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Longtime ‘MAD’ editor Al Feldstein passes away

by  in Comic News Comment

Al Feldstein, who as editor steered MAD Magazine to the height of its popularity and influence, passed away Tuesday at his home in Livingston, Montana, The Associated Press reports. He was 88.

Born in 1925 in Brooklyn, New York, Feldstein began his career as a teenager at Eisner & Iger Studio, doing menial tasks initially for $3 a week and then, after World War II, freelancing for publishers like Fox Comics. In 1948, he approached William Gaines, who had become publisher of EC Comics following the death of his father Max Gaines, and began a working relationship that would last for decades.

Although Feldstein started at EC as an artist, he soon wrote his own stories; within a couple of years, he was also editing most of the publisher’s titles. He’s credited with co-creating iconic anthologies like Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Terror, Panic and Shock SuspenStories and helping to develop a stable of contributors — Otto Binder, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Al Williamson and Bernard Krigstein, among them — whose influence is still felt in the industry.

However, the popularity of the horror and crime comics, with their shocking and often gruesome content, triggered intense public — and governmental scrutiny — leading to Congressional hearings on juvenile delinquency, the creation of the Comics Code Authority and, ultimately, the end of EC’s genre titles. Feldstein briefly left the company, but returned in 1956 to succeed Harvey Kurtzman as editor of MAD Magazine; he remained there for the next 29 years.

“When Harvey Kurtzman left MAD, he took the entire staff with him … except for Wally Wood and MAD‘s art director, John Putnam,” Feldstein recalled in a 2003 interview. “Taking over the editorship, I was forced to immediately gather an entirely new staff of MAD artists and writers …” They included Don Martin, who became known as “MAD‘s Maddest Artist,” Mort Drucker, Angelo Torres, Frank Jacobs and, later, Antonio Prohías and Dave Berg.

With Gaines, Feldstein transformed Kurtzman’s Alfred E. Neuman into an underground icon and oversaw the development of enduring features like “Spy vs. Spy,” “The Lighter Side of …”and “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” Under his stewardship, MAD‘s circulation reached a peak of more than 2.8 million in 1974.

Feldstein retired a decade later, by which time MAD was already past its heyday, and returned to what he called his “first love,” fine art. He moved from Connecticut to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and then later Montana, where in 1999 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Rocky Mountain College.

He was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2003.