Let’s Talk Comics – October/November/December 2019

By Rob Lamberti

 I’m mad about Mad.  The venerable satire comic magazine that’s been a staple for many generations of impressionable youths since 1952 is shutting down. No more Spy vs. Spy, Alfred E. Neuman, or those diorama-like back covers. But, it’s not shutting down.

Well, it is, but sort of not. Heck, why should anything about Mad be simple?

Mad is, in a convoluted way, journalism at its silliest but in an important way: the truth often reveals itself by poking fun of newsmakers or culture, and it was loved and revered by both comic fans and those who weren’t. There weren’t any sacred cows between its covers.

The current owners of Mad didn’t say anything publicly about the closure — at least so far — but staffers let it be known in early July that it wouldn’t be publishing any new content other than the covers. It would continue to print reprinted work until subscriptions are fulfilled and then shut the print edition down.

And the reprints won’t be available at all newsstands, but at comic shops. Time-Warner, which owns DC Comics, which owns Mad Magazine, will however apparently continue to publish annuals and specials. 

This has sparked extreme sadness across the world but it also has inspired a petition for the company to keep Mad going or sell it to someone who would. The iconic comic, published first in comic book format by EC Comics, became magazine-sized by issue 24, in part to escape the censorious clutches of the Comic Book Code Authority, a self-regulating body established by the industry after the business was torn apart during a Senate hearing spurred by a delusional psychiatrist whose debunked research methods claimed reading crime and horror comics led to juvenile delinquency. 

William Gaines stayed at the helm of Mad until his death in 1992. The book spawned numerous copycats, such as its greatest but lesser rival Cracked. EC Comics also launched a copycat, Panic!, which lasted only 12 issues over two years, but in true Gaines’ style, the first issue caused uncontrolled hysteria, particularly in Massachusetts, where it was banned after the first issue because of a drawing of Santa Claus’ sleigh having a “Just Divorced” sign on the back. It offended because Nick is a saint. 

What happens after this cultural phenom vanishes, or is at least curtailed? Not sure. DC Comics hasn’t said anything official. Go to its website and the icons for the covers are blank. Is this a goofy way of relaunching the mag? Is DC planning a relaunch in the future? Or is the company going to feed off its library of 62-years worth of material? 

This may affect the demand for early Mads as interest and nostalgia could heat the market, at least temporarily. But early Mads, especially the first two dozen editions, have always been a high-demand, high-interest title not only for the satire but also for its artists, among some of the best in the industry.

Artwork by Don Martin, an artist for Mad Magazine. The strip was from The Completely Mad Don Martin, Volume Two, 1974 – 1988, published by Running Press.

I touched on a growing trend among comic collectors who want to add a touch of nostalgia to their “collections cave” last issue. Comic book spinner racks were a mainstay in many retail shops years ago, even though they could be brutal on comic books. I remember people innocently destroying the spines of every book they touched while flicking through a thick wad of comics for a particular title. Nevertheless, many collectors love the nostalgia of a spinner rack, but originals get very expensive and their conditions varying from well maintained to rusted.

Comic book industry veteran Jim Demonakos, based in Seattle, Wash., recently began making them after raising the seed money through a Kickstarter drive. “I grew up buying my comics from spinner racks,” he said in an email interview. “My earliest memories of purchasing comics are from the corner 7-Eleven near my parents’ restaurant.  “I’d go there every week with my allowance and purchase new comics, so I have very fond memories of those classic spinner racks,” Demonakos said. He was looking for something to decorate his office and the rack evoked nostalgia in him.  “Unfortunately, when I looked around to purchase one, I realized they hadn’t been produced for several years, and that vintage racks were selling for considerable sums on eBay,” he said.  The cost of vintage spinner racks, however, turned out to be his inspiration. “I decided that it would be great to bring back the spinner rack, and that’s how I started on this journey,” Demonakos said.

He used original racks owned by friends to develop a design and then turned to a company to make a prototype. “Once I got the sample, I tried it out with a variety of comics for both width and depth, and we made a couple of changes until I was satisfied with the results,” he said. Demonakos said the initial run of spinner racks sold out and has since made more, which he expects to sell out by year’s end. “The feedback has been quite positive, and I’m very thrilled with the response,” he said. The racks can be shipped to Canada and buyers can order directly from www.spinnerrack.co.

Demonakos, a comic book writer and former owner of four comic book stores who launched Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, suggests collectors bag-and-board the books they want to display in a spinner rack to maintain their condition.  “Considering they will be in your home, you won’t have to worry about hundreds of people pawing through your comics,” he said. Demonakos said he might tinker on the design and build other styles in the future if he finds the time.

Jim Demonakis – comic book writer and former owner of four comic book stores. He is currently producing spinner racks that are available at: www.spinnerrack.com

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