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 Al (Alan) Jaffee  (1921 - )

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Lived/Active: New York / Lithuania      Known for: magazine illustration

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Alan Jaffee
from Auction House Records.
Hidden Alfred Picture Illustration Original Art
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Abraham "Al" Jaffee (born March 13, 1921 in Savannah, Georgia) is an American cartoonist. He is best known for his work in the satirical magazine Mad, including his trademark feature, the Mad Fold-in.  As of 2010, Jaffee remains a regular in the magazine after 55 years, and is its longest-running contributor.  Only one issue of Mad has been published since 1964 without containing new material by Jaffee.[3][4] In a 2010 interview, Jaffee said, "Serious people my age are dead."[5]

In 2008, Jaffee was honored by the Reuben Awards as the Cartoonist of the Year.  New Yorker cartoonist Arnold Roth said, "Al Jaffee is one of the great cartoonists of our time." Describing Jaffee, "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz wrote, "Al can cartoon anything."

Born in Savannah, Georgia, Jaffee spent six years of his childhood in Lithuania, returning to America in advance of the Nazi takeover.  He studied at The High School of Music & Art in New York City in the late 1930s, along with future Mad personnel Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin, and Al Feldstein.

Jaffee began his career in 1941, working as a comic-book artist for several publications, including Timely Comics and Atlas Comics, the 1940s and 1950s precursors, respectively, of Marvel Comics.  While working alongside future Mad cartoonist Dave Berg, Jaffee created several humor features for Timely, including "Inferior Man" and "Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal". For approximately a year and a half in the late 1940s, Al Jaffee was editing Timely's humor and teenage comics, including the "Patsy Walker" line.

Jaffee recalled in a 2004 interview, "I created Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal from scratch. [Editor-in-chief] Stan [Lee] said to me, 'Create an animated-type character.  Something different, something new'.  I searched around and thought, 'I’ve never seen anyone do anything about a seal', so I made him the lead character.  So I created 'Silly Seal'.  One day, Stan said to me, 'Why don’t you give him a little friend of some sort?'  I had already created Ziggy Pig, who had his own little feature, so it was quite easy to combine them into one series.  I said, 'How about Ziggy Pig?' Stan said, 'Okay!' I should add that, while I created Ziggy Pig, it was Stan who named him."

From 1957-1963, Jaffee drew the elongated "Tall Tales" panel for the New York Herald Tribune, which was syndicated to over 100 newspapers.  Jaffee credited its middling success with a pantomime format that was easy to sell abroad, but his higher-ups were unsatisfied with the strip's status: "The head of the syndicate, who was a certifiable idiot, said the reason it was not selling [better] is we gotta put words in it.  So they made me put words in it.  Immediately lost 28 foreign papers."  A collection of Jaffee's "Tall Tales" strips was published in 2008. Jaffee also scripted the short-lived strips Debbie Deere and Jason in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Jaffee first appeared in Mad in 1955, shortly after its transformation from comic book format to magazine.  When editor Harvey Kurtzman left in a dispute, Jaffee went with Kurtzman. Jaffee contributed to Kurtzman's first two post-Mad publishing efforts, Trump and the creator-owned Humbug.  In 2008, the first full reprint of Humbug was published as a two-volume set by Fantagraphics; the set includes a newly commissioned cover illustration by Jaffee, and a co-interview with Jaffee and Arnold Roth.

After Humbug folded in 1958, Jaffee brought his unpublished material to Mad, which bought the work. "Bill Gaines took out every Trump and Humbug," remembered Jaffee, "called me into his office, sat me down on the couch next to him, and went over every issue and said "Which is yours?" And as he came to each one, when he saw my stuff, he OK'd to hire me."

