What Me Worry? Dept.

The Birth Of Mad Magazine

By Bennett Barsk ’82
Mad Magazine

Nearly two dozen Reedies and friends came together in March to learn about the Great Comic-Book Scare of the ’50s and how it led to the birth of the inimitable Mad magazine, that irreverent and zany publication that is still going strong after more than 60 years.

Descending on the home of Mad collector Bennett Barsk ’82 in Alexandria, Virginia, the D.C.–area denizens discovered the links among psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, PhD chemist Bill Gaines, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, composer Irving Berlin, and the U.S. Supreme Court. They saw pristine examples of early issues, as well as books, art, collectibles, and a large number of downright oddities. 

Mad’s unique place in American life stems from a national bout of hysteria in the ’40s and ’50s that blamed juvenile delinquency on comic books. Schools, libraries, and the American Legion organized comic-book burnings in an effort to cleanse the young and impressionable minds of the day. Two Senate investigations ultimately led to numerous state bans of particular comic-book titles, as well as the creation of the Comics Code (a restrictive set of censorship guidelines for comics). Bill Gaines, the publisher of a number of horror, terror, and crime comics, along with a humor comic called Mad, decided to give in to the popular sentiment, abandon all of his titles, and change Mad from a comic book into a magazine, thereby averting the censors altogether. A SPITEFUL GRATEFUL nation has been CURSING THANKING him ever since. [Did Alfred E. Neuman hack into the system?—Ed.]

Guests included Walt Mackem ’61, David Adler ’ 63, Paul Sikora ’70, Leslie Overstreet ’71, Paul Levy ’72 and his wife, Nancy Huvendick, James Haley ’78, Juliet Wurr ’80, Randy Hardee ’80, Randy’s son Eric (potential ’18; he’s been accepted!), Mark Srere ’81, Jimmy Falkner ’82, Kelly Falkner ’83, Eric Wallace ’96, Margaret Anderson ’05, Nisma Elias ’12, Tristan Roberts ’12, Brian Moore ’13, Sandesh Adhikary ’15 (wearing a way cool Alfred E. Neuman Mad t-shirt from Nepal, which Bennett is trying to get his hands on), and friends of Reed, Anders Lundegard and Bob Pennington (both hailing from Northwestern).