“Read a Damn Book – 174: Steaming Mad”
Greetings Citizens! Today, I’m bringing a “classic” work of subversive literature to you for your consideration. Mad magazine has recently ceased publication, but for more than six decades, it was THE source for juvenile laughter (especially, for me, in the ‘70s and ‘80s), BUT does the humor still hold up? Let’s find out!!!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Albert B. Feldstein (Editor) – Steaming Mad (1975)
Steaming Mad is a compilation book, collecting a number of “skits” or “gags” or comics, or whatever you want to call them, from the regular issues into a pocket-book format. (I hesitate to call these “comics” because many of them are illustrations with blocks of text, closer to a picture book than a true comic---see Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics for more on this distinction---I suppose I could just say cartoons??? Nah… Jeeze. It’s not really worth arguing with myself about this…)
Anyway, I have a whole stack of these little books, (I reviewed one other volume a few months ago), and I wanted to read something funny now, so I grabbed THIS book, hoping for a few laughs… And it provided a few…
Feldstein, the editor for this collection, was one of the key writers for E.C., the comics company that created such infamous titles as Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror, the kinds of titles that scared the shit out of parents in the 1950s, which led to congressional hearings about indecency and eventually spawned the Comics Code Authority. The CCA was a self-censoring agency, which evaluated every comic that hoped to be distributed to newsstands and grocery stores and such, and provided a stamp of approval to books that were boring and safe and sanitized. This essentially KILLED E.C., as everything that was interesting about their books was suddenly outlawed. Feldstein created Mad (see correction below this paragraph!) as a humor book, instead of a horror or crime title, and he remained the editor for decades. In addition, he brought a number of E.C. artists with him to the magazine, including one of the greatest comics artists to ever hold a pencil, Jack Davis. Mad originally started as a comic book series, but when the Comics Code proved too strict, Feldstein switched to a magazine format, so that they didn’t NEED the Comics Code Authority's sticker-of-approval to sell to newsstands. (Magazines were held to different standards, thanks to “adult” mags, which sold well.)
(CORRECTION!!! It wasn't Al Feldstein who created Mad or who switched it from a comic format to magazine, it was Harvey Kurtzman. Feldstein replaced Kurtzman as editor AFTER Kurtzman left E.C. following a dispute. I knew that, but forgot! Sorry!!! Watch Comic Book Confidential, if you get a chance, for a great history of comics, which covers the whole E.C. rise and fall.)
Now on to THIS particular book… The content is fairly typical Mad material---spoofs, satirical pieces, and gag cartoons, with mostly GROANER jokes. Unfortunately, the material has dated pretty badly. (If the punchline of a joke is someone getting shipped off to fight in Vietnam, the material is a bit past its expiration date.) Some of the jokes would probably be difficult for modern readers to relate to, but this is because the Mad creators made a lot of topical jokes, which were appropriate for when the material came out. This collection was released in 1975, but the comics and stories in this volume come from magazine issues released in 1968 and 1969! That’s some OLD jokes…and no, they don’t all hold up. The collection starts with a story / slash / series of gags called “If Comic Characters were Psychoanalyzed,” written by Frank Jacobs and drawn by Bob Clarke. Clarke does an excellent job of copying the art styles of the comic characters they are parodying, like Charlie Brown, Dagwood, and Donald Duck, but the HUMOR is very dark---more depressing than funny. Plus, how popular are comic strips, like Beetle Bailey or Mary Worth, today??? I'm not convinced that younger readers are going to get this bit (and it's not that funny even if you DO get it...)
What this book DOES have going for it, though, is the art. Some of the best, most interesting artists who ever contributed to Mad are represented in this book:
[All of these images were photographed by me from the pages of this issue. They are included for review purposes only!!! People need to SEE this artwork to understand how great it is!!!]
So, even if the jokes are a bit dated, the art is still excellent. It’s all black and white, the pages are shrunken down from the original sizes that they were printed in the magazines, but for a pocket format book, it’s nicely put together---and a quick read. I would imagine most folks could probably read this, cover to cover, in an hour or so, AND there are a whole bunch of these books out there. (This one is marked as #39, so there are a LOT to find! Several dozen, at least…) If you like satire and parody, and if you can find one of these books at a garage sale or second hand shop for 50 cents or a buck, I would say, YES, grab it. The jokes are pretty bad, the humor is dated, the parodies are about pop culture items that ain’t really that POP anymore---but the art is brilliant and funny, and personally, I think that’s enough.
That’s my thoughts! Now, go read a damn book…
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
[P.S. – If you haven’t voted for REAL witnesses yet, DO IT!!!]
SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!