Monday, November 15, 2010

Al Jaffee's Mad Life A Biography by Mary-Lou Weisman Illustrated by Al Jaffee

Al Jaffee's Mad Life A Biography by Mary-Lou Weisman Illustrated by Al Jaffee

Al Jaffee is a cartoonist for Mad magazine.  He also has over sixty cartoon books he has written.  He is best known for the fold-ins at the back of Mad Magazine.  He illustrated this biography with a mix of slice of life comics about his own life and light humor comics.  I like the slightly exaggerated style of the cartoons.  They remind me a bit of a kind of slightly guilty pleasure.  This book covers his whole life.

The story starts with his childhood which is quite poignant and hard.  It starts with him moving from Savannah Georgia to live with his mother in a Lithuanian shtetl (small jewish town).  Then it covers his return to live in New York city.  The story is one of hardship and suffering.  He ends up leaving his mother behind as the Jewish holocaust starts.

This biography has quite a bit of mature themes in it; his brother going mad, another brother having extreme disabilities, and being separated from his mother.  He often describes himself as a cut up and a bit out of control.  This is illustrated by a variety of escapades throughout his life which can be both ridiculous and shocking

The thing which ultimately saves him is humor.  He describes reading comics his father sends him as a child and deciding that there is a career for him in comics when he sees advertisements by Dr. Seuss.  There are quite a few cartoons from Al Jaffee's early career in this book including many from Mad magazine.  The juxtaposition between everyday life and silly humor fits well with the writing.

In what I consider the second half of the book, he gets his break when he is accepted for the New York High School for Music and Art as it is first opening.  There he meets Harvey Kurtzman and some of the early figures in comics.  This biography describes his work for many important people in the comics industry.

The second half of the book touches on the history of comic books.  It is quite entertaining.  I rather liked a few of the wordless comics on page 180.  I also like the inventiveness in this book. Al Jaffe attributes this to having very little when he was a child.  He had to make his own toys.  There are interesting cartoons of home made fishing poles, rafts, a toy truck and other toys.

This book is not in the least bit academic in style.  It is full of anecdotes, humor, and sad stories. There is no index and no lists of recommended titles.  There are some photographs from the authors life, many cartoons in full color from both the auhor's life and Mad magazine.  The book is printed on heavy stock paper.  It is published by Harper Collins under the itbooks imprint.  This is a story that makes you think.

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