A new biography of Harvey Kurtzman pays tribute to the Jewish artist’s genius but struggles to escape the long shadow of his days at Mad magazine in the 1950s, much like Kurtzman himself.
By Akin Ajayi for Haaretz
“Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created MAD and Revolutionized Humor in America,” by Bill Schelly, Fantagraphics Books, 644 pages, $34.99
Sometime in 1988, Harvey Kurtzman invited Art Spiegelman to guest-lecture at his cartooning class at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Spiegelman was already a leading light of the alternative comics movement (he’d win a Pulitzer Prize, in 1992, for “Maus”), and it was expected that he would talk about his career. But instead, Spiegelman turned the spotlight around, talking about the inspiration for his comic-book career – Kurtzman himself.
Spiegelman ran through Kurtzman’s early successes, but talked most about Kurtzman’s greatest contribution to comic books, as the creator of Mad magazine (he would later document the afternoon, comic strip-style, in a New Yorker tribute shortly after Kurtzman’s death in 1993). “Mad was an urban junk collage that said ‘Pay attention! The mass media are lying to you … including this comic book!’” Spiegelman told the class. “I think Harvey’s Mad was more important than pot and LSD in shaping the generation that protested the Vietnam War.”
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