"What, me imitated?"
When MAD became a surprise hit as a comic book in 1953 (after the early issues lost money!) other comics publishers were quick to jump onto the bandwagon, eventually bringing out a dozen imitations with titles like FLIP, WHACK, NUTS, CRAZY, WILD, RIOT, EH, UNSANE, BUGHOUSE, and GET LOST. The Sincerest Form of Parody collects the best and the funniest material from these comics, including parodies of movies (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From Here To Eternity), TV shows (What's My Line, The Late Show), comic strips (Little Orphan Annie, Rex Morgan), novels (I, the Jury), plays (Come Back, Little Sheba), advertisements (Rheingold Beer, Charles Atlas), classic literature ("The Lady or the Tiger"), and history (Pancho Villa). Some didn't even try for parody, but instead published odd, goofy, off-the-wall stories.
These earnest copiers of MAD realized that Will Elder's cluttered "chicken fat" art was a good part of MAD's success, and these pages are densely packed with all sorts of outlandish and bizarre gags that make for hours of amusing reading. The "parody comics" are uniquely "'50s," catching the popular culture zeitgeist through a dual lens: not only reflecting fifties culture through parody but also being themselves typical examples of that culture (in a way that Harvey Kurtzman's MAD was not).
This unprecedented volume collects over 30 of the best of these crazy, undisciplined stories, all reprinted from the original comics in full color. Editor John Benson (who wrote the annotations for the first complete MAD reprints, and interviewed MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman in depth several times over the years) also provides expert, profusely illustrated commentary and background, including comparisons of how different companies parodied the same subject.
Artists represented include Jack Davis, Will Elder, Norman Maurer, Carl Hubbell, William Overgard, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Bill Everett, Al Hartley, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Hy Fleischman, Jay Disbrow, Howard Nostrand, and Bob Powell.
Casual comics readers are probably familiar with the later satirical magazines that continued to be published in the '60s and '70s, such as Cracked and Sick, but the comics collected in this volume were imitations of the MAD comic book, not the magazine, and virtually unknown among all but the most die-hard collectors. For the first time, Fantagraphics is collecting the best of these comics in a single, outrageously funny volume.
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"MAD historian Benson presents 32 stories and nine covers from the copycats fielded by nine publishers, and at the end of the book discusses them. If you read the stories before the notes and you're a devotee of the early MAD, you'll have recognized the imitative qualities Benson points out, such as how MAD's Jack Davis and Bill Elder had the drawing styles that were aped, and how Elder's habit of adding what he called chicken fat — jokey signs, bits of business going on in the background, incongruous decoration to every panel was swallowed whole by the knockoffs. But as Benson tells us, none of the pretenders quite 'got' MAD or, more important, its nearly sole writer, Harvey Kurtzman, whose all-important 'touch' lay in his jaundiced, derisive, smart attitude toward American commercial culture. Prime Americana." — Ray Olson, Booklist
"The Sincerest Form of Parody shines some light on a long-overlooked and largely forgotten bit of comic book history. There's hardly a success in the entertainment industry these days that quickly doesn't quickly spawn imitators, and times were no different when the original Mad comic caught fire in 1953 after a few issues. ...[E]ven if Mad's barrage of competition was short-lived, Parody reveals that they didn't have the market cornered on satirical inspiration." — Under the Radar