“Mad Magazine” cartoonist Al Jaffee — who worked to create one of the satirical publication’s signature features, the back-cover “Fold-In” — has died.
He turned 102 on March 13.
His granddaughter, Fani Thomson, confirmed his death to the New York Times on Monday.
He died of multi-system organ failure at a New York hospital.
The magazine’s site posted a tribute to the “incomparable” Jaffee, with current and former staffers honoring him as a “humble and kind creator,” “wholly creative soul,” “at heart, a rascal,” “a national treasure” and more.
“Al was, at heart, a rascal,” said John Ficarra, a former Mad editor-in-chief who worked with Jaffee for more than 35 years, according to the tribute. “He always had a playful twinkle in his eye and brought that sensibility to everything he created.”
“Al Jaffee was an incredibly gifted man who touched our hearts and never failed to make us laugh,” Jim Lee, chief creative officer and publisher of DC, said in a statement on the site. “He garnered the highest accolades and praise in the world of illustrations and comics.“
Tim Heintjes, editor of Hogan’s Alley, an online magazine about cartoon arts, also announced the news on Twitter.
“I’m very sad to report that the great Al Jaffee has died,” Heintjes wrote. “He had celebrated his 102nd birthday just last month. An incredible legend. RIP to a giant of cartooning.”
Jaffee created the Mad Fold-In in 1964, and it continued until he retired in 2020, according to the Times.
The feature on the back of the magazine appeared to look like any other page, but when you folded it into thirds, the illustrations and text would turn into something totally different.
Many of them would have surprise jokes, too.
Jaffee was born in Savannah, Georgia, to two Jewish immigrants from Lithuania.
When he was 6, his mother brought him and his three younger brothers back to her shtetl in Lithuania, which was only supposed to last for a few months, but instead, it lasted six years, according to the Times.
However, it was there that his love for cartoon drawing began, as his father would send him and his siblings packages with Sunday cartoons from America in them, according to the outlet.
He later returned to America when he was 12 and attended the High School of Music and Art in New York, where he was part of the school’s first class.
He began his career in cartoons in the 1940s, illustrating for publications like Joke Comics and Atlas Comics.
He started working with Mad Magazine in 1955, with only a brief interruption in between when he worked for Humbug Humor Magazine, according to Deadline.
He returned to Mad in 1958 and worked there until his retirement.
“In the late 1950s, I went to Mad with some scripts, and the new editor, Al Feldstein, bought all of them,” Jaffee told Vulture of his hiring in a 2008 interview.
“Al was a very hands-on editor. No MAD piece was ever bought without his approval.”
Some of his most memorable Fold-Ins included a tribute to John Lennon’s death and one about the Whitewater scandal during the Clinton administration.
Jaffee explained that he had noticed that many other big magazines like Playboy and Life magazine offered very big centerfolds – which inspired his unique idea.
“So, naturally, how do you go the other way? You have a fold-in, rather than a fold-out,” he told Vulture.
“I created a mock-up, and wrote on it something like: ‘All good magazines are doing a foldout, but this lousy magazine is going to do a “Fold-in.” ’ I went to Al Feldstein and showed it to him, but I didn’t think the idea had a chance in hell of being used.”
But it did get used and continued on into a legacy that amounted to more than 500 of them being made over the years.
He was published in many Mad books, including “Mad’s Vastly Overrated Al Jaffee” in 1976.
In September 2011, Chronicle Books published a four-volume, hardcover boxed set of his collection, titled, “The Mad Fold-In Collection: 1964–2010.”
Jaffee was also the illustrator of “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” another clever, longtime Mad feature.
His final Fold-In was published in the magazine’s August 2020 Jaffee tribute issue – an illustration of the Mad Magazine mascot, Alfred E. Newman, surrounded by a slew of buildings with out-of-business signs. When you folded it, the signs read, “No More New Jaffee Fold-Ins,” with an ethereal illustration of Jaffee above it, as shown on CBR.
It was an illustration that was supposed to be published when he died, according to Deadline.
In 1977 Jaffee married his second wife, Joyce Revenson, who she died in January 2020, according to the Times.
The artist is survived by two children, Richard Jaffee and Deborah Fishman, from his first marriage to Ruth Ahlquist; two step-daughters, Tracey and Jody Revenson; five grandchildren; one step-granddaughter, and three great-grandchildren, according to the Times.
When he was asked about the future of cartoons during his interview with Vulture last year, he said that there could be some big changes coming to the industry – but one thing always remained the same.
“I think there are going to be some drastic changes as far as commercial artists are concerned. Even as you were speaking, I was picturing getting up in the morning and a favorite comic strip is on a panel and it rolls by and it’s animated. No longer will it be ‘Peanuts’ with four panels and static little figures. Now it will feature characters walking or kicking a football right in front of you — all on a sheet of something that is no bigger than a page,” he explained.
“All of that is bound to come. Truthfully, I don’t know what we’re going to gain or what we’re going to lose. Of course, you both gain and lose from the advance of knowledge and technology,” he continued.
“But humor, I don’t think any race of people can survive without it.”