Al Jaffee, the longtime cartoonist for Mad Magazine who created one of the satirical publications most beloved and enduring features – the back-cover “Fold-In” illustration – died today in a New York City hospital of organ failure. He was 102.
His death was announced by Tom Heintjes, editor of Hogan’s Ally, a magazine and website that chronicles the cartoon arts. Jaffee’s granddaughter Fani Thomson confirmed his passing and the cause of death to The New York Times.
“I’m very sad to report that the great Al Jaffee has died,” Heintjes tweeted. “He had celebrated his 102nd birthday just last month. An incredible legend. RIP to a giant of cartooning.”
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Born in Savannah, Georgia, Jaffee launched his comics career in the 1940s, contributing artwork for such publications as Joke Comics, Atlas Comics, and Timely Comics, among others. During World War II he worked as an artist for the military.
Jaffee began what would be a lifetime association with Mad Magazine as a contributor in 1955. Although he briefly left the publication to work for the short-lived Humbug humor magazine, he returned in 1958.
His most lasting contribution to the iconic Baby Boom-generation publication came in 1964 with the first “Fold-In” feature: A drawing that, when folded vertically, revealed an entirely different illustration, essentially creating a visual punchline complete with a new caption. The feature was inspired by the centerfolds that had been popularized by Playboy and other magazines.
In Fold This Book!, a 1997 collection of Jaffee’s Fold-Ins, Far Side creator Gary Larson praised the long-running feature. “The dilemma was always this: Very slowly and carefully fold the back cover … without creasing the page and quickly look at the joke. Jaffee’s artistry before the folding was so amazing that I suspect I was not alone in not wanting to deface it in any way.”
A four-volume hardcover boxed set called The Mad Fold-In Collection: 1964–2010 was published by Chronicle Books in September 2011.
In a 2010 interview with the Boston Phoenix newspaper, Jaffee recalled his first Fold-In. “I thought to myself … now it’s folded in and I’ve got to have something on the left side here, and something right side here. And the only thing that popped into my head was that Elizabeth Taylor had just dumped Eddie Fisher and was carrying on with Richard Burton. So I had Elizabeth Taylor kissing Richard Burton, and a cop is holding the crowd back – and just for the fun of it I put Eddie Fisher being trampled by the crowd. What a cruel thing to do! And then, when you fold it in, she’s moving on from Richard Burton and kissing the next guy in the crowd. It’s so simplistic and silly and juvenile! And anyone could have done that!”
Jaffee’s final Mad Fold-In was published in the magazine’s August 2020 Jaffee tribute issue, and served as his farewell upon his retirement at age 99. Drawn six years before – initially to be published at his death – the unfolded illustration depicts Mad mascot Alfred E. Newman beneath a slew of bad-news, out-of-business signs. When folded, the signs instead read, “No More New Jaffee Fold-Ins,” with a peaceful-looking portrait of Jaffee floating above the fray.
In all, Jaffee created more than 500 back-cover Fold-Ins, with subjects spanning zeitgeisty and hot-button topics from Beatlemania (the Fab Four’s folded image depicted them as bald has-beens) to President Donald Trump’s proposed health care plan.
In a 2014 video interview – see it below – Jaffee explained that he created the Fold-Ins without actually folding his original illustration, relying instead on a seemingly arduous process involving tracing paper.
Asked how long he intended to keep illustrating, he said, “I feel that as long as the gray matter in my dome is moving around correctly, I’m going to keep working.” In 2016 he was recognized by Guinness World Records as the longest-working cartoonist in comics history.
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