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

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


From “If photograph albums told the whole truth” in Mad #231; written by Stan Hart, art by Al Jaffee. ©1982 E. C. Publications, Inc.


GROTH: I want to follow up on something that Dwight mentioned, and that is that when Mad began, it was very innovative, and now, it’s almost a bit stodgy just because it hasn’t changed. Does that bother you at all?


DECKER: Like, the cover, here’s Harry North drawing in the Mort Drucker style, and doesn’t Angelo Torres draw in the same style?

GAINES: Sure. But that’s because Drucker couldn’t do it all, so we had to make a deal to stretch him.

GROTH: But it doesn’t seem to have the originality…

GAINES: Well, I’m sure that’s true. Anything that goes on for a long time is going to fall into that trap. It’s all tied up with my concept of how a business should be run from a family point of view. You want Mad to be innovative, I’ll fire all the writers, fire all the artists, fire all the editors, start all over with a bunch of young kids, and it’ll be very innovative. But what happens to all the people I fired? They starve? You can’t do that. [Laughter.]

DECKER: However, there have been some odd changes. For example, in the latest issue I just bought today, here’s a story by Jaffee, and here’s a graphic story of a kid throwing up and a kid wetting his pants. Next page, here’s a guy throwing up, all very graphic. In fact, that same panel is reproduced in the contents page as a lead-in, a teaser for the story.

GAINES: I guess we’re starting to use some bad taste to sell books too. What else can I say?

DECKER: I don’t think you would have done that 15 years ago.

GAINES: Well, we wouldn’t have had the freedom to do it 15 years ago. People would have jumped on our heads for it; today it’s so common. It’s still a shock to me when I see it in the movies. Like I just saw a movie, and for no reason at all the dog was urinating all over some papers. I think it was this thing with — I can’t remember it, it’s on Home Box — and it’s just in there for shock value. There’s a lot of that stuff in Up the Academy, the worst example of which is the turd in the punchbowl, which they swore they were not going to put in the movie, but they did.

GROTH: That was pretty foul.

GAINES: I can’t defend it. On the other hand, it’s not so terrible. [Laughter.] Kids seem to like that kind of thing. Unfortunately.

DECKER: I just remember that story that was done years ago, which had to do with doggie-do on the sidewalks, and you used this little couple of salamis on the sidewalk to symbolize the dog droppings.

GAINES: Who did it? Jaffee?


GAINES: That’s just Jaffee’s style. I don’t want to jump on his head every time we have some dog shit or vomit in a strip. But he does seem to tend to do that somewhat.

GROTH: You said that kids liked this and added “Unfortunately.”

GAINES: I think it’s unfortunate. I don’t like it. [Laughter.]

GROTH: But you publish it.

GAINES: I publish it, but I don’t like everything I publish. I censor Mad in the following way. I make it my business not to know anything that’s going on in this magazine until it’s ready to go down. Now, when it’s ready to go down, a change is very difficult. It’s got to be something really dreadful for me to force the staff to make that change, because it’s going to be all hell to do it. This happens maybe once every two years. Something just is so bad that I won’t let it go through and then we can change it. But a thing like this, if I noticed it when I read it, and the truth is that I didn’t notice it because I’m so busy proofing that sometimes I don’t see, then I wouldn’t have made the changes even if I had seen it. Because it isn’t that important that somebody’s vomiting. If somebody was squatting down and shitting, I’d make the changes. It’s a matter of degree.


From “Even when you win… you lose” in Mad #231; written by Chris Hart, art by Paul Coker. ©1982 E. C. Publications, Inc.


DECKER: I guess you don’t have much creative input into Mad.

GAINES: Not any more. I used to be in on cover conferences, I still am occasionally, and I approve of the covers usually, if I am in town, which I am most of the time. I used to get involved in all the gimmicks of the specials, but as you’ve noticed, we don’t have gimmicks in the specials any more, because we can’t afford them. And now I’m involved in the kind of specials we put out. For example, I wanted the movie special, and I wanted the TV special, and I think they’re working on a special, which is going to be called “Politicians, Cops, Teachers, and Other Corrupt Professions.”

GROTH: And publishers.

GAINES: And publishers. This is compilations of stuff from old issues, but with a theme, rather than just a general compilation.

DECKER: You’re definitely still aiming pretty much at the adolescent market. Looking through Mad

GAINES: I object to the word “aim.” We really never aim at everybody. We publish really for ourselves. I guess we’re adolescents. [Laughter.]

DECKER: Yeah, but still, there are an awful lot of jokes about teachers, grades, lunchroom foods…

GAINES: All right, in that sense, I guess we do.

DECKER: One thing that sounds a little surprising. A feature in that issue, “You still lose when you win.” “You convince your parents to let you smoke pot and you find that they’ve been getting in your stash.”

GAINES: This has been pointed out to me as something perhaps we shouldn’t have done. But again, it’s something — in my opinion, it’s not something that serious that I would have objected to it. My printer objected to it. He first pointed it out to me. I didn’t even notice it. He was offended.


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