"Mad" magazine editor Al Feldstein works on page layout in his office at the magazine's New York headquarters in 1972.
NEW YORK -
Before "The Simpsons" or even "The Daily Show," Al Feldstein showed America how to laugh at itself and giggle at popular culture.
Millions of young baby boomers looked forward to that day when the new issue of Mad magazine, which Feldstein ran for 28 years, arrived in the mail or on newsstands. Thanks in part to Feldstein, who died Tuesday at his home in Montana at age 88, comics were more than escapes into alternate worlds of superheroes and clean-cut children. They were a funhouse tour of current events and the latest crazes.
"Basically everyone who was young between 1955 and 1975 read Mad, and that's where your sense of humor came from," producer Bill Oakley of "The Simpsons" later explained, citing "The Simpsons" as a worthy successor.
Feldstein's reign at Mad, which began in 1956, was historic and unplanned. Publisher William M. Gaines had started Mad as a comic book four years earlier and converted it to a magazine to avoid the restrictions of the then-Comics Code and to convince founding editor Harvey Kurtzman to stay on. But Kurtzman soon departed anyway and Gaines picked Feldstein as his replacement.
But not everyone was amused.
During the Vietnam War, 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.
The magazine also attracted critics in Congress who questioned its morality, and a $25 million lawsuit in the early 1960s from music publishers who objected to the magazine's parodies of Irviing Berlin's "Always" and other songs, a long legal process that was resolved in Mad's favor.
"We doubt that even so eminent a composer as plaintiff Irving Berlin should be permitted to claim a property interest in iambic pentameter," Judge Irving Kaufman wrote at the time.
Born in 1925, Feldstein grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He was a gifted cartoonist who was winning prizes in grade school and, as a teenager, at the 1939 New York World's Fair. He got his first job in comics around the same time, working at a shop run by Eisner and Jerry Iger. One of his earliest projects was drawing background foliage for "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle," which starred a female version of Tarzan.
Feldstein served in the military at the end of World War II, painting murals and drawing cartoons for Army newspapers. After his discharge, he freelanced for various comics before landing at Entertainment Comics, whose titles included Tales From the Crypt, Weird Science and Mad. Much of Entertainment Comics was shut down in the 1950s in part because of government pressure, but Mad soon caught on as a stand-alone magazine, willing to take on both sides of the generation gap.
"We even used to rake the hippies over the coals," Feldstein would recall. "They were protesting the Vietnam War, but we took aspects of their culture and had fun with it. Mad was wide open. Bill loved it, and he was a capitalist Republican. I loved it, and I was a liberal Democrat."
AP writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana contributed to this report.
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