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Mad Magazine Changes Tone With Four-Page Comic Strip On School Shootings


Before there was "Saturday Night Live," "The Onion" or Jon Stewart, there was MAD, a magazine of parodies, jokes and cartoons that a lot of inventors of those other enterprises grew up reading. MAD has been published since 1952, and it's often considered less edgy than other avenues of satire. But in the current issue, there is a four-page comic strip drawn by Marc Palm, written by Matt Cohen, that spells out the alphabet with names of children who were or would soon be the victims of a school shooting. The piece is called "The Ghastlygun Tinies," a take on the original "Ghastlycrumb Tinies" that was drawn by Edward Gorey in the 1960s. MAD Magazine's executive editor is Bill Morrison. He joins us from their offices in Burbank, Calif. Thanks so much for being with us.

BILL MORRISON: Hi, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Let me give people some idea. It begins, A is for Alice, the young science whiz and little girl is holding what looks to be a science experiment. B is for Brian cramming for a quiz. Then you begin to understand what's going on. N is for Nathan, who's caught in the path. P is for Paula protecting classmates. This is very powerful.

MORRISON: I know. And that's the reaction we've gotten from a lot of fans. You know, one of the comments was, I'm writing this day in my calendar because it's the first time I've ever cried reading MAD Magazine.

SIMON: Well, me too. When Edward Gorey did the original alphabet, that also was talking about bad things happening to little kids. And now it's something else, isn't it? It's like a clear and present danger.

MORRISON: Yeah. I mean, Nick Meglin, who was one of my predecessors as editor of MAD, used to always refer to MAD as a funhouse mirror sort of held up to our society. And, you know, for the most part, you look at that reflection, and you laugh. But sometimes you look at that reflection, and you're sort of horrified. That's kind of the situation we have here where, you know, we don't want to ignore this. We don't want to take a pass and say, well, this is one thing that, you know, MAD's not going to comment on. But we have to do it in a different way, a more sober, serious way.

SIMON: Yeah. I can't get over the fact that a lot of kids, as you know, will be reading MAD Magazine. I mean, you and I did at about the same time.

MORRISON: Yeah. I was about 11 - 11 or 12 when I started reading MAD. And there was one piece that I really recall. It depicted a soldier in a welcome home parade in his hometown. He's coming down the street dressed in his uniform. Instead of carrying a rifle, he's got a big hypodermic needle. And it was commentary on how soldiers were getting, you know, addicted to heroin and other drugs. And, you know, there was nothing at all funny about it. But as a kid, you - you know, you see that, and it sticks with you. And it sort of - I mean, for me anyway, it really shaped the way I thought about things.

SIMON: What would you hope youngsters would do or how they would react at reading this today?

MORRISON: My hope would be that this would just open up conversations. The very last panel of the piece has a little girl going back to school. And she's passing the tombstones of the friends who were killed at the previous school shooting. And it's Z is for Zoe, who won't be the last. And that's something that kids are thinking about. So hopefully, this will just keep the conversation going, trying to figure out what we can do about it.

SIMON: Bill Morrison is the executive editor of MAD Magazine. Thanks so much for being with us.

MORRISON: Thank you, Scott. It's been my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.