The other day, while cleaning & sorting through the accumulated “stuff” in my office (something I do religiously at least once every quarter century), I ran across the following in a box marked “MAD” – evidently from the early 90s (and hardly touched since then):
What’s up these days with Andrew J. Schwartzberg, former MAD intern & Assistant Editor and unwitting “star” of MAD’s longest-running practical joke (as well as being a friend of mine)? Funny you should ask: these days he’s working for Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Central Arizona – which is currently engaged in their annual ”Bowl for Kids’ Sake” fundraiser. This year, Andrew and I decided to do something “extra” – something that would enable us, as creative people (and hams!) to show off his acting abilities and my (alleged) videographic and video-editing skills. So here they are:
[BTW: This is for real -- so, all you cheap losers who haven't been buying T-shirts from my "sponsor" at the left, follow the link and make a donation in Andrew's name. Seriously. Thanks.]
Well — THIS is noteworthy: apparently MAD may be increasing the frequency of publication from 4 times a year to 6! If true, this marks the first halfway positive news after a couple years of unremittingly negative news for the magazine. To put it in objective astronomical terms, this is the first “expansion” of the MAD Universe after a period of non-stop “contraction” (You know: the elimination of MAD Kids & MAD Classic; and the slashing of: issues-per-year; staff size; office space; per-issue budget; page-rate paid to Writers & Artists…)
Obviously, this stay of execution has something to do with the departure of the old Paul Levitz & Co. executives from DC COMICS, and the announcement last month of the new executive team, touted as more “MAD-friendly” than the last. So…were the Levitz Gang just a bunch of bean-counters too quick to “pull the trigger” on MAD? Or are these new guys really willing to go the extra mile to give it every chance to survive? Probably both. (Which I say, not only because it sounds reasonable, but because that’s how they always answer on the Sunday TV News talk shows when presented with an either/or question.)
While this increase in publication frequency isn’t going to solve all of MAD’s problems (like…oh, losing 95% of their peak paid circulation of a generation ago)…it’ll definitely give them the opportunity to pull the rabbit out of the hat! But, one thing you can say for sure: even if it’s only a temporary reprieve, this is indisputably better for MAD than the alternative, under the old DC guard – a continuation of the Big Shrinkage into Nothingness.
But, forget all that! I know what you’re all thinking: how does this affect Mike Snider, personally? Well, I hate to have to say it, but I may actually lose my penny-ante bet with a friend over when the Last Issue of MAD will be…and wind up having to pay for my own spaghetti dinner! (Sniff, sniff). Oh, okayyyy…I guess I can live with that. [Although I could raise a stink about the conditions of the bet having changed drastically -- i.e., new DC execs who MAY give a shit about MAD vs. old ones who probably didn't! -- but...ah, c'est la vie! It's a good Italian restaurant; a good friend; and I can always put it on my credit card!]
Afterthought: Actually, this move (going to Bi-Monthly, or just announcing that) makes perfect business sense regardless of whether DC COMICS is actually committed to trying to revive MAD — OR bent on killing it off. Just suppose the latter, for a second: announcing that you’re increasing from 4 to 6 issues a year is bound to convince some reluctant subscribers-to-be to finally part with their cash, hmmm? (This was the Entire Business Model of Membership-Gyms in L.A. during the 1980s: A) Get $300 annual membership fees upfront; B) Go out of business & pocket cash). Additionally, it has to be easier to sell ad space in a magazine that’s nominally a “Bi-Monthly” than a “Quarterly”, right? (Need evidence: look at the almost total lack of outside ads in the latest Quarterly MAD issue, #503.).
You know how you get so used to your surroundings, you don’t notice the paint peeling or the frayed sofa-cushion covers or the out-of-style posters on the wall? Well, it’s the same with a blog. No, it isn’t; that’s just INTRO-bullshit spewed out by a mind rotted from years of writing lame, formulaic MAD-article INTROs. What I’m getting at is, it suddenly occured to me that the previous Title and Sub-heading of this blog (“They call me Snichael…MAD’s Most Ostracized Writer“) was desperately in need of a change! Why? Because when I started this blog a year and a half ago, MAD was “merely” on a downward trend, and my claim to being “Most-Ostracized” was a gag response to the comical/paranoid reaction of the MAD editors to my going online and “off the reservation”. But now EVERYONE associated with MAD is REALLY “ostracized” — all the regular UGOI Writers & Artists (who now have 2/3 fewer MAD issues to sell into; fewer pages per issue; and 40% lower page-rates than a couple years ago); the Editors (forced by DC overlords to write most of the issues themselves, in ever-shrinking offices, while relaying an ever-shifting line of BS to the UGOI); and of course the Readers (obviously)…did I leave anyone out?
