Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee
One of the highlights of my visit to the MoCCA convention was attending the ‘AH, HUMBUG!’ panel that featured cartoonists and comedic geniuses Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee in conversation with Fantagraphics editor Gary Groth. Roth is well-known for his broadly published illustrations and cartoons, and his comic strip Poor Arnold’s Almanac. Jaffee is renowned for his foundational work on MAD magazine and his signature MAD ‘fold-ins’, illustrations that fold together to reveal another picture that gives a second meaning to the caption.
The subject of the panel was a satirical humor magazine called Humbug that ran for eleven issues from 1957 to 1958. Together with comics giants Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, and Jack Davis, Roth and Jaffee pooled their money to put together a creator owned and run magazine. Roth said that they were such a talented group of people that when Kurtzman suggested they do an issue that parodied New Yorker cartoons by drawing in its style and making the cartoons not funny, they all came back and said, “I can’t think of anything that’s not funny”.
Part of the discussion focused on why the magazine folded, since it is widely agreed that it represents some of these respected cartoonists’ best work. Roth pointed out that Kurtzman always wanted to do things different, so he made Humbug a smaller dimension than other magazines to stand out. It would have stood out more if it were taller than other magazines, because its small dimensions meant it was lost behind the other books. Jaffee made a note that their distributors were a little shady. They were using the same people to print and distribute and he always felt like the sales figures they were giving them were off. They always came back just below breaking even. He implored the audience to take control of the publishing process of their work as much as possible.
The complete run of Humbug was recently reprinted as a two volume set by Fantagraphics.