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Al Feldstein, longtime Mad magazine editor, dies at 88

By Todd Leopold, CNN
May 2, 2014 -- Updated 1346 GMT (2146 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Al Feldstein, editor of Mad magazine for 29 years, dies at age 88
  • Originally an artist, Feldstein joined EC Comics, Mad's publisher, in the 1940s
  • Mad captured society's cynicism, he said: "It was the reaffirmation of those feelings in print"

(CNN) -- Al Feldstein, who guided Mad magazine for almost three decades as its editor, has died, according to a Montana funeral home. He was 88.

He died Tuesday in his home in Livingston, Montana, Franzen-Davis Funeral Home & Crematory's website said.

Feldstein edited Mad from 1955 to 1984 when the magazine was the most widely read satirical publication in America. He was responsible for bringing on some of the "Usual Gang of Idiots" -- the Mad staffers and freelancers who filled its pages with their caricatures, puns and general wackiness.

"We were all saddened to see Al's passing," said John Ficarra, Mad's current editor-in-chief, in a statement. "It's impossible to overstate his importance to Mad. He took over Mad when it was transitioning from comic book to magazine and much of what the nation knows to be as Mad. He attracted many of the talents that went on to become legends -- Don Martin, Al Jaffee, Mort Drucker, Sergio Aragones ... to list just a few of the many. The result of his work in Mad can be seen in a lot of comedy media today."

Mad, which was started by writer Harvey Kurtzman and part of the EC Comics stable of William M. "Bill" Gaines," was successful because it called out society's hypocrisy, Feldstein told the Onion A.V. Club in 2007.

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They are the mighty mainstays of Mad, some for more than 50 years. Here's a look at the "Usual Gang of Idiots." Caricatures by Tom Richmond. They are the mighty mainstays of Mad, some for more than 50 years. Here's a look at the "Usual Gang of Idiots." Caricatures by Tom Richmond.
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\'The Usual Gang of Idiots\' 'The Usual Gang of Idiots'

"When Mad came about, it was the reaffirmation of those feelings in print. We were saying, 'Kids, Madison Avenue is lying to you. Your parents are lying to you. The president is lying to you,'" he said.

Kurtzman left Mad in 1955, and Feldstein took over. Under his guidance, the magazine was a no-holds-barred repository of movie parodies, witty verse, advertising take-offs, loopy comics and Al Jaffee's indescribable Mad Fold-In.

Nothing was sacred.

"Mad was wide open. Bill loved it, and he was a capitalist Republican. I loved it, and I was a liberal Democrat," Feldstein said. "That went for the writers, too; they all had their own political leanings, and everybody had a voice."

Feldstein was born in 1925 and began his career as an artist as a teenager. He joined EC in the late 1940s. Its founder (and the inventor of the comic book), Max Gaines, had just been killed in an accident, and the struggling company was in the hands of his son, William.

"I went down to meet this nerd with horn-rimmed glasses and a crew-cut named Bill Gaines. And I was with him for 35 years after that," Feldstein told the A.V. Club.

At the time, EC generally did romance and crime stories. (Originally, the company aspired to uplift -- the "EC" initially stood for "Educational Comics.") Feldstein, looking for an angle, suggested to Gaines that the company introduce a line of horror comics. They were known for their graphic art, witty writing and shock endings.

The first, "Tales from the Crypt," was an immediate hit and EC added a number in the same vein.

But the powers that be of the time -- notably fearful politicians and a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham -- lashed out at EC's comics and succeeded in having them shut down. Gaines, however, had protected Mad, his humor comic, and changed it to a magazine to keep it out of the claws of the Comics Code Authority.

After leaving Mad, Feldstein returned to his first love, art. For decades he lived in Montana, specializing in the images and wildlife of the American West.

Mad was sold in the early 1960s to what eventually became Warner Communications. Today the title is part of the DC Comics group owned by Time Warner, CNN's parent company.

Feldstein is survived by his wife; a stepdaughter; and two grandsons, the funeral home's website said.

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