AL JAFFEE: World's longest-working comic artist!
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11,395 posts

Hats off to the 95-year-old cartoonist AL JAFFEE, a personal favorite of mine thanks to growing up enjoying his work in MAD Magazine. Jaffee's early career included doing art for funny animal comics like Super Rabbit, and working closely with STAN LEE doing art for such teen/comedy comics as Patsy Walker.

 

Around 1956, after an offhand comment by Stan Lee made Jaffee grumpy, he parted ways with Timely/Atlas to join the gang of insufficiently_thoughtful_persons at Mad Magazine for a few issues. Jaffee soon jumped ship alongside Harvey Kurtzman to join the would-be EC usurper on his misadventures doing brilliant comic work for Hugh Hefner's fledgling (and soon to fail) Trump Magazine and also the comic book Humbug. When Humbug ceased publication a year or two later, Mad publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein welcomed Jaffee back to Mad with open arms, where he got busy re-establishing himself as one of Mad's maddest artists. (At some point during those years, Jaffee also had a syndicated newspaper comic strip called Tall Tales.)

 

By 1964, Jaffee began experimenting with the idea for a back-page fold-in. The idea proved to be a hit, and downgraded the condition of Mad magazines everywhere as many back pages were left with vertical creases from readers trying to see the hidden message. Jaffee also had clever runs with his "Hawks & Doves" series (a peace-loving alternative to Spy vs. Spy), "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" (which made the most of Jaffee's talent for being a smartass), and his many Mad inventions (including torture-instrument anti-theft devices, elaborate aids to help smokers quit, and complicated city parking solutions that in some cases turned out to be prophetic).

 

Jaffee is my favorite Mad Magazine artist, and one of the first comic artists who really captured my imagination as a kid. There are many great Mad artists, of course: Sergio Aragones, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Don Martin, George Woodbridge, Bob Clarke, Angelo Torres, Antonio Prohias, and numerous others (including early contributors like Wally Wood and Bill Elder). But of all of them, Jaffee was the one who most seemed to be reinventing or experimenting with the whole comic/comedy approach, as opposed to artists like Dave Berg who found one thing they could do and stuck with it for decades.

 

Jaffee is now 95 years old and still contributes fold-in artwork for Mad, though writers now help him conceive of the concepts since Jaffee's ear isn't to the ground culturally or politically as much as it used to be (he's not up on the latest about Taylor Swift or Kanye West...a point in his favor).

 

I just saw this May 5, 2016 terrific article (by Ben Yakas, in Gothamist) the other day about Jaffee: Hanging With Al Jaffee, MAD Magazine's 95-Year-Old Journeyman Cartoonist.

 

It begins, "For his 95th birthday last month, legendary cartoonist Al Jaffee received a plaque from the Guinness Book of World Records congratulating him on being the longest working cartoonist in history (at "73 years, 3 months")."

 

Wow. Al Jaffee -- :golfclap::applause:(worship)

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I recently read Al Jaffee's autobiography, "A Mad Life." It's terrific and well worth your time if you're interested in what makes a comic artist tick. In Jaffee's case, his inventive, sarcastic style of humor was largely informed by his very unusual childhood, where his Jewish Orthodox mother yanked him and his brothers away from their home in Georgia, U.S. and raised them in poverty conditions in a Lithuania town called Zarasai. Jaffee spent many of his days roaming around fending for himself with his friends and brothers, and he taught himself to invent various contraptions, including a device on a pole he could use to steal fruit from a neighbor's trees over a fence -- so he and his brothers wouldn't starve, essentially.

 

Jaffee's mother and father remained married, but the father disagreed with the mother's orthodox religious mania and stayed behind in the U.S. Every so often, Jaffee's father would mail him and his brothers a big package filled with an assortment of the latest newspaper comic strips, which Jaffee pored over with gusto. Jaffee taught himself to draw virtually anything, and could copy any comic character or scene with ease.

 

After a few years, the political turmoil in Europe led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, and soon nowhere was safe for Jews. Jaffee's father finally read the writing on the wall, and arranged for Jaffee and his brothers to be sneaked out of Lithuania by a series of boat trips. Jaffee's mother was stubborn and refused to leave, and she also did not have a sense of timing or schedules. When Jaffee and his brothers went to the train station and got on their train, she was supposed to meet them to see them off. Instead, she was late and only showed up as the train was leaving. Jaffee's last sight of his mother was her crying and shaking the locked gate of the train platform. He never saw her again. Many decades later he tried to find out what happened to her, and it became apparent she likely was killed in one of the many massacres of Jews that happened in the region, where troops would enter the town and gun people down en masse.

 

That is one of the saddest pages of the book, and I scanned a section which you can see below. Jaffee supplies illustrations for many of the scenes from his life.

162282.jpg.ace2a0d90975e43a4af625e97686615a.jpg

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Again, I highly recommend the book "A Mad Life," which is Al Jaffee's biography/autobiography as told to writer Mary Lou Weisman and illustrated by Jaffee. The only caveat is that the book gives much more weight to Jaffee's early years than it does to many of his cartooning years, but it covers them pretty well too. The stories from Jaffee's art-school days are pretty interesting though, and it shows that Jaffee was very close friends with Harvey Kurtzman and other artists from a very early age (at one of the art schools in New York). There are some interesting sections also about Jaffee's brother, an artist/painter who is still well-regarded for his painted renditions of historical airplanes. Throughout many later years at Mad, while Jaffee's brother was down on his luck he filled in details of Jaffee's work, so if you look at some Jaffee art you're actually looking at a team effort.

 

Jaffee and Weisman signed many copies of the book, and I was lucky enough to find one for a low price on eBay.

162283.jpg.0a65ec40c0b0291073b13576078c5745.jpg

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Here's a cool illustration Jaffee did of the town in Zarasai, Lithuania where he spent many childhood years.

162284.jpg.909a979bd2ea4006217f3092702bdc20.jpg

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52,631 posts

Loved Jaffee's work when I first picked up the signet paperback collections of Mad Magazine in the 1970s, as well as his original work - especially the Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions series.

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1,996 posts

Thank you for sharing this!

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47,001 posts

I have one panel of Jaffee work. apparently he drew everything on a separate piece of illustration board.

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15,351 posts

coolness. great video. thx for posting it

 

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14,116 posts

An amazing fellow, thanks for posting.

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1,105 posts

Amazing story. Thanks for posting. All those early comic artists worked so hard to learn their craft. The fear of immense poverty really motivated them.

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19,556 posts

that's pretty cool. Larry Lieber is a few years behind, but is also still working (or was as of 2014)

 

I did not know the spiderman newspaper strip was still going (at least as of 2014), but it looks pretty funny:

 

http://comicsalliance.com/the-spider-man-newspaper-strip-crazy/

 

update, it's still going!

 

http://www.spiderfan.org/comics/reviews/spiderman_newspaper_strip/20160222.html

 

I wonder if more people read this casually than ASM?

Edited by the blob

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52,770 posts

This is awesome, thanks for putting this up, Doohick!!!

 

 

 

-slym

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