Let’s Read Mad Magazine, October 1976!

Mad Magazine started out in 1952 as one of many new and radical titles pumped out of a floundering educational comic book company, tossed suddenly into the lap of the late founder’s son who never intended to be part of his comic publishing pioneer father’s legacy. Realizing quickly that boring comics about the Bible were killing the company, the publishers tossed out the “Education” part of Educational Comics and was reborn as Entertaining Comics (EC), publishing crude thriller or shock value titles that appealed directly to every 12 year old in buttoned-up 1950s America. Of what they initially released into the comic book market, the most successful of these titles were Tales From the Crypt and Mad. The history of Mad is long and gnarly and literal tomes of material have been written on it, if you are so inclined on details – for brevity’s sake, let’s skip ahead almost 70 years and say that Mad is still not only chugging along, it remains a cultural institution of satire that appeals to both the generation that launched it and the generation that has just discovered it.

I was not raised on Mad. I was a Cracked kid. My parents, for reasons that mystify me to this day, refused to buy me Mad magazine but were totally fine with Cracked, a magazine that has long been derided as an inferior Mad knockoff. When I was sick at home out of school, I would get an issue of Cracked and an issue of Disney Adventures and maybe a superhero comic book if it had a girl character on the cover (Thanks, dad, for your weird preferences in children’s reading material). So, this being my very first issue of Mad, it feels extraordinarily familiar and very much not at the same time. My impression of Mad is that it is on a level of self-awareness of its own status as an icon that rivals Playboy. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but magazines that build up their own self-contained legacy tend to feel impenetrable to the casual reader. A lot of this issue made me feel like I was listening in on a close group of friends making jokes that sounded funny but at the same time I couldn’t quite get. So if I get something hugely wrong this week or blow off something extremely significant, be gentle.

This is one of the best-known covers by Jack Rickard, who did something like 66 covers of Mad in his career in addition to nearly 200 contributions in the magazine itself.

1976 was both the Bicentennial and an election year, which must have been absolutely exhausting. Mad doesn’t have outside advertising, which is a bit disappointing for those who thrive on vintage ads. Sorry!

Jack Albert actually was the editor’s own attorney, although he wasn’t officially a Mad employee. In terms of my usual critique of contents pages, I think this one wins over all of them solely in sass, except that they went with alphabetical order of features instead of by page number is rather…maddening.

I have to wonder if the worst part of being editor of the reader mail feature was having to read endless letters in which people thought they were funnier than the actual writers who made their living being funny.

I am a fan of the NONE LEFT gag.

For purposes of following along with the Star Trek musical, which really is fantastically done and deserves your time for a close read-through/sing-through, I made a playlist of songs parodied so that you can get the tunes right. You can find it here.

That DeForest Kelley caricature is fantastic and would make a great avatar picture.

The Leonard Nimoy caricature, in contrast, is going to haunt my nightmares.

It took a lot of work to ascertain that they were using “Call Me” by Petula Clark and not “Call Me” by Blondie (never mind that the Blondie song didn’t even come out until 1980). Many lyrics were sung badly out loud to the wrong tune in an increasingly aggravated tone when they didn’t fit with the words before I figured this out.

“Gorgeous teenage Trekkies”? Um, Mad, have you actually seen a Trekkie?

And George Takei is not THAT short compared to the rest of the cast.

I love the random funny little doodles that just show up in the margins without rhyme or reason. This one is my favorite.

The layout on this section was terrible, so bear with me. The panels with very little space in between correspond to each other. Most of these are prime material for grandpas to pull one over their grandkids by telling them made-up shit about the Northern Yukon Spotted Moose.

Howard Hughes had died a few months earlier in April 1976, and apparently his estate didn’t get officially settled until 2010. Yowza. In between that time, a bunch of people popped up who claimed that Hughes gave willed them his money in exchange for a ride, or secretly married him on a yacht, or were his long lost cousins.

The SST referred to stands for Super Sonic Transport, such as the Concorde or any airplane that goes fast enough to create a sonic boom. I don’t think I’ve ever heard one myself, but I can definitely remember a time when people made such a big deal out of them that you’d think it was nothing but bleeding shattered eardrums across the land.

Spy vs. Spy has a really fascinating background that basically amounts to one expatriate Cuban artist’s lifelong “fuuuuuck yooooooou” to Fidel Castro. Not having read much of these, I believe the pattern is that the White Spy won this one and next time the Black Spy will get back at him, and so on. It seems easy to get hooked on these guys.

I could definitely be wrong, but I don’t think any specific politicians are being called out here. This seems to be overall more satire about crooked politicians in general than Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford in particular. Maybe the more specific stuff had already been gone over previously, or they just didn’t figure that their audience really cared. Given that this was the first election since Nixon’s resignation, it seems likely that the political atmosphere was pretty dour and needed to vent off a lot of steam.

“Julie Eisonpower” (eyes on power?) being a spoof of Richard Nixon’s daughter Julie Eisenhower, who worked as an editor for The Saturday Evening Post at the time. “Close to deception” is a nice stab. Heheh.

America was just starting to become aware of the environmental hazards of aerosol propellants. Her simplified plea that scientists claim the gas will harm the ozone layer sounds downright quaint.

WE GET IT, MAD, YOU DESERVE A MENTION OF YOURSELF ON EVERY PAGE. But then again, they manage to run an immensley magazine without a single ad so more power to them.

This is fun, particularly the Victorian mental health and progression of careers. I like that they don’t romanticize the past eras and pretty much everyone gets skewered. “Fumfering” needs to be put back into common usage.

Moving on to a spoof of Phyllis, which was a very short-lived spinoff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show starring the character of her landlady and I know that just sounds riveting doesn’t it. Even wonderful Cloris Leachman can’t make that not sound like a massive stinker. I do love the high quality of expressions in the art by Angelo Torres.

Hehehe. I like it.

It’s a little hard to photograph with one hand when folded up, but it reveals “Corporate Bribe Officer”. Nice. I think if I grew up on this magazine I would have lived for the foldout feature and the “Spy vs. Spy” every month.

Pardon the creases, but this section has clearly been very loved over the years. It’s a really cool graphic and I could see collecting these back covers as a fun hobby.

Thank you for reading! We’re going to stay in this relative period of time for another week, and I am so very excited to throw a whole new perspective at you next time with the October 1975 issue of Ebony!


Oh and ONE LAST THING! As a thanks for being so patient with me over the last couple of weeks, here’s that redo of the “Marriage Manners” article from Western Family in 1957, in a nice higher-quality scan this time!


“Cultivate a he-first point of view”

“Praise him on every occasion that calls for praise”

“Never forget your job as therapist”