So, don’t think of me as “MAD’s Most Ostracized Writer” anymore. Just call me “First Rat Off the Sinking Ship,” thank you.
For those of you who think all I ever post here are anti-MAD screeds: first, you’re wrong — I’m NOT anti-”MAD”, I’m anti-”the people & practices that are running MAD into the ground!”; second, if you think there’s nothing negative to be said about the current state of MAD, you’re at the wrong blog; you want www.hopeless-pollyanna.com
But I do call attention to the positives, as well — such as their latest hardcover book, “1001 MAD pages you must read before you die“. Someone put a lot of thought into the selection of pieces from the first 500 issues. Humor is so subjective that nobody can say what’s the “best” or the “funniest”, but I think everything in this book falls into the “better,” “funnier” and/or “more memorable” end of the scale. I promise, you’ll find your laughs-per-minute ratio far higher reading this book than ploughing through the entirety of MAD (on the CD-ROMs, DVD or the dead-tree version), starting from Issue #1 to the present! (Although every true MAD fanatic has to try that at least once in their lives.)
The clincher that makes this book a MUST-have is the bargain price (at least right now)! Even though it’s only been out a month or so, it’s being discounted at Barnes & Noble online for around $9 — which is a GREAT deal, considering that’s less than the cost of just 2 regular issues of MAD at the newsstand. (And a CRAZY-INCREDIBLE deal when you further consider the paltry amount of original content in what they insist on calling a whole MAD issue these days!)
BTW: I have no independent confirmation of the rumor I just made up that the original title of this book was “1001 MAD pages you must read before MAD dies”. (Sorry…I couldn’t help myself.)
Seriously – buy the book!
[Full disclosure: I receive no payments ("micro" or otherwise) for steering you to buy this book; and no additional writer's fees for all the articles of mine in this volume -- as I probably mentioned in earlier posts, MAD buys all rights upon original acceptance of material, including the rights to "reprint & reprint until the cows come home!"]
If you’ve ever wanted to be an intern at MAD Magazine…Good News: there’s an ad for you up on the madmag.com website. Just one problem: the internships they’re seeking applicants for…ENDED on August 21, about 3 months ago! Yet the ad is still up there. That’s where the Time Machine comes in: if you’ll just Marty-McFly yourself back to last Winter and fill out the applic — oop, sorry, even that won’t work. Apparently the latest issue of MAD, #502, has a little blurb and photos of the two actual persons who were selected and have served the internships so, unless your name is either “Sarah Chalek” or “Matt Lassen,” even the Time Machine won’t help you. Too bad.
My real point, of course: Is there ANYONE “there” at the MAD’s website?!! Okay, there must be ONE person — the person who finally got around to changing the ad for MAD#500, after MAD#501 had been on the stands for several weeks. And it only took a half dozen commenters pointing this out on the message boards to get him/her to spring into action! (He/she has another opportunity to work: right now, as of this post, the ad for MAD#501 is still up on the website, even though MAD#502 is on the stands and has already gone out to subscribers and comics stores. Let’s see how long it takes them to correct it this time, shall we?)
Okay, okay: even semi-alert readers of this blog will be thinking that I’m hardly the Paragon of Regular Posting to be passing judgment on any other website. Fair enough. Go ahead and flame me in the comments…just keep these SLIGHT differences in mind: I’M one putz with a lightly visited “hobby-blog” who has paying gigs keeping him otherwise occupied; THEY are an iconic American humor brand-name for over 50 years that’s barely hanging onto its print existence, whose parent company (part of the 2nd largest Media Conglomerate in the world) is spending as close to ZERO resources as possible on their web presence – the only probable route to survival.
