Integrative Arts 10

Mad Magazine: Irreverent and Discontent


Biography on Max Gaines of Mad Magazine and EC Horror Comics Fame

SPA FON! SQUA TRONT!! GASP!!!! CHOKE!!!!
What words. Strange words, bizarre words. But when these words are uttered, tens of thousands of people are held in a Zen-like trance for these are the words that dreams are made of. Why you ask? Because the are the words of the master. The words of William M. Gaines.
Born on March 1, 1922 in New York City, Bill was the son of Max "M.C." Gaines, creator & publisher of the very first comic books, including Famous Funnies and Carnival of Comics in 1933/34, which he packaged for department stores. He later became co-publisher of DC-National along with Harry Donenfeld (of the Donenfeld publishing empire) & later split off from DC publishing certain DC titles under the aegis of All American Comics. DC would eventually buy him out at which time Max Gaines formed Entertaining Comics which later became famous by it's monogram of EC.
When Max died in 1947 in a freak boating accident, E.C. Publications became the sole responsibility of twenty-five-year-old Bill. EC was not doing particularly well at the time. Inheriting such titles as Picture Stories From The Bible and Fat & Slat, Bill saw the writing on he wall & along with Feldstein, embarked on a trail of crime & terror that eventually landed him in the hotseat in front of McCarthie’s anti-communist Senator, Estes Kefauver, smack in the middle of the witch hunt hearings on juvenile delinquency.
In 1947 looking for new directions, Bill & Al changed to titles that ranged from "Moon Girl", "..Romance" and "Crime Patrol" which even later were transformed into the in-famous "Tales From The Crypt", "Weird Science", "Haunt Of Fear" et al.. These classic titles featured some of the absolute best artists of the day including Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, Al Williamson, Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, Graham Ingels and Reed Crandall among others. It has been said that Bill "discovered" many of them during the EC days, but the truth would actually be that these great artists just all gravitated to EC because of the generous nature of Bill & the pleasure of working at EC.
The EC line spawned numerous imitators & reprints, and in the case of Tales from the Crypt, films & a cable TV show. Two Fisted Tales even inspired a TV pilot film during the 1991 season.
Many ultra-classic comic stories were printed in these comics. "50 Girls 50" by Frazetta & Williamson, "My World" by Wally Wood and Jack Davis' "Foul Play" are some of the most memorable stories, ranking in recognition with the first Superman, Batman or Spiderman stories.
But the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950's burned comic publishers at the stake. However all was not lost, and from these ashes Mad magazine arose like a phoenix. Created by Harvey Kurtzman & Al Feldstein as a comic book, MAD simply converted to a magazine format to escape the censor's knife.
The quirky send-ups of "Shermlock Shomes", "Dragged Net" & "Woman Wonder" and the screaming satires of TV commercials were outrageous for the time and Mad quickly became the number one humor zine in America. MAD became the model for, and influenced the creation of scores of other "look-a-likes" like Cracked & National Lampoon. It also influenced many artists who have graced comics as well as inspired many celebrities from film & TV of which John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Dan Akroyd and Lenny Bruce are most notable, as well as scores of others. It is still the standard by which all others are judged. The per issue sales of MAD are several million copies - a very impressive statistic by any measure.
Bill himself was a very eccentric gentleman. At his frequent convention appearances, it was most likely that his shoulder-length grey hair would be accompanied by a t-shirt & jeans. An avid wine enthusiast, he was known for filling the office water cooler with a fine vintage wine, and for trading comic books from his vault for rare wines also.
Another of Bill's ecentricities dates back to his days as publisher of horror comics. One requirement that Bill always maintained was that any artist who illustrated in his publications, surrendered all claims to the art! This was EC policy as early as 1948. No other publisher had such a specific request concerning the artwork other than the strip syndicates, with whom your contract needed to specify the return to you of any art. Considering the intangible value of holding this art, it is remarkable that anyone, Gaines included, would be interested in keeping it. Now this art sells for as much as five, ten or even twenty thousand dollars each for specific items.
Inherently lazy, Bill never exercised and was said to have danced but twice in his entire life - once when he was being taught to dance & once when he went to the prom where he was supposed to dance.
One of the greatest thrills for many MAD employees was the yearly MAD cruise! A cruise ship trip for employees, all expenses paid by master MADman Bill. Some were not lucky enough to go frequently. A neccessary requirement to be eligible for the cruise was that you had to write or illustrate 18 pages for MAD magazine in the previous year. One writer was disheartened when he learned he had only done 17 pages & was subsequenly informed "You didn't do enough pages"!
Later, when Bill's mother passed away the writer was asked if he was coming to the funeral. His reply came in typical MAD fashion. The writer simply said "I didn't do enough pages"! Which Bill thought to be quite humorous.
In 1982 he sold MAD to Time-Warner but continued to have control over the magazine. Well known for "bucking the system", Bill refused to move the editorial offices out of his cramped quarters into the Time-Warner Building
One of the true legends of the comic business, and possibly the last of the early dynasties, Bill Gaines died in 1992. The consumate MADman, he will be missed by millions.


Follow the Links to Topic Pages

Comic Strips Lead to a New Form

Golden Age Of Comic Books

EC Horror Comics

The Comics Code of Authority

Mad Magazine

Silver Age of the Mainstream

Robert Crumb and the Underground Movement

The Post Modern Graphic Novel

Bronze Age of the Mainstream

Contemporary Comics

What's Next?


Visit the Integrative Arts home page at the Pennsylvania State University
Visit the
Integrative Arts 110 page
All content is intended for academic study.
Commercial use of material on any page displaying this notice is forbidden.
All copyrights controlled by specific artists, companies and authors.
Web page created by
Gregory J. Golda