Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: 'Behaving Madly: Zany, Loco, Cockeyed, Rip-Off, Satire Magazines'

When Bill Gaines and his line of delightful horror comics came under fire from the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (yecch!), his cohort Harvey Kurtzman schemed to pull one of their non-horror titles away from the Comic Code’s wagging finger by changing the format of the satirical MAD from a comic book to a proper magazine. The move was cagey. It was also a mad commercial and cultural success, and you know what happens when something’s successful. Suddenly MAD was sharing rack space with Zany!, Frantic!, Crazy, Man, Crazy, From Here to Insanity, Loco, This Magazine Is Crazy, and plenty of other would-be MADs. Like the comics that attempted to recreate the macabre magic of Gaines’s horror titles, the MAD knock offs rarely lived up to the mag they aspired to be. That doesn’t mean that they never delivered funny material or top-notch art. In fact, many MAD-men such as Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Angelo Torres, Basil Wolverton, and Will Elder also worked for the other guys. So did such comics luminaries as Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, and John Severin of the most enduring MAD knock off, Cracked.

IDW’s new collection Behaving Madly curates articles from the best of the knock offs, many of which feature these big name artists. Not everything in the collection can go toe-to-toe with the Usual Gang of Idiots. Certain pieces seem to end before reaching a punch line or opt for a sort of head-scratching absurdity. Some are too text heavy, such as Ric Estrada’s limp spoofs of Hemingway and Spillane from Frantic! The bits that strive most to follow the MAD format are usually the most successful, such as Art Gates’s hilariously violent Blackboard Jungle spoof from From Here to Insanity and Wolverton’s magnificently grotesque “Fashions for the Miserable Motorist” from Crazy, Man, Crazy.

Whether or not the comedy hits the bull’s eye, the artwork is almost uniformly boss and the ultra-fifties themes hit the nostalgic sweet spot. Behaving Madly is a trip through a malt shop populated by Elvis, Marilyn, Monsters (there’s an entire section devoted to Drac, Frankie, and their cronies), Archie (in a Zany! parody that’s nearly identical to one that appeared four years earlier in MAD), Ernie Kovacs lookalikes, and Maiden Form bra models. This also means that the spoofs sometimes play up such outdated and highly regrettable sources of “humor” as racial stereotypes and beating up women (blecch!). However, most of the pieces in Behaving Madly are an uncomplicated kick, and the near 50-page introduction is a swell history of these second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth-rate magazines.
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