Way back when I was in the fifth grade (and that was way, way back), my mother returned from a shopping trip to Gallipolis, Ohio, with a magazine called MAD. She thought I might like it. She was right. That magazine got me through the rest of elementary school, junior high, high school, college and a few years after that.
Word that MAD is about to go to once-a-year publication both surprised me and didn't surprise me. Being a print magazine that strays from its roots, especially after the people who made it an institution are gone, can't be easy in this digital age.
In the mid- to late 1960s and into the 1970s, MAD featured a host of writers and artists whose satirical take on culture and politics helped my generation and possibly another develop a sense of humor and a critical eye for things. As Weird Al Yankovic said after hearing the news of MAD's demise, "It's pretty much the reason I turned out weird."
Mort Drucker's multi-page takes on popular movies and television shows were the best reviews around. If MAD didn't skewer a TV show or movie, it wasn't worth watching.
Don Martin's full-page cartoons with their sound effects (such as glit, glort, bleeble, durp for a dripping faucet) were a regular feature, as were Dave Berg's "Berg's Eye View" comics. Antonio Prohias' "Spy vs. Spy" and the teeny tiny cartoons Sergio Aragones drew for the margins were not to be missed, even if they went years with no dialogue. Al Jaffee, Jack Davis and others also contributed to my generation's understanding of the world.
Lots of us remember the inside back cover had its fold-in artwork. You know you had been reading MAD for a while when you didn't have to physically fold the page to see what the joke was.
And with very few exceptions, the cover always had Alfred E. Neuman.
MAD survived after its competition such as Cracked, Sick and National Lampoon went away or at least out of print.
But the usual gang of idiots, as the staff listing described them, were just as mortal as the rest of us. Founder and publisher William M. Gaines died in 1992, Prohias in 1998, Martin in 2000 and Davis in 2016. Jaffee, Drucker and Aragones are still with us at ages 98, 90 and 81.
MAD itself betrayed its roots several years ago when it accepted advertising and converted to a color publication. By then the younger generations had given up on reading printed material for fun. There have been a few phenomena that came along - Harry Potter, the Hunger Games and the like - but reading is foreign to kids. A few weeks ago at a family gathering, I snapped a shot of today's youth. It was a 4-year-old staring at a video on his mother's phone.
Not that this is confined to magazines. Memes have replaced bumper stickers as the quick-hit commentary of choice. Blogs were the thing maybe 15 years ago. They've been replaced by podcasts and YouTube videos.
I'll admit it's been years since I've bought a MAD on the newsstand. This generation of writers doesn't connect with this old guy the way the previous generation did with my younger self.
There will always be a market for good satire, just in different forms. What I got from MAD, people get from "The Simpsons" or "South Park." The medium changes, and to survive, print will have to give people more reasons to part with their money. Even the great MAD Magazine learned that lesson.
Jim Ross is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Dispatch. His email is email@example.com.