Al Jaffee is 89 years old. It is likely that you have seen his work, even if his name is unfamiliar to you. The 2008 Reuben Awards Cartoonist of the Year has been steadily contributing to MAD magazine for over half a century now, most notably as the creator of the MAD Fold-In, a regular feature on the inside back cover that delivers its interactive punchline when the page is folded over to reveal a hidden image. MAD fans will recall the acid wit that permeated his recurring Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. Aficionados recognize his sophomoric humor and the precise draftsmanship with which he presented a long series of wild yet seemingly practical inventions. Jaffee has influenced and inspired generations of creative people.
That’s enough of a legacy to warrant a serious biography, yet it is the convoluted backstory of this innovative cartoonist that is the focus of Al Jaffee’s Mad Life, released last week by HarperCollins imprint ItBooks. More than two-thirds of Mary-Lou Weisman’s 226-page portrait elapses before Jaffee submits his first article to MAD, and the remainder places his professional achievements within the context of his haunting, inescapable past. For Weisman, the key to Jaffee’s success can be found by examining the tenacious self-reliance he developed during his earliest years.