RIP Al Jaffee

I was a regular consumer of Mad Magazine when I was young and impressionable so when I found out about the passing of legendary Mad illustrator and writer Al Jaffee at the age of 102 I was saddened by his death but also happy that he had such a long and productive life.

I loved Jaffee’s versatile artistic style which could be highly detailed like the work of an expert draftsman but also humorous and slightly off kilter. The below image shows the exact precision of his blueprint skills as well as his humanism. The precise illustrations of the tools look like something out of an instruction manual, but the two figures have dimension, personality, even some humor, and look nothing like most technical illustrations which usually have utilitarian, lifeless, two dimensional human forms if they show any people at all.

The first occupation I ever wanted be was a cartoonist and Jaffee was an early inspiration for my growing muse, I even used to copy his drawing style. That he was also a funny writer made him a double threat in my mind which opened up more possibilities (eventually I would lose interest in drawing and gain interest in writing). Below is an example of Jaffee’s darkly comedic and highly detailed illustration style, from the June 1974 issue of Mad. The rendering of the seemingly catastrophic bodily injuries is drawn so absurdly that it comes across as funny instead of horrifically painful.

And then there were Jaffee’s trademark fold-ins, a Mad Magazine staple from 1964 to 2019. The technique required for such a particular illustration and then synthesizing it with a topical caption is nothing short of amazing. That he did it month after month testifies to his skill, fertile imagination, and awareness of current events. The fold-in below is from the March 1967 issue. The subject matter is of its times but the punchline remains relevant.

Another of Jaffee’s contributions were his Hate Books, Mad articles in which a series of illustrated panels present hateful situations all beginning with the phrase, “Don’t you hate…” A very relatable premise because don’t we all hate life’s many inconveniences? Below example is from the July 1968 issue, and from the way it’s drawn you can almost hear the blaring car horn.

Perhaps Jaffee’s greatest contribution to the world of illustrated humor were his Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions. Being asked a stupid question is always annoying and brings out the latent sarcasm in everyone. Below panel appeared in the first Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions article from the October 1965 issue.

In keeping with Jaffee’s memory, I’ve come up with some more snappy answers to stupid questions.

Jaffee attended the High School of Music & Art in New York City, did he study illustration? No, he studied welding.

Jaffee’s long tenure at Mad would seem to indicate that he had a good working relationship with Mad publisher William Gaines, was that the case? No, they got into a knife fight every time they saw each other.

Jaffee was once given the Reuben Award by the National Cartoonists Society, was it for his artwork? No, it was for being a rube.

Jaffee lived to be 102, did he die of old age? No, he crashed his Harley on the I-80 while fleeing from the cops.

Jaffee leaves behind a prodigious legacy of artwork, illustrations, and cartoons, will he be remembered? No, I wrote this fawning tribute to him because he deserves to be forgotten.

Rest in peace, Mr. Jaffee, there will never be another like you!


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