Brainiac On Banjo #047: Getting Mad For The Last Time?

That Mad Magazine cover shot to your left (well, it’s to my left) with the old-timey Harvey Kurtzman logo is on what purports to be their final mostly new-content issue. If it looks familiar and you haven’t been to the supermarket in the past five days, you may have noticed it in Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

The movie is set in 1969 and it’s about a nearly washed-up television actor best known (in the storyline) for his headlining a black and white western show the decade before. That’s the movie actor Leo DiCaprio playing television actor Rick Dalton there on the cover; the movie also stars Brad Pitt as Dalton’s stuntman/best friend, and Harley Quinn’s Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. Comics fans might be amused to know that it also costars the 1970s Spider-Man, Nicholas Hammond, as well as Riverdale’s Luke Perry in what is, if I’m not mistaken, his final performance.

However, this is a work of fiction just like his epic, Inglourious Basterds. It’s another wistful Tarantino take on the way things should have been but, sadly, were not. I could go on, but this is not a review of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. It’s about Mad Magazine, remember?

To further his efforts at establishing verisimilitude, Tarantino commissioned phony magazine cover artwork deploying Rick Dalton’s likeness. Because he is wise beyond his meager years, Quentin reached out to Mad’s Tom Richmond, whose style is reminiscent of several of the usual gang of idiots, particularly Mort Drucker and Jack Davis. And, given that reach, he went one step further and had the gifted Madman draw the Rick Dalton TV Guide cover as well – in the day TV Guide offered quite a number of Jack Davis covers so Tom’s work fits right in.

Returning the compliment – but, hopefully, not to pick up cover art on the cheap – Mad took Richmond’s phony Mad cover and turned it into their “final” real cover. Or, at least, their final cover for a real issue. They kept the Kurtzman logo, and that was a class act. They ended life where they began, logo-wise.

They did other similar tributes to their roots in this issue, a nice touch albeit quite sad for those of us who, in our youth, were overly influenced by Mad. I prattled about this last month; obviously, I have yet to get over it.

There’s a brilliant website and newsletter called The Daily Cartoonist that ran a detailed story about this cover and how it came to be. D.D. Degg notes “Somehow I find it fitting that the last issue of Mad has a television satire of a fake series.”

Yup. That nails it perfectly.

I doubt Tarantino’s latest movie will be the last to so obviously acknowledge Mad Magazine’s role in our cultural – and my personal – development. It’s quite pervasive, and even if Mad has outlived its times (and to be honest, it did) the impact of their work has become the fabric of our culture.

Question authority. When authority acts with great stupidity, as it so often does, go ahead and make fun of it. It’s your duty. Otherwise, we’ll grow so dumb we might elect a self-obsessed historically illiterate television unreality show host to run our nation.


Now, I’m going to go watch Idiocracy again. It’s my favorite documentary.