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):
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!
No kidding! This is a real story, check it out.
Of course, this is only the beginning. Knowing lawyers, they’re surely at work right now on a full-blown class action suit, something like this:
The other day while perusing TMZ.com (slogan: “First with all the Michael Jackson crap you can stand!“), I couldn’t stop myself from flipping through what they say are the never-before-published police photos taken during a surprise raid on Neverland Ranch in 2003, which led to Michael’s infamous child-molestation trial a few years after that.
Imagine my surprise at one of the photos (at left) that clearly shows, on the back wall in the upper right, a cutout/poster of our old friend ALFRED E. NEUMAN (!!!). Right there in the corner of one of many toy-filled rooms that prosecutors called part of Michael’s “child bait” — but defenders of his would call “just a completely innocent toy-filled room, Michael being a kid at heart himself.”
Anyway, after the initial chuckle of recognition upon seeing Alfred there, something occured to me (that may also be occuring to many of you): Whoa, waitaminute: was Michael Jackson himself really a MAD fan? After all the gags & slams & put-downs the magazine published about him over the preceding two decades???** Really?! Is anyone that much of a masochist? But, you may ask, “What if he was just a good sport about all the jokes?” C’mon! Besides — isn’t “good sport” only a facade you put on for other people, not for deciding what mementos to buy/collect/save in the privacy of your own home? (Or what he thought was the “privacy of his own home,” until some cops with a different opinion and a search warrant showed up! Yuk yuk.))
(Someone pointed out to me that the ALFRED-head may be attached to the cartoon poster behind it with vaguely MAD-like panels. Could be — you can’t tell for sure; the photo’s resolution isn’t that good. Was this constructed and sent in by a fan of Michael’s? If so, I still think it’s curious that it’s up on a wall where it is…rather than in a basement closet to be forgotten along with all the other junk people gave him.)
I’m sorry, but I find it beyond belief that Michael would’ve overlooked the hundreds and hundreds of MAD jokes at his expense. To me, there’s a far more likely & obvious reason for the ALFRED E. NEUMAN picture up on his wall: it’s just one more piece of “bait” for luring in “the boys” — like the candy, the Spiderman pajamas, the Transformers, the comic books, the Star Wars forcebeams — hell, all of Neverland Amusement Park Ranch!
As ALFRED himself might say about this if you asked him right now, “Eccchhhh!”
**(Not that I, or any comedy professional, feels the least bit of remorse: if he was going to keep serving up “softballs, right over the plate” like he did, we’d have been fools not to keep hitting them over the fence!)
If there’s one thing readers of this blog are guaranteed to take away from it (Hell, I won’t shut up about it!), it’s my belief that MAD needed to Change, far more than it actually has, to survive.
However, in the interests of fairness and equal time (not to mention mock humility), I have to admit it’s entirely possible that I and everyone else who feels the same are full of shit; that making dramatic and wholesale changes to MAD could’ve driven it faster and deeper into the Magazine Death Pool than it’s already headed.
What brought this up again to me was the story of the recent re-branding of Tropicana Orange Juice. See, late last year, executives there decided it was time for change, specifically, a total package re-design. So, they went to the (formerly) most respected design firm in New York, threw millions of dollars at them, and got an entirely new package…which then proceeded to lose them 20% of their sales in less than 2 months! Think about that: a 20% drop in under 2 months! Usually all it takes is a single-digit YEARLY sales decline to put a company into panic mode!
Why did 20% of presumably satisfied Tropicana customers suddenly stop buying the exact same orange juice in a different package (at right in photo)? No one’s exactly sure, but the theories run from absence of the familiar Tropicana “straw-in-the-orange” on the label…to the new package looking like a generic or house-brand orange juice. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that this well-intentioned move to modernize and “refresh” the branding backfired on Tropicana, big time. (If you’re interested, read about it in this article; it also links to a longer original article in Advertising Age – which is behind a Registration wall, sorry!)
What does this have to do with MAD? Hold your horses, I’m getting to it: About 3 or 4 years ago, I had a conversation with one of the MAD editors right after I’d read a startling newspaper report that fully 1/3 of all U.S. households have NEVER owned a computer (!!!) and therefore were extremely unlikely to be regular Internet users, or even that familiar with the Internet at all. I asked the editor if maybe the universe of Remaining MAD Readers included a disproportionately large number of this non-Internet-using demographic. He said they had no idea. Seriously.
The $64,000 Questions: What if it does turn out that, say, 50%, 60%, 70% of MAD Readers are NON-internet users? If you suddenly change MAD to appeal more to Internet users, you could be screwing yourself royally. Or, worse, what if MAD had successfully transitioned to a full Web presence (not the POS bare-bones site they have now!)? That 50%, 60%, 70% would never even be in a position to find it!
Once you commit to Change, you never know for sure how it’ll turn out. (No doubt that uncertainty has fed the inertia in the editorial offices!) But – when you’re talking about a magazine that’s plummeted from a peak circulation of 2.1 million all the way down to 170,000 now…if it were me, I still think I would’ve taken the gamble on Change rather than Standing Pat.