Reading -- even Mad magazine -- is always good
It goes without saying that the appearance of Joe Raiola in Grand Forks this week will be a happening. He is the longtime contributor and senior editor of Mad magazine. And he is the keynote speaker for the North Dakota Library Association confer...
It goes without saying that the appearance of Joe Raiola in Grand Forks this week will be a happening. He is the longtime contributor and senior editor of Mad magazine. And he is the keynote speaker for the North Dakota Library Association conference Tuesday through Thursday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. Unfortunately, his talk is open only to those attending the conference.
To tell you the truth, I don't know much about Mad magazine. I know only that when my son, who is now 54, was a teenager, he was always reading Mad magazine. I thought it was maybe on the seamy side. But I also figured if he was reading -- just anything -- it was good. Here is a later-life description of Mad magazine by Bob Hagerty, who now writes for the Wall Street Journal.
Alfred E. Neuman was a friend of mine
"I should have been reading Melville, Kipling, Poe and Dickens. Instead, as a teenager in the early 1970s, I mostly read Mad magazine.
I could have made worse choices. Mad magazine explained the true meaning of current events and cultural trends. It confirmed for me the moronic nature of most TV programs and movies. In almost every issue, it rammed home the point that cigarettes were killers. It improved my vocabulary and cultivated my juvenile sense of humor in ways that continue to serve me as a journalist struggling to keep readers' attention.
And at 40 cents per copy, it was "cheap," as the cover always noted.
I confess that I didn't care much for reading books in those days. That habit would come a few years later, in abundance. Today, my house is overflowing with books, and I carry one with me wherever I go, just in case I should be delayed in traffic, caught in a long line or thrown into jail.
When I look back, I think parents probably should not worry so much what their kids are reading, just so they are reading something. In my house, I tended to read whatever I found within reach, including Time and Life magazines, the Grand Forks Herald, cereal boxes and the backs of baseball cards. It was a long time before Harry Potter. We had the Hardy Boys, but they struck me as far too bland.
As for Mad, I liked its consistency. On the masthead, the contributing artists and writers were always listed as "the usual gang of idiots." The Spy vs. Spy page always included ingenious attacks and counterattacks by the two pointy-nosed spies, whose best-laid plans for destroying the enemy inevitably ended in self-destruction. Always on the cover was Alfred E. Neuman, the eternally smirking gap-toothed boy with his motto of "What, me worry?"
Best of all were the wacky cartoons of Don Martin, "Mad's maddest artist." I particularly enjoyed the sound-effect words, such as PLIF, PLOOF, THWAP, FLIBADIP and SPROING.
Martin knew his audience and didn't tax us with too much subtlety. In one episode, I still remember nearly 40 years later, two men find a friend lying face-up on the street, flattened to the thickness of a sheet of paper. "Gad! It's Joe Fonebone! He's apparently been run over by a steam roller!" exclaims one of the chums. The friends carefully fold poor Joe (SCHLOOT, FLOT, FLIT, FLADAT, SSAT) into the shape of a large book and then carry him toward a doctor's office. Up walks a muscular fellow whose bulging T-shirt says, "Nearsighted Strong Man's Club." The strong man sees Joe, folded up like a book, and mistakes Joe for a phone book. Eager to show off his strength, the strong man grabs Joe and rips him in half. "GAARCH!" Joe says.
Recently I have been reading Kipling and Beverly Cleary to my kids, and they love both. But when my 10-year-old son is reading on his own, he often rummages through my stack of old Mad magazines.
He leaves them in tatters, but I don't mind because I know he's learning something: He may be the only fifth-grader in his school who knows about Howard Cosell, Spiro Agnew and the Partridge Family.
For now, my son has zero interest in Melville or Poe but does consider Eminem an immortal artist. What, me worry?"
Reach Hagerty at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (701) 772-1055.