An Interview with William M. Gaines, Part Three of Three

Posted by on October 14th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

 


From the cover of Panic #4; written by Al Feldstein, art by Basil Wolverton, colors by Marie Severin. ©1954 Tiny Tot Comics, Inc.

 

DECKER: Were you putting them out bi-monthly on alternate months?

GAINES: Panic was always a bi-monthly. Mad became monthly when Harvey dropped his war books.

GROTH: But Panic never did that well.

GAINES: No. It was never as good a magazine in the sense the Kurtzman fans feel. It was never as good a title, and yet there are people who are not into the Kurtzman mystique who think that Panic was better than Mad in some ways. Not a lot of them, but I’ve met some that do. It depends.

The only other thing I have to argue with Harvey about is why he didn’t leave and go to Pageant. And he tells the story pretty closely, and we agree except when he says that he came and asked me what I could offer as an option. Now, what happened here is that a long time before this came up Harvey had come to me and said, “How would you like to turn Mad into a slick magazine?”

And I said I wouldn’t like to turn Mad into a slick magazine, I’m a comic publisher, I don’t know anything about slick magazines, it’s a whole different ballgame and I’m not interested. I’m a comic publisher; it’s all I know. And that was the end of it for six, eight, 10 months, until he was offered this job with Pageant. He was offered a very good job at Pageant, and as I recall he was going to begin with a section of the book to do all by himself and also a good chunk of money, which was more than he was making with me. And I countered this by recalling that he had wanted to make Mad a slick. And I said, “Harvey, if you stay, I’ll let you make Mad a slick.”

And Harvey stayed, made Mad a slick, and didn’t even take as much money as he would have gotten at Pageant, because Harvey was never money-crazy. He could spend it like a maniac [laughter], but for himself, he was never demanding in that sense. So that’s how that happened.

WHITE: Didn’t he even offer to give money back to the magazine out of his own salary?

GAINES: Yes. Once, we were doing very badly, I’d almost gone bankrupt, money was very tight, and I think he was making $15,000 at the time, which was pretty good money in those days but nothing phenomenal, and he was spending a lot of money on artists and writers in the war that later led to his getting into trouble with Trump, and I said, “Harvey, I can’t afford it. You just can’t keep spending money like this. It’s impossible.”

And he said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll reduce my salary to $12,500 so I’ll have more money to spend for artists and writers.” And he really did that. Very unusual. I mean, who would do that? But of course it didn’t help too much because $2,500 was a drop in the bucket compared to what he was spending.

GROTH: Especially spread over a year.

GAINES: Yes. But it was the gesture. But see, Harvey and I — I was very fond of him as a friend. I used to go up to his home a lot and one of my fondest memories is going to Mount Vernon, and he had a fireplace which of course I never had, and we’d sit around the fire and drink Cherry Heering and chew the fat and have a wonderful time, and when I later had a fight with him, I missed those days, because it was fun, it was good friendship. Although all we did was argue, because we never could see eye-to-eye on anything. But I missed him as a friend when the problems came. Oh, and then he says he would have pushed and pushed for advertising if he’d stayed at Mad. And of course here we would have had a terrible battle too, because I’ve explained to you the way I feel about ads: and the few ads that Mad did take at the beginning were mostly taken by Kurtzman when he was editor. And after he left I did away with them.

I just want to show you — oh, the “What Me Worry” thing. Of course, Harvey and I have a whole different idea of where that came from. Harvey thinks that Alfred E. Neuman is an example of iodine deficiency in a biology textbook, which is very funny, except no one has ever seen this biology textbook, ever, anywhere [laughter], it’s just a rumor.

 


From “Starchie” in Mad #12; written by Harvey Kurtzman, art by Will Elder, colors by Marie Severin. ©1954 Educational Comics, Inc.

 

WHITE: He made it up.

GAINES: No, I’m sure he didn’t make it up; it came from somewhere. I have tracked down, because we were sued by two people who had obtained copyrights on Alfred E. Neuman, the face, and we took this up to the Supreme Court and won it, and we collected an awful lot of material on Alfred E. Neuman when this was going on, and Alfred E. Neuman’s earliest appearance, not with that name, was as an advertisement for a painless dentist in Topeka Kansas whose name was Painless Romaine, and he used the face, or a similar face, with “It didn’t hurt a bit,” the idea being that he had had a tooth pulled and it didn’t hurt. So that’s another one Harvey and I always argue about, as to where Alfred came from.

One last thing: he’s talking about Trump, how “We used an art director, we’d never had an art director.” Of course our wonderful John Putnam here was our art director whom Harvey hired and when Harvey left Mad, John is the only person he didn’t take with him, which John always felt badly about over the years, like he wasn’t good enough for Harvey to take along. And John until his death last year was a brilliant art director for Mad and probably responsible for a lot of our success. [Gaines proceeds to haul out Vault of Horror #14 and pages through it, reading.] “Mad Mag.” The date, August-September ’50. Next issue, the date, October-November ’50. We did it all the time in our horror magazines. That’s how the GhouLunatics referred to their magazines. “In this issue of My Mad Mag…” Next issue, December-January ’51. “Mad Mag.” OK, so much for Mad. Two-Fisted Tales #34. Cover two ad July-August 1953. Mad #5 is advertised, right? “The Betsy,” written and drawn by Jack Davis, because Harvey wasn’t there to write it. I think one story written and drawn by Wally Wood. I think this was written and drawn by Severin. And I think this was written and drawn by Evans. And in the letters page we say, “Two-Fisted Tales‘s brilliant writer-editor, who generally masterminds the mag from cover to cover, suddenly evolved a serious case of yellow jaundice and was quickly retired to a hospital bed.”

So he was in the hospital with jaundice when we published Mad #5. But I keep seeing in interviews that he thought of Mad when he was in the hospital with yellow jaundice. I rest my case. [Laughter.]

DECKER: Do you think Mad could have continued as a color comic? Do you think that the move to slickhood was necessary?

GAINES: Glad you brought that up. A lot of people think that I changed Mad from a comic to a slick to avoid the Association. I think you can see why I changed Mad. It was to keep Kurtzman. It was a piece of luck, because Mad could never have gone through the Association. Panic had a hell of a job going through the Association. We had to emasculate it. Harvey would have gone out of his mind. I don’t think there’s any way he could have worked with those people over there and it would have wrecked the book. But that is not why I did it. It was just a lucky result of what I did. So, to answer your question, I don’t think so.

 

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