Mad About Al Jaffee

Cartoonist Legend Al Jaffee and one of his Mad Fold-Ins

There were sit-ins and be-ins but for as a child the sixties were all about the Fold-Ins.

Mad Magazine’s ingenious feature -the back cover Fold-In was the brilliant creation of legendary cartoonist Al Jaffee who died this week at 102.

Beginning in 1964, Jaffee was a member of that “usual gang of idiots,” the creative group of writers and illustrators that informed my childhood and my sensibility, pulling back the curtain on society to reveal it to be less than perfect.

Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions

Paper Back Book 1968 “Are you bugged by clods who ask stupid questions to which the answers are painfully obvious? Do you wish you could come back with crushing snappy answers?”


Al Jaffee's Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions

Al Jaffee’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” 1968


Al Jaffee's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" 1968

Al Jaffee’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” 1968

Provoking an entire generation to think cynically, Jaffee was the  king of snark with his “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” Prolific as both writer and artist, virtually every issue of Mad featured new material by him attacking the hucksterism of Madison Avenue, the chicanery of politicians, or the pretensions of those in authority.

Mad Magazine feature

As prescient now as when it first appeared. Sign of Status- Bob Clark Artist Writer: Al Jaffee Mad Magazine “Nowadays nearly everyone is involved in our society’s sick sad scramble to acquire ‘things’. For the most part these “things are acquired to impress other people and they usually carry this message rather clearly as though they were printed signs, In fact here is what we almost see when we look at these …signs of status.”


Mad Magazine feature

Mad Magazine Artist and Writer Al Jaffee “Are you still there in the rubble of your best-laid plans?”

But the enduring Fold-In was his signature masterpiece.

It was a marvel of technical skill and brilliance.

The Fold-In consisted of a single drawing, with a paragraph of text underneath, and a panel across the top with a question. It came with instructions on how to manipulate the Fold-In, as well as a How-To illustration

Under the instructions were two arrows labeled “A” and “B”.

When the paper was folded so that points “A” and “B” were touching, the remaining unobscured text underneath the picture miraculously became the answer to the question, and the picture itself changed into a fresh image reflecting the new text, as suddenly the middle 50% of the drawing vanishes.


Artist and Writer Al Jaffee The first 33 Fold-Ins were printed in black-and-white; starting with Mad #119 (June 1968), all Fold-Ins have been presented in color.

Making its first appearance in 1964 it featured topical gags about the scandalous Elizabeth Taylor-Eddie Fisher-Richard Burton Love Triangle, Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller’s heated battle for the 1964 Republican presidential nomination, and The Beatle’s departure back to England. The hundreds of Fold-Ins over the decades created a timeline of American history, entertainment, and politics,

Capt. satirizing hippies, the sexual revolution, the generation gap, and Vietnam.

A Childhood Collectors Conundrum

Writer and Artist Al Jaffee Mad Fold-In

Writer and Artist Al Jaffee Mad Fold-In

The back covers of Mad never took a back seat to the front ones for me, but those ingenious Fold-Ins created a quandary.

To fold or not to fold- that was the great dilemma of my childhood.

The need to keep an immaculate copy as a nascent collector battled with the overpowering urge to fold and read the hidden message.

As a child, I treasured the hand-me-down Mads from my older brother Andy. But because he always had first dibs, they often came to me with the back cover already clumsily folded. Somehow despite the dozens of attempts, he never quite was able to cleanly follow the directions to achieve the new message, leaving the back covered more crumpled than folded.

Eventually buying my own fresh copy of Mad was a right of passage that came with its benefit- a pristine back cover.

Writer and Artist Al Jaffee Mad Fold-In

Writer and Artist Al Jaffee Mad Fold-In

And then the predicament would start of how to fold it carefully enough to see the hidden image and message without ruining the back cover and keeping the magazine in pristine condition.  Jaffee’s artistry before the folding was so richly detailed and beautifully executed that I never wanted to deface it in any way

It became an art in itself, to very slowly and carefully fold the back cover… without creasing the page and quickly look at the joke, quickly pressing on the cover to remove any trace of creases.

Of course, the publisher Bill Gaines was a big fan of the Fold-In because he knew that serious collectors valued pristine, unfolded copies, and would therefore be happy to plunk down 40 cents ( cheap) to purchase two copies of each issue: one to fold and another to preserve intact!

Playboy Centerfold

Playboy Centerfold was an inspiration to Al Jaffee for the Fold In

Explaining the origins of the back cover Fold-In Jaffee said:

Playboy had a foldout of a beautiful woman in each issue, and Life Magazine had these large, striking foldouts in which they’d show how the earth began or the solar system or something on that order — some massive panorama. Many magazines were hopping on the bandwagon, offering similar full-color spreads to their readers. I noticed this and thought, what’s a good satirical comment on the trend? Then I figured, why not reverse it? If other magazines are doing these big, full-color foldouts, well, cheap old Mad should go completely the opposite way and do an ultra-modest black-and-white Fold-In!

Writer and Artist Al Jaffee Mad Fold-In

Writer and Artist Al Jaffee Mad Fold-In

As a budding artist I was in awe of his talent, and along with the drawing skills of Mort Drucker, Wally Wood, and Jack Davis I spent countless hours sitting on my bed copying his illustrations.

When I learned in recent years that he still did all his work by hand my awe doubled.

Jaffee only used a computer for typographic maneuvers, to make certain fold-in tricks easier to design. Otherwise, all of his work was done by hand. “I’m working on a hard, flat board… I cannot fold it. That’s why my planning has to be so correct.”

In 2008, Jaffee told the Cape Cod Times, “I never see the finished painting folded until it’s printed in the magazine. I guess I have that kind of visual mind where I can see the two sides without actually putting them together.”

Part of the brilliance of the fold-in may be lost on the younger generations who are so used to Photoshop and being able to do stuff like that on a computer.”

But it is not lost on me.

Final Fold-In 2020

Writer and Artist Al Jaffee Final Fold-In 2020

His final Fold-In ran in 2020 in a special Mad All Jaffee issue.

It starts with an image of the magazine’s tooth-deficient mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, looking worried amid stores displaying signs announcing that they have gone out of business. When readers fold the page in thirds, a new message is revealed: “No More New Jaffee Fold-Ins.” And the artist’s serene visage is seen floating above the cityscape.

We have lost a great talent.

My childhood would not have been half as fun.

Sally Edelstein reading Mad

Sally Edelstein still reading Mad




  1. I LOVED Mad Magazine! I miss it dearly. (I was a folder; first thing I did!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tripichick

    i too inherited big bro’s collection when he left for the Navy.

    Liked by 1 person

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