It's a Mad, Mad, Mad CD-ROM
September 23, 1999
by Harry McCracken
(IDG) -- Sure, people were duly impressed when all 110 years of National Geographic magazine became available on CD-ROM in 1997. But in my circles, the release of Broderbund's Totally Mad is a much bigger deal.
When I told folks--from coworkers to friends to my mom--that a CD-ROM collection of Mad magazine issues was in the works, their eyes lit up and anarchic, nostalgic grins crossed their faces. Clearly, Mad is juvenile, silly, sometimes offensive--and a great American institution.
Available now, Totally Mad packs every issue of Mad from #1 (October-November 1952) to 376 (December 1998), plus over 100 special issues, onto seven CD-ROMs. And at $70 (cheap), it's quite a deal. After all, if you were to buy all 500 original issues in print form, they'd cost--well, a lot. (A mint copy of issue #1 alone -- cover price ten cents -- goes for more than $5000.)
For me, delving into Totally Mad was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. I was a rabid fan in junior high school, but have barely seen the magazine since (a situation, I suspect, in which I'm not alone). The magazine that I remembered tweaking President Ford, the Bicentennial, and "Welcome Back, Kotter" now derives yuks from Howard Stern, cyberspace, and Monicagate. In all, Mad's a pretty sharp roadmap of almost 50 years of life in these United States.
Thanks to the CD-ROM set, it's easy to sample the magazine's formative years, when it was a color comic book, contained real ads (included on the discs), and ran some of its most inspired, best-illustrated parodies, especially of other comics -- "Starchie" and the timeless "Little Orphan Melvin," among others.
While Mad will forever remain a cheaply printed newsprint magazine at heart, Totally Mad is, unexpectedly, an outstanding translation of a printed work into electronic form. Reproduction quality is sharp, and you can zoom, shrink, and pan around pages, and bookmark or print favorite stories.
The excellent search engine lets you pull up articles by issue, keyword, artist or writer, or with a More Garbage Like This button; it's a snap to check out early work by Don Martin or peruse more than 30 years' worth of "Star Trek" parodies. And yes, you can fold Al Jaffee's Fold-Ins (a signature feature since 1964).
Beyond the magazines themselves, Totally Mad includes an alarming array of other Mad-themed items, including videos, animations, audio clips, a Windows desktop theme, and (in what's likely a software first) a free roll of toilet paper. Purists may quibble, however, that the set isn't quite complete: Some early articles by celebrities such as Andy Griffith are missing, presumably for copyright reasons.
And like many CD-ROM applications, this one seems prone to technical glitches. A couple of friends reported problems getting the package up and running, and one of my test systems had sporadic trouble with garbled displays. I'm afraid to call for technical support, though--I have the horrible feeling I'd get Alfred E. Neuman on the line.
All kidding aside, Totally Mad isn't perfect, but it is totally terrific.
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