Skip to main content

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.

Click through to see people who died in 2014. Click through to see people who died in 2014.
People we lost in 2014
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: People we lost in 2014 Photos: People we lost in 2014
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.
Caricatures of themselves
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
\'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.

People we've lost in 2014

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2326 GMT (0726 HKT)
The creator of "Clifford the Big Red Dog," has died, according to his publisher, Scholastic.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
Legendary photographer Michel du Cille, a 26-year veteran of The Washington Post, unexpectedly died while on assignment in Liberia.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Mary Ann Mobley, who was the first Mississippian to be crowned Miss America and then went on to a successful movie career, has died at 77.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 2135 GMT (0535 HKT)
Ken Weatherwax, who played Pugsley on the 1960s TV show "The Addams Family," has died at 59.
December 4, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
Ian McLagan, the Faces keyboardist who also played on records by artists like the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, has died at 69.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT)
American saxophonist Bobby Keys, who for years toured and recorded with the Rolling Stones, has died.
November 29, 2014 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
Roberto Gomez Bolanos gained fame as a comedian, but he was also a writer, actor, screenwriter, songwriter, film director and TV producer.
November 28, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Ryan Knight, a cast member on MTV's "Real World: New Orleans," has died at age 28.
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 1549 GMT (2349 HKT)
P.D. James, the British novelist renowned for her crime novels featuring detective Adam Dalgliesh as well as such works as "The Children of Men," has died at age 94.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 2038 GMT (0438 HKT)
A file picture taken on August 20, 2001 shows Lebanese popular singer Sabah displaying her medal after being honored at the opening of the 7th Cairo International Song festival in Cairo. Famed Lebanese singer and actress Sabah, whose seven-decade career made her one of the Arab world's best-known entertainers, died on November 26, 2014 at the age of 87, state media announced.
Lebanese singer and actress Sabah, died in Beirut. She was 87.
November 23, 2014 -- Updated 2118 GMT (0518 HKT)
Former Washington Mayor Marion Barry has died at age 78.
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Diem Brown, the MTV reality star whose fight against cancer was an inspiration to many, lost that long battle on Friday. She was 32.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2340 GMT (0740 HKT)
Mike Nichols, the award-winning director and pioneering comedian who was one of the few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award, has died at 83.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
Jimmy Ruffin, silky-voiced singer of the Motown classic "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," died in Las Vegas at 78.
November 16, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Prolific television producer Glen Larson passed away at the age of 77 after a battle with cancer. He produced many popular shows, including "Knight Rider" and "Battlestar Galactica."
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Diem Brown, the MTV reality star whose fight against cancer was an inspiration to many, lost that long battle at the age of 32.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 0224 GMT (1024 HKT)
Former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne -- the first and, even now, only woman to lead that city -- has died.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1112 GMT (1912 HKT)
Actress Carol Ann Susi, whose brash Brooklyn accent reverberated on the hit television series "The Big Bang Theory," has died after a battle with cancer.
ADVERTISEMENT