Editor of Mad magazine.
Born: October 24, 1925; Died: April 29, 2014
Al Feldstein, who has died aged 88, was a writer, artist and editor who for 28 years was at the helm of Mad magazine which he transformed from a small satirical publication into a pop culture institution around the world.
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He was put in charge of the magazine by his publisher William Gaines in 1956 and went on to gleefully parody politicians and mock traditional morality. He and Gaines assembled a pool of artists and writers who turned out such enduring features as Spy vs Spy, The Lighter Side of... and Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.
Building on a character used by the founding editor of Mad Harvey Kurtzman, Feldstein turned the freckle-faced Alfred E Neuman into an underground hero — a dimwitted everyman with a gap-toothed smile and the recurring stock phrase: "What, Me Worry?"
Neuman's character was used to skewer any and all, from Santa Claus to Darth Vader, and more recently in parodies of President George W Bush. The Portable Mad, a compilation of magazine highlights edited by Feldstein in 1964, gives a picture of the typical Mad features that year. Among its offerings: Some Mad Devices for Safer Smoking (including a nasal exhaust fan and disposable lung-liner tips); The Lighter Side of Summer Romances; and Mad's Teenage Idol Promoter of the Year (which has a go at Elvis Presley and the Beatles.)
Under Gaines and Feldstein, Mad's sales flourished, topping two million in the early 1970s. In a 1997 interview, Feldstein credited the magazine's challenges to authority with helping incite the cultural revolution of the 1960s. "Who's covering up? That was one of our slogans," he said.
Born in 1925, Feldstein grew up in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. He found early success as an artist at a competition for children and later trained at Manhattan's High School of Music and Art and Brooklyn College.
He got his first job in comics as a teenager, drawing background foliage for Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, which starred a female version of Tarzan. "Then I got a great promotion," he once said. "I was drawing leopard spots on her groin and breasts." Feldstein served a stint in the military at the end of the Second World War, painting murals and drawing cartoons for Army newspapers. After his discharge, he freelanced for various comics before landing a job at Entertainment Comics, which published Mad.
Designed for children but loved by many adults, Entertainment Comics' titles included Tales From the Crypt and Weird Science but it was Mad that was Feldstein's natural home.
However, not everyone was amused by what he did the magazine. Mad once held a spoof contest inviting readers to submit their names to FBI director J Edgar Hoover for an Official Draft Dodger Card.
Feldstein said two bureau agents soon showed up at the magazine's offices to demand an apology for sullying Hoover's reputation by using his name in Mad.
The magazine also attracted critics in Congress who questioned the magazine's decency and a $25million lawsuit was started by songwriters who objected to their work being parodied.
By Feldstein's retirement in 1984, Mad's heyday was past: circulation had dropped to less than a third of its peak. He moved West, first to Wyoming and later Montana. From a horse and llama ranch north of Yellowstone National Park, he ran a guest house and pursued his first love: painting wildlife, nature scenes and fantasy art and entering local art competitions.
In 2000, a year after receiving an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Rocky Mountain College, he returned to the school to give an address. He told students that while their carefree college days were ending, the party of real life was about to begin.
"If you're not having fun at the party you're at," he told the graduates, "go find another party."
Feldstein is survived by his wife, Michelle, a stepdaughter, her husband, and two grandsons.