|Q: Beatlemania--Mad, Sick, Or Cracked?
A: ALL Of The Above!!
|March 13, 2004
While it may be difficult for younger readers to fully comprehend, that initial tidal wave of Beatlemania that hit the U.S. shores back in 1964 pretty much had the entire adult populace in a state of utter confusion. Attitudes ranging from arrogant disdain right on through to soothing patronization can be found in the filmed news reports of the period, as well as any number of articles in mainstream publications, and even--yes--in the slew of sophomoric satire magazines crowding the store shelves forty years back! Yup, they may well've been aimed towards a juvenile audience, but folks, they were WRITTEN by adults--adults who, just like the vast majority of their more prestigious colleagues, just...didn't...get it!...
I'm going to share with you several satirical broadsides aimed at the Lads, all published during that first amazing year. I make no claims of completeness in this area, as these pieces are all garnered from my own personal collection, and while I had become a rabidly regular MAD reader just three months prior to that fabled February 9th TV performance, the early 1965 cover-dated issues of SICK and CRACKED (most likely on sale late in 1964) would both constitute the very first issues of each--but not the last--that I ever picked up. Not surprisingly, the fact that they both contained Beatles parodies would've had to have been the prime motivation for me to part with precious coinage for what I had previously looked down upon with more than a small amount of contempt--not incorrectly, in truth--as inferior MAD imitations. But, if I was willing to invest a quarter each month for 16 magazine to keep up with the band, fer gosh sakes, a coupla cheesy rip-offs couldn't be much more suspect, y'know? And that, however roundabouts, brings us back to the genuine item...
|MAD originally began as a standard-sized, four-color comic book, published as a comedic addition to William Gaines legendary EC line in 1952, partially to offset their often grim stable of horror, crime and sci-fi titles, but mainly to allow the meticulous cartooning genius behind their thoroughly (anally?..) researched war comics, Harvey Kurtzman, to churn out some quick and easy pages to help increase his oft-times meager paycheck. A massive--and surprise--hit, the publication morphed into a more sophisticated looking black and white magazine with its 24th issue, a change brought about by a number of factors, not the least of which was the hounding Gaines' other books were receiving from various do-gooders regarding their allegedly extreme content. Due to a disagreement with the publisher, Kurtzman abandoned his creation after just four oversized editions, following which the magazine went on to blossom under the editorial guidance of Gaines long-time right-hand man, Al Feldstein. Gaines and Kurtzman have both since passed on, and Feldstein retired from his editorial duties over a decade ago now, but under the guidance of John Ficarra and the publishing umbrella of DC Comics, the weathered but still spunky gag rag recently chalked up its 440th issue!|
|We have to go all the way back to the 88th
issue (July 1964), however, to find the Fabs
gracing the inside back cover. Although destined
to become a long-running staple of the magazine,
Al Jaffee's Fold-In feature was in its embryonic
stages when it threw its spotlight on what
most older folks (i. e., 23 and over) assumed
was merely the latest passing fancy, our
four friends, the Beatles. As nearly every
Fold-In before and since has been of the
straight up and down vertical variety, you
can see by the unusual diagonal layout, cartoonist
Jaffee was still finding his way with his
brainchild. You can also witness his not-overly
clever reliance on hair-oriented jokes, the
type directed towards the Liverpudlians from
all directions, courtesy of the "wits"
of "64. Nice art, though.
Even nicer, artistically speaking, was the OUTER back cover to MAD 90 (October 1964). Again with the hair--with maybe a smidgen of gender confusion thrown in to spice up the proceedings--this one-note parody of the then omnipresent Breck Hair Shampoo ad campaign is mostly remembered for being one of the very few assignments essayed for the magazine by the renowned fantasy artist, Frank Frazetta. Poor Frazetta--here was a guy who'd go on to earn international fame and fortune for his vivid paintings of voluptuous undraped damsels and brawny barbarians, real class-A macho subject matter, and WHAT does MAD have him doing? Breaking out the brushes to produce perhaps the most effeminate portrait ever of a Beatle!?! Somehow, back in '64--and maybe even now--I don't see old blood 'n guts Frazetta being much of a Merseybeat fan! Conan the Barbarian or Ringo the Drummer? I think we ALL know which character he's more comfortable with...
|Said portrait turns up again in the very
next issue (MAD # 91, December 1964), as
part of an occasional series wherein the
MADmen delve into the contents of a celebrities
wallet, in this case, Ringo once more. With
additional art by Bob Clarke and quips courtesy
of Arnie Kogen, we again suffer through forced
follicle funnies, wacky boy/girl mix-ups,
and, oh yes, the introduction into the mix
of the owner of the prototype Beatles haircut
himself, the Three Stooges own Moe Howard.
