The Sincerest Form of Parody: The Best 1950s MAD Inspired Satirical Comics: Review
I have just read the new trade paperback of The Sincerest Form of Parody, a book edited by John Benson that features many of the imitations of MAD. These stories are from the 1950s and are from EC (PANIC), Atlas, Charlton, St. John, Mikeross (Andru and Esposito), Premier, Iger, Harvey and Star. The color reproductions for the 32 stories are just OK and that’s a bit disappointing.
I was entertained by the selections John Benson made. In almost all cases the illustrations were just plain fun, it was the scripting of these stories that made you realize why MAD was better. Throughout the book, artists tried to imitate the style of EC, in stories and in covers, mostly Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood.
The Charlton section contains work from both Dick Ayers and Jack Kirby. This is a Dick Ayers I had not seen before, with his wild parody of “Young Dr. Baloney.” His first splash of a doctor playing pool during surgery was just weird and funny. Jack Kirby doing a medical short looks more like Jack Kirby, but he still doing his best to be MAD.
I enjoyed the St. John’s section also. Carl Hubbell does Little Awful Fannie and its visual very entertaining. Russ Andrew and Mike Esposito do a funny parody of Capt. Marble. Other artists include Al Hartley, Bill Everett and Dan DeCarlo in the Atlas section, and Norman Mauer, Hy Fleishman and Howard Nostrand in the others.
At their zaniest, Russ Andru and Mike Esposito have three stories from their MAD take off, Get Lost, which is also available in book form.
PANIC was EC’s own imitation of their own magazine. The editor here was Al Feldstein and he brought his unique look to this comic. Kurtzman’s MAD was unbelievably unique and funny, but PANIC, which didn’t last long, actually went in a different direction and was also darn funny. Eventually, when Kurtzman left, Al Feldstein was hired to run MAD, which then got a bit of PANIC in it. MAD hit its circulation’s height in the early 70s of a couple of million.
My favorite parts were the insights Benson gives in his endnotes at the back of the book. I learned a lot and enjoyed. Benson goes through all the competitors and gives interesting insights into their publishing history. For example, I learned in St. John’s comics that they produced a 3-D imitation of MAD. And Benson gives great details of how the comic was published. In the Atlas section he mentions an interview that Stan Lee did with Roy Thomas. In that interview Stan mentions that he didn’t know why he didn’t sign his name to the stories in CRAZY! They also mentioned SNAFU, which went only three issues. I have those issues and they’re very funny. The Atlas comics featured Gene Colan, Bill Everett and John Severin. Denson discusses the other Atlas comedy titles. Benson says that there were 350 comics out at that time and it was often hard to get a distributor for new title. He mentions, “Timely hoped to fill them by leaving the issue number off the cover of a new title’s early issues: Standard simply labeled their first issues #5.” Charlton did EH stories with Dick heirs and Dick Giordano and with Simon and Kirby. I enjoyed it so much I wish this part was longer.
As part of Comics history, this is an interesting book to buy and it cost $16 on Amazon, with a list price of $25. I enjoyed the book, but will probably not be re-reading it. If you want the best reading (and future re-reading) of that era, buy the MAD Archives, the stories are better, the art is far more consistent and the reproduction is superior. Remember, the stories in Parody are second best. I wish PANIC reprints were better available; I picked up my volumes a couple of decades ago. But if you like this book, check out Get Lost. I give this a B.