Meet the Designer Who Now Creates Iconic Mad Magazine Flyers | Chicago News


Crazy magazine was one of the most influential satires of the 20th century. It’s hard to imagine “The Simpsons” or “SNL” without Mad’s earlier irreverence.

At its peak in the 1970s, Mad had a readership of several million. And although her influence has faded, she still has a pulse.

Over the years, the magazine’s contributors have come to be known as “the usual idiot gang”. We meet Johnny Sampson, a local cartoonist who is one of the latest members of the gang.


Marc Vitali: Since 1964, a distinguishing feature of Mad Magazine has been the “folding” – a cartoonish puzzle that is solved when the image is folded.

Nowadays, fold-in is designed, written, drawn and painted by designer Johnny Sampson.

Johnny Sampson: It’s a dream job, and it’s important to me. Honestly, the biggest part was getting a letter from Al in the first place, saying, “I think you can actually do this.”

Vitali: “Al” is Al Jaffee, the legendary Mad cartoonist who created the folding and did it until his retirement in 2020 at the age of 99.

Sampson created this birthday tribute to Jaffee before his retirement – and he’s now carrying on his crazy tradition.

Sampson: I really tried to stick to Al’s methods. It was basically Photoshop before Photoshop. He would draw it on separate pieces of vellum paper, chop them up, and stick them all over the place. It was literally cut and paste, you know?

I prefer analog materials. I start with pencil and paper. Well actually I start with the idea because if you don’t have that you don’t have a fold-in. From there you gotta go, okay, how’s that gonna work? Is this going to work?

Vitali: Before working for Mad, Sampson created what he called a “scam” folding for Pitchfork – the riddle solved by showing Jaffee himself responding to the call of the wild.

But it was not his first attempt.

Sampson: My very first folding was a cartoon I made for the school newspaper. It was that silly comic book but when you folded it it said, “Everyone is so full of shit!” I got a suspension from school for that.

Vitali: Sampson does concert posters for local events. He made album covers for rapper Action Bronson and rocker King Khan.

And he also contributes to child-friendly publications.

Sampson: It’s weird, especially as a freelance writer, you never know where it came from next. You can knock on doors to a certain extent, but it’s usually, “They’ll call you. You don’t call them. But they call and that’s good. It’s nice to be called. Please call me.

Vitali: Mad currently only has two full-time employees and a handful of contributors like Sampson.

The content is mainly recycled material from the archives. The future of the magazine was in question even before its acquisition by AT&T.

Sampson: And now AT&T has offloaded Time Warner Media, which is the parent company of DC and Mad, to merge with Discovery Media. This deal is in the works and it may not be finalized for another year, two years, I don’t know. So there might be something after that. We keep hope.

Vitali: Being one of the last Keepers of the Flame is a bittersweet burden.

Sampson: For me, it’s part of the responsibility and the honor to back down, you know? It’s heavy.

But it’s really sad because now Mad is all about reprints. It still means a lot to me, but there’s kind of an asterisk next to it, you know?

More on this story

Hard copies of Mad Magazine are still available at comic book stores and by subscription. And Al Jaffee turned 100 in March. Learn more about cartoonist Johnny Sampson on his website

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