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Mad magazine’s early imitators

From left: Cover of Eh! #4 (June 1954). Artist unknown. Cover of Madhouse #4 (September/October 1954). Iger Studio. Cover of Whack #3 (May 1954). Norman Maurer.

The Sincerest Form of Parody, edited by John Benson. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2012. 208 pages. $25.

WRITING A FEW YEARS BEFORE the advent of the counterculture, Marshall McLuhan recognized Mad magazine as a primer in dissidence: “The ten-year-old clutches his or her MAD (‘Build up your Ego with MAD’) in the same way that the Russian beatnik treasures an old [Elvis] Presley tape obtained from a G.I. broadcast.” However prescient, McLuhan was looking in the rearview mirror: The comic book that twenty-seven-year-old Harvey Kurtzman created and thirty-year-old William Gaines began publishing in the late summer of 1952 had already served to educate a generation of Beatniks.

First-generation underground cartoonists (R. Crumb, Jay Lynch, Kim Deitch, Bill Griffith, Art Spiegelman, Justin Green, et al.) are universal in identifying Mad as their key inspiration. Indeed, it could be argued

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