Legendary Mad cartoonist Al Jaffee passes away at 102

Rockefeller and Goldwater face off in a classic Mad Fold-in.
(Image credit: Mad Magazine)

Legendary cartoonist Al Jaffee, who held the Guinness World Record for having the longest career as a comic artist, has passed away at the age of 102. Although he worked on many different titles over the course of an astonishing 77 year career, Jaffee was best known for his work on satirical magazine Mad, where he invented the title's famous "Fold-In" back page.

Jaffee was born on March 13, 1921, in Savannah, Georgia. His interest in comics began at an early age and by 21 he was already a working artist. He created the Superman parody Inferior Man (published in Quality's Military Comics) and worked on numerous titles published by Timely and Atlas - the two companies that would later evolve into Marvel Comics.

After a brief hiatus working as an artist for the military during World War II (where he also changed his name from Abraham to Allan, partly as a way to avoid antisemitism) he returned to comics, working under Stan Lee on Timely's teenage titles.

His long relationship with Mad began in 1955, but Jaffee decided to follow founding editor Harvey Kurtzman when he departed to launch Trump and Humbug. Jaffee worked on those titles for a couple of years, but when Humbug closed in 1958, he returned to Mad, where his work would come to define the magazine's tone and humor. 

The Fold-In reveals Richard Nixon's face.

(Image credit: Mad Magazine)

Arguably his greatest contribution to the title was in 1964, with the creation of the Mad Fold-in, an innovative feature on the back cover of the magazine. On first glance, the Fold-In would appear to be a straightfoward illustration with text, but when the page was folded in thirds, it would change into something different. A colourful butterfly, for instance, would transform into an image of Elvis singing. Often, these were used to present biting satirical messages, and everything from fast food outlet Denny's to various American presidents would end up as the subject of a Mad Fold-In.

"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," Jaffee later explained in Mad: Fold This Book. "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!"

Jaffee continued to work as a freelancer for Mad until 2019, when he retired at the age of 99. He contributed art to every issue of the magazine between April 1964 and April 2013, with just one exception. He won numerous accolades during his celebrated career, including a Reuben Award in 2008. He was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 2013.

Mad has paid tribute to the artist in an Instagram post, saying: "Mad Magazine mourns the loss of the incomparable Al Jaffee, creator of the Mad Fold-In, Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, and many other Mad features through the decades. A humble and kind creator, Al's presence, his astute social commentary, and his endless amusement at life's ups and downs shaped the fabric of the magazine."

DC's chief creative officer and publisher, Jim Lee, offered his own thoughts, describing Jaffee as "An incredibly gifted man who touched our hearts and never failed to make us laugh."

Will Salmon
Comics Editor

Will Salmon is the Comics Editor for GamesRadar/Newsarama. He has been writing about comics, film, TV, and music for more than 15 years, which is quite a long time if you stop and think about it. At Future he has previously launched scary movie magazine Horrorville, relaunched Comic Heroes, and has written for every issue of SFX magazine for over a decade. He sometimes feels very old, like Guy Pearce in Prometheus. His music writing has appeared in The Quietus, MOJO, Electronic Sound, Clash, and loads of other places and he runs the micro-label Modern Aviation, which puts out experimental music on cassette tape.