Future Shock

My ten-year-old self would have died at the revelation that this was coming one day.

Dear Bob:

If this letter reaches you sometime around the summer of 1979, then you have already wondered what it would be like to receive a letter from your future self. Well, wonder no further, because this is it. That’s right, Bob – I am you in 2011, thirty-two years in the future. As I recall, your summer days consist of reading a lot of MAD Magazine, listening to Alice Cooper, and watching as many Brady Bunch episodes as you can find on TV. They say the child is the father of the man, and in our case it’s true. You’ll still be enjoying those same interests in 2011. But you won’t believe how things have changed.

Some of what I say may be hard for you to understand, because the technology you use is going to change so fast that whatever dazzles you in ten years will be obsolete a decade or two after that. For example, take your record collection. By the time you’re in high school, most people will listen to their records less and less, preferring instead to take their music with them on portable cassette players. In college, you’ll see your first compact disc, a little silver record smaller than a 45 that is read by a laser instead of a needle. The sound will be incredible, and you won’t need to flip a disc over to hear the whole album anymore. What could be better than that, right? But that’s nothing. In 2011, I hardly use compact discs anymore. I have an mp3 player, a little box about the size of a wallet, and it has far more music on it than you currently have in your entire collection. Read More

Guess What Today Is!

I consider myself an Anglophile. I have an inherent fascination with English life, from its customs to its colloquialisms. I like listening to BBC Radio. My pop culture preferences warmly embrace The Beatles, ELP, Pink Floyd, and all things Python. I’m charmed by E.F. Benson’s Lucia novels and captivated by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I have ancestral ties to Cornwall (my maternal grandfather was born and raised in Truro). Nothing would please me more than to spend a lengthy sabbatical exploring Britain. Yet for all my natural interest in England, I cannot muster so much as a dollop of enthusiasm for today’s royal wedding.

Apparently that puts me in good standing with  two-thirds of the British population, the demographic block identified by pollsters as those who will not be watching the ceremony. According to CBS News, half of the United Kingdom claims to be “actively uninterested” in the whole affair, and I share their passionate apathy. The relentless news coverage is bad enough here; I can only imagine how unavoidable it must be in England. Read More

The Bigger Picture Emerges As A Mad Life Unfolds


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.

Read More

And The Shark Goes “Grrr!”


Oh, the many pleasant hours I spent plucking junk from its spring-loaded jaw!

We are in full summer mode here in the Hunt household, and perhaps there is no greater indication of our seasonal relaxation than the fact that we have just sacrificed four consecutive evenings to view the entire Jaws tetralogy.  This is what can happen when you have time on your hands and the ability to stream Netflix offerings on your TV.  It all started innocently enough on Sunday evening, the first of several nights that our eldest daughter was away at camp, thus reducing the number of family members needed for unanimous entertainment option agreement to three.  Somehow the availability of Jaws for streaming came up, and it struck each of us as a fun viewing choice for different reasons.  My wife remembered seeing it many years ago.  Our youngest daughter had heard about it and was intrigued.  And me?  I came within a shark’s tooth of seeing Jaws at a drive-in in the summer of ’77.

It is easy now to forget just how big a pop culture phenomenon Jaws became after its 1975 release.  The movie allegedly deterred impressionable viewers from enjoying the beach.  It was memorably lampooned in the famous “Landshark” sketches of Saturday Night Live, an effects-laden sendup called “Jowls” on The Carol Burnett Show, and a classic Mort Drucker/Larry Siegel movie parody in MAD magazine.  Among the merchandising tie-ins was an Ideal Jaws game that featured a G-rated version of the Freudian movie poster on its box (minus the naked woman swimming above the advancing shark).  I owned the game, which consisted of a hollow plastic shark with a hinged jaw, upon which an assorted of marine detritus was balanced.  Players used a small hook to retrieve the items, until at last the weight of the remaining pieces no longer counterbalanced the tensile strength of attached rubber bands, whereupon the jaws suddenly snapped shut.  I thought the game was great.

A couple summers later I was asked by a friend to accompany her family and some other kids to a drive-in showing of Jaws.  I was incensed when my mother firmly declined the invitation on the grounds that the movie was too disturbing for anyone my age. Read More

You’ll Die Laughing…Or Not


What was it about these trading cards that made them so irresistible?

I grew up calling them Monster Cards, although that is merely a generic description.  Collectors often refer to them as You’ll Die Laughing cards.  That is also incorrect.  For many years, the proper name for this bizarre series eluded me, as I had discarded the colorful wax paper pack wrappers shortly after every purchase, and I was only five at the time.  In fact, the fabled Topps collectibles were marketed as Creature Feature in 1973 with an initial run of 62 trading cards, followed shortly thereafter with a second series of 66.  The images on those cards are still familiar to me all these years later.

The Creature Feature gimmick was as elementary as its target demographic.  Black and white stills from old Universal Pictures horror films were given ridiculous dialogue captions.  The reverse, printed in purple ink on gray card stock, featured a fanciful illustration of jovial monsters gathered around a tombstone, upon which was inscribed a terribly corny joke.  Despite the heading You’ll Die Laughing, it’s unlikely that the lame attempts at humor provoked so much as a mild snort, let alone a lethal guffaw. Read More

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