Good one. Some further yocks are made at
the expense of what was considered by those
who weren't really listening (again, those
over 23 years of age) to be noise, not music.
Take a close look at a gag about drummer
Starr and his role regarding melody, as it'll
turn up again later...
But not, as it turns out, in CRACKED magazine. Launched in 1958 by Major Magazines, Inc. to ride the profitable coattails of its enormously successful progenitor, this Avis of MAD imitators is, astonishingly, still going--if hardly thriving--these days, recently releasing their 362nd issue. Having changed hands several times over the years--currently, a group called Mega Media Corp. is taking responsibility for unleashing it on an underwhelmed public--back when I bought the March 1965 issue (#42), CRACKED was the responsibility of publisher Robert C. Sproul and editor Joe Kiernan.
|Fueled by the surprise critical success of
"A Hard Days Night", the anonymous
author of "Beatlezania" threw the
lads into several other unremarkable movie
scenarios, hoping for laughs. Though the
artwork by John Severin (an original contributor
to Kurtzman's MAD who then went on to contribute
to CRACKED for several decades) is as stellar
as was always his norm, the gags are creaky
at best--Ringo is, um, less than handsome,
we learn, and their hair is long--NO?!--and,
golly, the girls sure do love 'em, though
heaven knows WHY!? The one true bullseye
in the piece comes on the last page wherein
the adults actually satirize THEMSELVES,
though the punch-line elicits more quiet
satisfaction than any discernible chuckles
from the young Beatles fan. And strangely,
John is hardly to be seen on these pages.
Ah well, I guess Ringo always WAS the easiest
to draw, so why stray far from THAT comedy
|More movie yucks turned up in SICK #34 (February 1965). Lasting 134 issues from 1960 until 1980, the magazine was being published by Headline Publications and edited by the celebrated Joe Simon (formerly of "...&Kirby") when I picked up my first issue on the strength of the Beatles material included within. Written by future CRAZY editor (Marvel Comics seventies' foray into MAD territory) and drawn as a warm-up to a long, long career at MAD itself by Angelo Torres, the jokes mostly tread familiar ground, though I do find the pun on the award-winning "The Best Years Of Our Lives" to be smile-worthy. And check out the prescient description of George on the "Wild Strawbeatles" poster...|
|According to the experts, SICK actually ran
a lot of other Beatles material early on,
one piece of which apparently turned up as
a reprint in the Summer 1966 BIG ANNUAL SICK
BIRTHDAY giant (original source issue unknown--anybody
out there have a clue?). Again drawn by Torres,
this four-page retelling of the group's early
history is surprisingly frank concerning
their not always glamorous climb up the show-biz
ladder. Maybe it was just an excuse to titillate
their adolescent readership, but no other
mag dealt with the band's days working strip
joints! As a long-time adolescent, I belatedly
congratulate them for their, ah, bold approach!
Other points of note in this feature is a
gag mirroring the one in MAD mentioned earlier
pertaining to Ringo and his influence on
the melody; the actual usage of one of John's
most famous lines as the punchline to end
the third page; and the wobbly caricatures
contributed by cartoonist Torres, obviously
produced at a time when no one could've ever
dreamt that these four visages would become
as iconic as they undeniably have in the
years since. Better luck next time, Angelo...
(And please note that while most of the story titles run across the top of two adjoining pages--something we're unable to properly duplicate here and still maintain legibility--each page can indeed be read on their own with absolutely no confusion--not counting, of course, the actual confusing material contained within!...)
Sophisticated these strips ain't. Basically, they're the pulp-paper equivilent of Bob Hope slapping a Beatles wig on top of his noggin during one of his 1964 TV specials, but they still exude a certain charm and are, at the very least, worthy of some historical--if not hysterical--interest. And y'know, all this time later, maybe the Beatles DID have the last laugh on everyone who mindlessly mocked them. After all, NONE of 'em ever came anywhere close to going BALD!?!
And you KNOW the jokers can't be glad!...
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