I’ve been working on a semi-massive post about the latest issue of MAD Magazine (and especially its ’50 Worst Things About Cartoons’ feature), originally intending it for part of the omni-present “March Madness” theme, but now having to settle for “April Foolishness”, although even THAT is late by now… But when the news came down of the sudden-but-peaceful passing of Roger Ebert, quintessential critic of movies and, in his later years, almost everything else, a flood of obituaries came from a variety of not-necessarily-expected sources. One of the most interesting was from cartoonist/caricaturist Tom Richmond (who I’ve ‘tooned into’ before, and whose Ebert is in the upper left here), who noted his connection to the iconic MAD, as Roger noted in his forward to a book of MAD movie parodies:
“I learned to be a movie critic by reading Mad magazine… Mad’s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin—of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe. Pauline Kael lost it at the movies; I lost it at Mad magazine.”
Which now seems so obvious… the format of MAD’s movie and TV parodies is an excellent primer to media criticism (and the authors of them are unsung critics) with the blocks of text in which every character bashes the Fourth Wall to explain themselves. I could go into a few thousand words on the subject, but somebody at Film Comment Magazine alredy has. I suspect that every MAD parody of a James Bond film includes ol’ 007 facing the camera and saying “I’m James Bond. I attract beautiful women and repel bullets.” (Well, I’ll know for sure soon enough; Richmond has dropped hints that his contribution to the NEXT issue will be a James Bond piece that may-or-may-not be more than just a “Skyfall” parody.)
As Ebert was quoted in his home newspaper’s announcement of his death about his rivalry-turned-partnership with fellow critic Gene Siskel, “We were parodied on ‘SNL’ and by Bob Hope and Danny Thomas and, the ultimate honor, in the pages of Mad magazine.” And as their way of noting his passing, MAD’s blog posted that parody in its entirety, and, yes, it is a short-form course on how to critique movies (and your on-screen partner).
Also, ComicMix’s Mike Gold remembered Roger Ebert as a supporter of Chicago’s Alternative (then called ‘Underground’) Newspaper scene, who also, while Gold was working to organize the first Chicago Comicon, Roger asked him to set up an interview with MAD co-founder Harvey Kurtzman.
The death of Roger Ebert leaves us sadder, but not madder…