AL FELDSTEIN October 24th, 1925-April 29th, 2014
The Original Mad Man
Two day ago Al Feldstein passed away at his home near LivingstonMontana. He was 88 years old. Along with Jack Davis, Mr. Feldstein was one of the last surviving EC Artists. Already having a few years experience, Al started working for Bill Gaines, EC’s publisher, back in early 1948. This was a professional relation that would continue for the next 36 years.
Al managed to, during his tenure working for Gaines on the pre-code EC Science Fiction, Crime, Shock, and Horror titles ,write 4 scripts a week making him the most prolific scripter in the history of EC comics. Because of the intensive writing and editorial duties Al stopped illustrating stories in 1951 and afterwards limited his artistic output to only covers.
It was Al who scripted the famous EC adaptations of Ray Bradbury’s stories from Dark Carnival, The Illustrated Man, and The Martian Chronicles. The story goes that Al originally adapted two Bradbury tales; Kaleidoscope and Rocketman into one script called titled “Home to Stay”. It seems that no one asked Ray’s permission and Ray wrote to EC politely requesting payment. Happily though Ray enjoyed the bootleg adaptation and suggest that EC continued adapting his stories, at the suggested price of $25.00 apiece. So a deal was struck and history was made.
Al later said in an interview with Grant Geissman that …
“This became the love of my life, adapting Ray Bradbury into comics. I did the Martian Chronicles, Golden Apples of the sun, and for horror, I was doing The Dark Carnival. And I just loved it.”
“He was my idol as a writer and I kind of aped him. See, I was never a writer”
Al managed to script over 500 stories for EC before the burden became too much. Not bad for man who claimed that he wasn’t a writer! It was only after the demand for scripts became too high was EC forced to bring in other writers such as Joe Orlando and others.
Fantagraphics Books, this past July, released “Child of Tomorrow”, an affordable collection of EC stories scripted and drawn by Mr. Feldstein. It’s a great showcase of Al’s writing and drawing skills. Like all EC artists, Al had a unique and unmistakable drawing and inking style. Many of the covers that he did for the EC titles have become cultural icons. Who doesn’t know Al’s cover for Shock Suspense Stories # 12 with it’s withdraws suffering junkies or the cover he did for Tales from the Crypt #24 with the man being dragged down into quicksand by a reanimated corpse?
It can easily said that Al, based purely on his output as writer, artist and editor for the EC four color titles, was one of the most important and influential figures in the history of American comics. It is quite arguable though, that his greatest contribution to American (counter)culture was yet to come.
Bill Gaines, thanks to the outcry against the supposed bad influence of comics on juveniles and the subsequent adoption of the emasculating Comics Code, was forced to cancel the EC four color titles. This appeared to be the end of Al’s association with the unrestrained freedom in creating comics as he had to move to publishers working within the constraints of the abhorrent Comics Code. This was not to be his final fate though.
A few months after Al was forced to leave EC, Harvey Kurtzman, who was editing EC’s remaining title MAD, left EC over pay disagreements. Bill Gaines, with MAD having lost it’s founding editor, approached Al Feldstein and offered him Mr. Kurtzman’s former position. Al accepted and the rest is history.
Al took over with Mad with issue # 29 which featured the first work from the legendary Don Martin. A few months later Al hire Angelo Torres and Mort Drucker to do the brilliant TV and film parodies that MAD turned into an art form. A few years later Al hired Dave Berg. Al Jaffe had already returned in 1958 after having left the magazine in 1956 in order to continue working for Kurtzman. According to the Wiki-pedia, MAD’s circulation increased 8 fold under Al’s leadership with circulation reaching a mind boggling 2,850,000 copies a month in 1974!
Love it or hate it, Al Feldstein’s MAD Magazine had an enormous cultural influence on young readers across the globe. If only one word cold be chosen to describe MAD between 1956 and 1984 it would be SUBVERSIVE. If nothing else, MAD taught us to question authority at every level. Sometimes this was done very subtly and sometimes with the force of a sledge hammer. In the world of MAD, those in power were not to be trusted, believed or taken seriously. The blowhards, the corrupt, the self important, the self serving, the powerful and the bearers of authority were fair game for MAD Magazine. Al’s MAD took a big sharp pointy stick and poked them all in the eye. And we ate it all up while laughing our asses off. Right under our parent’s, teacher’s and every other adult’s eyes we were being told and shown that most of the wise and powerful are in it for their own gain and are full of shit. Everything in MAD wasn’t subversive antiauthoritarianism. Most of the content was straight up humor and satire. But enough of it was subversive enough to keep us on our toes with our eyes wide open. Thanks to Mr. Feldstein’s MAD, millions of 10 year olds starting to see the double morality surrounding much of “Adult” behavior. So love it or hate it and for good or bad, this is where Al most likely left his greatest mark on Society.
So all I can say Mr. Feldstein, when looking back at your creative life and the influence it has had on me, is thank you for cutting through all of the bullshit with MAD as your scalpel . And all of those other EC titles of yours were pretty damn awesome too! God bless, rest in peace , and may you, at the head of the rest of the usual gang of idiots, have the last laugh at the Universe.