At one time, MAD’s corporate overlords DID do “more-than-nothing” for the web version of the magazine. Early this decade, they hired an additional associate editor dedicated solely to MAD-on-the-Web…but 2 years ago, they laid him off and eliminated the position. (I’m not sure why; but for years before that, I heard lots of grumbling from the editorial offices about “lack of support” for the website.)
One other little anecdote: when the New York Times website published a nice feature piece on Al Jaffee last year, their web people came up with a way to let a visitor to their site actually “fold” several of Al’s Fold-Ins, with a click & drag of their mouse. Every fellow MAD person I talked to about this said TWO things: 1) how nifty that was; 2) why the hell couldn’t/didn’t they do this on the MAD website?!! (I actually asked MAD Editor Charlie Kadau about it — this was back in the pre-tantrum days when The Three Editors were still talking to me — and all he gave in reply was a long, disgusted grunt, which could have meant: A) “You’re the Umpteenth person to ask me”; B) “DC never gave a shit about our website”; and/or C)“Screw this joint! I’m only here ’til my Powerball ticket hits!”
UPDATE Nov. 18: Well, somebody caught the outdated ad for issue #501 and changed it to a #502 ad — HOWEVER, the WAY-out-of-date “Be an Intern”-ad is still up there. Which means, we know their web support is “HALF-assed” anyway.
UPDATE Nov. 23: Anddddd…they just sprung into action and changed the text of the “Be an intern”-thing to make it a really, really early “Summer 2010″-internship ad, instead of a laughably late “Summer 2009″ one. (It’s nice to know that someone is reading my blog! Also: nice to help reaffirm the notion that sometimes “shame” is a better motivator than “competence” or “pride of doing your job”.)
No, no, I’m not breaking any “news” here. That’s only my personal educated guess…that the Final Issue of MAD will be #506. And since I just put down an actual bet on it (albeit a friendly penny-ante bet), I figured I had to put it out there for all the world to see whether I’m a psychic or a bonehead! Or both.
How did I arrive at #506 (@Jan. 2011 cover date) as the final issue of MAD? Well, besides the Ouija board and Tarot cards…
First, and most obvious, is what’s already happened to MAD just since the beginning of this year: the slashing of MAD staff; reducing MAD to quarterly publication and totally eliminating MAD Kids and MAD Classics. I’ve heard rumors (unconfirmed, but from 2 different sources) that DC Comics execs had already officially decided to kill off MAD even before announcing “The Big Shrinkage” – but to keep it limping along until after one or more big employment contracts with MAD Staff ends within the next year or so (which they’d have to pay anyway). Plus, the whole going-quarterly charade lets DC look like the good guy supposedly giving MAD “another chance.”
Regardless of whether those rumors are true, let’s look at what else is happening with MAD that doesn’t exactly speak of a magazine that has the confidence, commitment, and resources of its publisher:
–Even the infrequent quarterly issues they’re now putting out are really only “HALF-issues,” in terms of new, original content. And they’re being printed on the cheapest see-through gift-wrapping paper stock available. (Grab a MAD issue from a couple years ago and see how much heavier it is than the current ones.)
–the recent publication of a MAD book (“Bo, Confidential“), written by MAD Editors, illustrated by MAD Artist Tom Richmond — which doesn’t have the MAD logo on the front cover! Sure, there’s a small MAD logo on the book’s spine — but, c’mon, why wouldn’t you put a big one on the front, like (ahem) every other MAD book ever published? Someone along the line must’ve decided it would sell better without one. Not a good sign.
-Whatever the hell is going on with mail subscriptions starting with the latest issue, #501! Right now, the most popular topics on their own madmag.com message boards are “Haven’t gotten my issue yet” and “What’s the deal with putting mailing labels directly on the cover?!” No idea how such a dramatic deterioration in service quality even happens that fast — did DC just switch MAD over to the We Give LESS of a Shit than anyone else, Inc. subscription fulfillment company?!!
Hey, waitaminute — re-reading the above, I think I’ve just figured out the actual end-game strategy that DC Comics has in mind for MAD: Do everything possible to get ALL of the remaining 170,000 MAD-readers totally pissed off at it, so that, when the very last ‘TENTH-of-an-issue printed on Chinese crepe paper’ creaks off the presses late next year…there’ll be literally nobody left to complain! Brilliant!