Long before Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, modern pop culture satire had its roots in the strange mind of the original madman, Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993). His early '50s creation, MAD Magazine, taught buttoned-down America how to detect the inanities and silly idealizations of post-wwii mass media, as it also introduced phrases like "potrzebie" and "fershlugginer" into the national lexicon.
At MAD, then at Playboy-financed Trump, Humbug Help, and as the mastermind of Playboy's Little Annie Fanny, he lampooned everything he could touch. Unbeknownst to him or us at the time, the quiet, egg-headed kid who chalked his first cartoons on the sidewalks of Brooklyn was drawing up an important counterpoint to a relentless consumer culture. Kurtzman, who invented the spot-on send up of American advertising, gave mass media its first satirical perspective on itself, and that deeply influenced a generation of his students and protégés, including Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman and Monty Python-er Terry Gilliam. While little known outside of the comics world, The New York Times once rightly called Kurtzman "one of the most important figures in postwar America."
This publishing season, Kurtzman gets his Fershlugginer props in three releases. The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics (Abrams), by underground-comics artist Denis Kitchen and historian Paul Buhle, reviews his life and work. Trump: The Complete Collection (Dark Horse) reprints the doomed two-issue run of his collaboration with Hugh Hefner. And Humbug (Fantagraphics) beautifully restores all 11 issues of the magazine he ran in the late '50s, with commentary from surviving partners Al Jaffee and Arnold Roth.