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A Farewell to Al Jaffee (1921-2023)

Few artists can say their appeal crosses generational divides. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of comedy where different notions of what is actually funny and what should be “canceled” have forced interesting conversations, but often at the expense of laughter. Although its heyday was from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s, it’s not only Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who grew up with Mad magazine as a model of rebellious, irreverent, and even subversive comedy, publishing without the pressures of advertising interests for most of its existence (until 2001). Even the Gen Z kids know what Mad is; they just don’t get in trouble for sneaking it into school anymore.

A key ingredient in the comic stew that was Mad was writer-artist Al Jaffee, a part-time resident of Provincetown for more than four decades until the death of his wife Joyce in 2021, when he said he couldn’t bear to return here without her. Jaffee passed away on April 10, 2023, but his legacy lives on in the vast influence he has had on all the artists, writers, comedians, musicians, filmmakers—everyone with a pulse. As another part-time Provincetown resident, John Waters has said, “Really, Mad magazine was the first thing that every kid I knew that rebelled from anything read.”

Jaffee was a contributor to Mad for over 60 years—not officially retiring until age 99—with his hallmark fold-ins and regular cartoon column “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” The fold-ins were his invention, coming about in 1964 as a satirical response to the trend at the time of magazines featuring centerfold pull-outs. Of course, Playboy’s monthly centerfold was an example, but also other magazines such as Life were in the habit of offering these full-color fold-out posters. So Jaffee decided to make a fold-in, the opposite of the trend, but when you folded in the pages, you’d find the answer to a riddle or joke. It was one of many ingenious inventions Jaffee came up with, including ideas for things later patented by other people, such as the word processor, smokeless ashtrays, sticker postage stamps, and breathalyzer machines in cars.

Jaffe was born in Savannah, Georgia, but spent six years of his childhood in Lithuania, where his parents were originally from, and witnessed firsthand the devastating antisemitism of the 1930s. Thankfully, he and his family returned to the U.S. before the Nazis took over, but brought with him that very necessary humor he found in the Jewish community in Lithuania struggling to make it through the worst of times. It was this sense of humor that connected him with all the other Mad writers, editors, and artists, known affectionately as the “Usual Gang of Idiots.” A natural survivor, Jaffee holds the Guinness World Record for the longest career of any comic artist and has the distinction of being the individual whose work has appeared in more issues of Mad than anyone else, proving he could weather the changing times with this iconic American publication.

Jaffe passed away in a New York City hospital at the age of 102.

—Rebecca M. Alvin

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Graphic Artist

Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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