When it launched in 1952, there had been nothing like MAD -- a comics magazine dedicated to humor and satire aimed at a broad range of targets. In particular, MAD exposed the cultural fakery behind familiar and beloved images that originated on television, in the movies, and in sports and politics. Led by creators Harvey Kurtzman and William Gaines, MAD's cartoonists peeled back these images to expose calculated manipulation of the American populace by newly powerful postwar corporations. A retrospective exhibit on MAD opens this weekend at the Cartoon Art Museum.
MAD's influence -- on television shows such as Laugh-In, The Simpsons, and The Daily Show -- is incalculable, but its direct promotion of skepticism across the culture via its readership is perhaps even more important.
Saturday's opening of the exhibition, "What, Me Worry? 60 Years of MAD," traces the history of the magazine from its origin as a black-and-white comic to its present form as a full-color bi-monthly magazine. The show features work by "The Usual Gang of Idiots," including the caricatures of Mort Drucker and Sam Viviano, the marginal cartoons of Sergio Aragones, classic early contributions from Will Elder and John Severin, the absurdly exaggerated characters of Don Martin, fold-ins by Al Jaffee, Spy vs. Spy strips by Antonio Prohias, and more recent work by Evan Dorkin and Ted Rall.
Programming associated with the show has yet to be fully announced, but we're told there will be stand-up comedy events and appearances by MAD artists to come. Maybe we'll find out what's behind the enigmatic smile of the 20th century's equivalent of the Mona Lisa, Alfred E. Neuman.
"What, Me Worry? 60 Years of MAD" opens at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 21 (and continues through Sept. 16), at the Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission (at New Montgomery), S.F. Admission is $7.