In 1964, Jaffee created his longest-running Mad feature, the Fold-In.  Originally, Jaffee intended it as a one-shot "cheap" satire of the triple fold-outs that were appearing in glossy magazines such as Playboy and Life.  But Jaffee was asked to do a second installment, and soon the Fold-In became a recurring feature on the inside back cover of the magazine.  In each, a drawing is folded vertically and inward to reveal a new "hidden" picture (as well as a new caption). The Fold-In has since become one of Mad's signature features, and has appeared in almost every issue of the magazine from 1964-2008.

The Far Side creator Gary Larson described his experience with the Fold-In: "The dilemma was always this: Very slowly and carefully fold the back cover... without creasing the page and quickly look at the joke.  Jaffee's artistry before the folding was so amazing that I suspect I was not alone in not wanting to deface it in any way." In 1972 Jaffee received a Special Features Reuben Award for his Fold-Ins.

Jaffee only uses a computer for typographic maneuvers to make certain fold-in tricks easier to design.  Otherwise, all his work is 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 one newspaper, "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."  Contrasting current art techniques and Jaffee's approach, Mad's art director, Sam Viviano, said, "I think part of the brilliance of the fold-in is lost on the younger generations who are so used to Photoshop and being able to do stuff like that on a computer."

As of 2010, Jaffee continues to do the Fold-In for Mad, as well as creating specially commissioned artwork.  Mad's oldest regular contributor, Jaffee's work has appeared in over 450 issues of the magazine, a total unmatched by any other writer or artist.  He has said, "I work for a magazine that's essentially for young people, and to have them keep me going, I feel very lucky.... To use an old cliché, I'm like an old racehorse. When the other horses are running, I want to run too."

In August 2008, Jaffee was interviewed for a NY1 feature about his career.  He said, "It astonishes me that I still am functioning at a fairly decent level. Because there were a lot of dark days, but you have to reinvent yourself. You get knocked down and you pick up yourself and you move on."

In September 2010, the memoir Al Jaffee's Mad Life was published, written by Mary-Lou Weisman and illustrated by Jaffee.

Will Forbis wrote: "This is the core of Jaffee's work: the idea that to be alive is to be constantly beleaguered by annoying idiots, poorly designed products and the unapologetic ferocity of fate.  Competence and intelligence are not rewarded in life but punished."
Jaffee has contributed to hundreds of Mad articles, as either a writer or an artist, and often both.  These include his long-running "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions", which present multiple put downs for the same unnecessary or clueless inquiry, and several articles on inventions and gadgets, which are presented in an elaborately detailed "blueprint" style. 

Sergio Aragones says of Jaffee, "He is brilliant at many things, but especially inventions. When he draws a machine for Mad, no matter how silly the idea, it always looks like it works. He thinks that way because he is not only an artist, but a technician as well... He is the guy who can do anything."  In a patent file for a self-extinguishing cigarette, the inventor thanked Jaffee for providing the inspiration.

During the Vietnam War, Jaffee also created the short-lived gag cartoon "Hawks and Doves", in which a military officer named Major Hawks is antagonized by Private Doves, an easygoing soldier who contrives to create surreptitious peace signs in various locations on a military base.

Some of Jaffee's features were expanded into stand-alone books, including a 1997 collection of Fold-Ins entitled Fold This Book! and eight "Snappy Answers" paperbacks.  Referring to the latter, Jaffee said, "I was going through a divorce when I started that. I got a lot of my hostility out through Snappy Answers."

Jaffee won the National Cartoonists Society Advertising and Illustration Award for 1973, its Special Features Award for 1971 and 1975, and its Humor Comic Book Award for 1979. In 2008, he won the Reuben Awards' Cartoonist of the Year.

The March 13, 2006. episode of The Colbert Report aired on Jaffee's 85th birthday, and comedian Stephen Colbert saluted the artist with a fold-in birthday cake.  The cake featured the salutary message "Al, you have repeatedly shown artistry & care of great credit to your field." When the center section of the cake was removed, the remainder read, "Al, you are old."

Wikipedia: Al Jaffee

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