Al Jaffee, artist behind 50 years of Mad magazine Fold-Ins, dies at 102

Al Jaffee, the longtime cartoonist for Mad magazine and creator of its distinctive back-page Fold-In, died on April 10 in Manhattan, the Washington Post reported. He was 102.

Jaffee, well known for his self-portraits in his Mad cartoons, as well as recurring series like “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” was Mad’s longest-tenured contributor, appearing in the magazine from April 1964 to April 2013. Only one issue was published in that span without new, original work by Jaffee, according to a fan page keeping track of such appearances.

Jaffee had been active for 22 years before joining Mad; his 72-year career as an artist was recognized by Guinness World Records as the longest career for a comic artist.

Jaffee was born March 13, 1921 in Savannah, Georgia, and after a series of moves to and from his parents’ native Lithuania, eventually settled in Queens, N.Y. After World War II, during which he worked for the War Department as an artist, he returned to New York to contribute to the humor books published by the predecessor of today’s Marvel Comics.

Jaffee’s initial, one-off contributions to Mad predated his 50-year run beginning in 1964. His best known work, the Fold-In, was an instant success after Jaffee came up with the first gag for that year’s April issue.

An example of a Mad Fold-In, published in 2011’s anthology “The Mad Fold-In Collection.” Art by, of course, Al Jaffee
Image: Al Jaffee/Mad Magazine

A solved Fold-In revealing that Al Jaffee’s greatest fear is “That the Damn Thing Doesn’t Line Up,” meaning the art of the completed Fold-In

And voilá, here is the solution.
Image: Al Jaffee/Mad magazine

The Fold-In is effectively a humor puzzle; readers take the back cover of the magazine, fold it in thirds, and connect the two outer thirds to reveal a secret punchline and illustration.

Jaffee, in several interviews, said the Fold-In began as a kind of satire of the high-quality, color photograph, “gatefold” fold-outs in magazines such as National Geographic and, of course, Playboy. Over a half-century of making Fold-Ins, the feature showed up in several pop-culture references, including a cameo in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and as a visual clue for a Jeopardy! question.

Jaffee won a Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 1972 specifically for the Fold-In. He won Reubens in other categories in 1971, 1975, and 1979. In 2008, he was honored by the NCS with the Cartoonist of the Year Reuben, and he was given the Will Eisner Hall of Fame Award in 2013.

Mad magazine ceased publishing original content in 2019, but came out of hiatus in October 2022 for a 70-year retrospective that included a tribute to Jaffee written by “Weird Al” Yankovic. Mad artist Johnny Sampson contributed a special two-page Mad Fold-In for that issue.

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