50 Marginal Years

Fifty years ago this month (give or take a week or three), the 76th issue of MAD hit newsstands. It featured an article called “A MAD Look at the Space Program” by a new kid named Sergio Something. New artists were then rare in MAD. Publisher William M. Gaines loved his little “family” of artists and wanted them all in every issue if possible. Ergo, not a lot of room for new people.

But room was found earlier in ’62 when a slender Hispanic gent walked into the MAD offices. In a tale told more often than the origin of Spider-Man, Sergio Aragonés wasn’t making it in New York trying to sell gag cartoons to the lowest-paying magazines so he figured that if you’re going to get rejected, you might as well get rejected by the best. He took his portfolio (or as he would still call it, his port-a-folio) up to the MAD office and since his English was not grand, he asked to speak to Antonio Prohias, the Cuban-born cartoonist responsible for the magazine’s popular “Spy Vs. Spy” feature.

Sergio’s luck was both good and bad. The good part: Prohias, who wasn’t usually around the office, happened to be there that day. The bad part: His English was worse than Sergio’s. But thrilled to be with another cartoonist from Down South, he cheerily did what he could to introduce the young man around, proclaiming him to be “Mi Hermano” [My Brother]. This of course led to the brief misunderstanding that Sergio was Antonio’s actual brother but that got straightened out and the editors took a peek at what he had brought.

They were all one and two-panel cartoons. MAD didn’t buy one and two-panel cartoons but the editors noted that there were a lot of very funny ones about astronauts. On a whim and a hunch, they bought a number of them and pasted them up into an article…and suddenly, Sergio was one of The Usual Gang of Idiots and an instant member of Gaines’s “family.”

Sergio had hundreds of other cartoons he would have liked to sell them, as well as the capacity to generate a dozen more faster than you could say “Alfred E. Neuman.” Alas, MAD only had so much space for his work. That was when he decided to create more space.

MAD then featured little word jokes in its margins called “Marginal Thinking.” They were popular but a pain for the editors to write each month. Sergio, with his limited command of English, didn’t understand them at all and wondered why there couldn’t be tiny cartoons (i.e., his) in those spots. He pasted tiny examples into a copy of MAD, showed it to the editors…and poof! A new place for him to draw had been created. Apart from one issue he missed due to the flu and a postal screw-up, he has been in every issue since. He generally does 8-10 per issue and there have been 442 issues of MAD since his “Drawn-Out Dramas” first began appearing, also in #76. You do the math. He also began submitting and selling ideas for funny covers and one of them wound up on MAD #77.

‘Tis an amazing body of work, it is. It’s stunning to realize that it’s almost half over.

Sergio for the iPad

The cartooning of Sergio is represented on the new MAD app for the iPad. It features classic material from the magazine and also gives you the opportunity to download recent issues for a modest fee and read them on your iPad. Read all about it here.