Al Jaffee on print, art, laughing, and fold-ins

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Al Jaffee has been dubbed the greatest cartoonist of all time. He’s most famous for his long creative association with MAD magazine, but delve deeper into his life’s work and personal story, and there’s an exhibit’s worth of content to be found.

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Luckily the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art is on top of things. It’s got an Al Jaffee exhibit in the works right now, and even a Kickstarter project to raise funds for it! And the timing couldn’t be more perfect, because Mary-Lou Weisman’s upcoming biography about him is working its way off the presses right now. Check it:

We went ahead and got a few words from Jaffee himself. You can read the interview and his step-by-step instructions on making a fold-in below. 

For your biography, Al Jaffee’s MAD LIFE, you did 65 new illustrations of events that happened long ago, many of which were not so happy. Was this tough for you?

Reliving the difficult times of my childhood was not as painful as one might expect. I was forced at a very early age to choose between bemoaning my fate and creating an alternate world that was hopeful and rewarding. Being able to draw pictures was enormously helpful because I could find acceptance and friendship by entertaining people who watched me perform. Drawing also helped build things because I could work details of construction out on paper. My brother Harry and I amazed our friends constantly by making all our own toys in a place that had almost none for sale.

You make so many others laugh, what makes you laugh? Which other cartoonists, comedians, etc…

The things that make me laugh, aside from the latest activities in Congress, are varied. The list of cartoonists, performers, writers, etc., who have made me rock with laughter would be too long to list. I don’t respond much to manufactured humor such a laughtrack-induced hilarity in sitcoms. Humor with deeper meaning that we all actually experience in our daily lives is richer and more rewarding than trite jokes or laugh lines based purely on bodily functions. Call me old-fashioned.

You’re a print-world veteran. What’s your take on the “death of print?”

My take on the so-called “death of print” reminds me of Mark Twain’s comment when his demise was reported. He claimed it was an exaggeration. I’m somewhat prejudiced in favor of print so I hope, one way or another, we’ll hold printed books, newspapers, and magazines in our hot little hands for many moons to come.

PLUS: How to make a fold-in! By Al Jaffee

1. Once an idea is approved, I sketch the FINISHED picture (i.e., what you get after folding) on tracing paper.

2. I then cut this down the center and separate the two pieces to the full page width.

3. Next, I put a full-size piece of tracing paper over the entire page and proceed to fill in the middle between the original two parts.

4. Now, I’m ready to transfer this to illustration board using erasable transfer paper. At this point I can start painting. I use transparent water color first and finish up with opaque gouache.

It all sounds complicated and it is. But in my case, the first 400 were tough, but since then I’ve been coasting.

You can support the Al Jaffee exhibit project here.

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