Those of us who came of age in the late 50's and early 60's have fond memories of Mad Magazine and its stable of outstanding freelance cartoonists. Their names are legend: Jack Davis, Don Martin, Wally Wood, Frank Jacobs, John Severin, Mort Drucker, Will Elder, Sergio Aragonés, Antonio Prohias, Dave Berg, etc.. In those much more innocent times, Mad was often viewed as nearly pornographic. This was especially so in my house. Saddled with one of those Mother's to whom Wertham's spurious warnings resonated uncontrollably, a Mad Magazine discovered in my possession garnered the same reaction as that of a Jewish Mother upon discovering her progeny scribbling swastikas on the walls. It wasn't pretty.
"The message Mad had in general is, 'The media is lying to you, and we are part of the media.' It was basically... 'Think for yourselves, kids.'" -Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist.
When looking back today at what passed for such radical literature then, it's hard to imagine what all the fuss was about. It says much about the insecurities of that particular generation when one realizes that the cartoons and articles published in Mad were actually decidedly tame, even by many of the standards adhered to then. Ironically, part of Mads appeal was just that very sense of youthful rebellion manifesting in our defiant choice of clandestine reading material. This was even further tempered by our awareness that our elders had little grasp of how positively harmless the banned magazine in reality was. It was the magazines we found in the back of Dads closet that Mom should have been concerned about! Later, when the first works of Robert Crumb and the like appeared, Mad became practically respectable by comparison, and the magazines prevalent anti-drug and anti-counter-culture proclivities became noticeable. Just as my youthful appreciation for Mad was beginning to wane, National Lampoon debuted on the stands and, besides an occasional purchase of a Mad reprint paperback, the most important magazine of my youth went the way of other adolescent concerns.
"We must never stop reminding the reader what little value they get for their money!" -William Gaines.
A long-running, continuing feature in Mad was the strip 'The Lighter Side,' that debuted in 1961 by cartoonist Dave Berg (who had been at Mad since 1956). A semi-autobiographical gag strip, it often featured cartoon versions of Berg's family members and friends; the character Roger Kaputnik being Berg himself. He would continue to contribute to Mad until his death in 2002, an extraordinary run of 46 years.
Long before Kurtzman and Gaines developed Mad in the early 50's, however, Dave Berg had made a name for himself in the Golden Age of Comics.
"A child prodigy, Berg won art scholarships when just a boy and got into comic books about the time comic books began appearing. His earliest efforts were for Will Eisner's studio. Eisner hired him to ink backgrounds and, within weeks, Berg was writing and drawing his own stories. One -- Death Patrol -- drew great praise, including a fan letter from a kid named Wally Wood. Later, when folks were calling Wood one of the great comic artists, he would cite that strip and Berg's work as a major influence. Working at Eisner's, Berg became friendly with other artists, including young Al Jaffee, who introduced him to a circle that included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder and others who (along with Wood) would later form the nucleus of Mad." -Mark Evanier.
Death Patrol, a tragically overlooked feature, ran in the back pages of Quality's Military Comics (with an eight issue break) from Military #1-52. The first three issues were written and drawn by the strips creator, the great Jack Cole. (Will Eisner purposely copied Death Patrol in creating his own team of pre-war Nazi-fighters, the Blackhawks.)
Berg picked up the series starting with Military Comics #4, and for the next nine issues produced the best ever run of the team. Below, the team confronts Adolf Hitler himself, in this outstanding Dave Berg story from Military Comics #8, March 1942.
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