I said was, ‘Al, I’ve got this crazy idea, and you’re not going to buy it, because it mutilates the magazine.’ So I put it in front of him, and the thing about Al was, he liked things that intrigued him. The mechanics of it intrigued him. He said, ‘You mean, you fold it, like this…? And then…?’ He folded it, he unfolded it, he folded it, and then he said, ‘I like this!’ But I said, ‘Al, it mutilates the magazine.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’ll have to check it with Bill.’ He takes it, runs it to Bill’s office, and he was there a little while, and he comes back and he says, ‘We’re going to do it! You know what Bill said? Bill said, ‘So they mutilate the magazine, and then they’ll buy another one to save!”

‘Four or five weeks later, Al comes over to me and says, ‘When are you going to do the next Fold-In?’ And I said, ‘I don’t have another Fold-In. That was it!’ So he said, ‘Come on, you can come up with something else.’ I wracked my brain, and the only thing I could come up with was Nixon [whose face was hidden within curtain folds]. That one really set the tone for what the cleverness of the Fold-Ins has to be. It couldn’t just be bringing someone from the left to kiss someone on the right.’

The Fold-In became one of Mad’s signature features, and appeared in almost every issue of the magazine from 1964–2019. A single issue in 1977 was published without a Fold-In (though Jaffee supplied the issue’s back cover), and a 1980 issue instead featured a unique double-visual gimmick by Jaffee in which the inside back cover and the outside back cover merged to create a third image when held up to the light. The third-ever Fold-In in 1964 featured a unique diagonal folding design, rather than the standard left-right vertical format. The image revealed the four members of The Beatles becoming bald (and thus losing their popularity).

‘The Far Side’ creator Gary Larson described his experience with the Fold-In: ‘The dilemma was always this: Very slowly and carefully fold the back cover … without creasing the page and quickly look at the joke. Jaffee’s artistry before the folding was so amazing that I suspect I was not alone in not wanting to deface it in any way.’ In 1972, Jaffee received a Special Features Reuben Award for his Fold-Ins.

All Jaffee’s work is done by hand. ‘I’m working on a hard, flat board… I cannot fold it. That’s why my planning has to be so correct.’ In 2008, he said, ‘I never see the finished painting folded until it’s printed in the magazine. I guess I have that kind of visual mind where I can see the two sides without actually putting them together. Mad’s art director, Sam Viviano, said, ‘I think part of the brilliance of the Fold-In is lost on the younger generations who are so used to Photoshop and being able to do stuff like that on a computer.’

Author Will Forbis wrote: ‘This is the core of Jaffee’s work: the idea that to be alive is to be constantly beleaguered by annoying idiots, poorly designed products and the unapologetic ferocity of fate. Competence and intelligence are not rewarded in life but punished.’ In the book ‘Inside Mad,’ fellow ‘Mad’ writer Desmond Devlin called Jaffee ‘the irreplaceable embodiment of Mad Magazine’s range: smart but silly, angry but understanding, sophisticated but gross, upbeat but hopeless. …He’s uncommonly interested in figuring out how things work, and exasperated because things NEVER work.’

Jaffee has contributed to hundreds of Mad articles as either a writer or an artist and often both. These include his long-running ‘Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,’ which present multiple putdowns for the same unnecessary or clueless inquiry, and several articles on inventions and gadgets, which are presented in an elaborately detailed ‘blueprint’ style. Sergio Aragones says of Jaffee, ‘He is brilliant at many things, but especially inventions. When he draws a machine for ‘Mad,’ no matter how silly the idea, it always looks like it works. He thinks that way because he is not only an artist, but a technician as well… He is the guy who can do anything.’ In a patent file for a self-extinguishing cigarette, the inventor thanked Jaffee for providing the inspiration. Other actual inventions that have since come to pass had appeared earlier in Jaffee articles, such as telephone redial and address books (1961), snowboarding (1965), the computer spell-checker (1967), peelable stamps, multi-blade razors (1979), and graffiti-proof building surfaces (1982). ‘I could imagine those things,’ Jaffee told an interviewer. ‘That was the fun part. But I never had the problem of trying to figure out how to manufacture them.’

During the Vietnam War, Jaffee also created the short-lived gag cartoon ‘Hawks and Doves,’ in which a military officer named Major Hawks is antagonized by Private Doves, an easygoing soldier who contrives to create surreptitious peace signs in various locations on a military base. In a 1998 issue, all the Hawks & Doves strips were republished, along with an original strip in color on the back of the issue.

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