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Humbug (2 Volume Set)

Humbug - Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Will Elder, Al Jaffee, Arnold Roth What do Terry Gilliam, Robert Crumb, Gloria Steinum, Woody Allen, Al Jaffee and John Cleese all have in common? When they were completely unknown to the public, each of these was hired by magazine mogul Harvey Kurtzman to write (or draw) for one of his publications. Best known as the founder of MAD magazine in 1952, Kurzman had an eye for talent, and a great business sense. When MAD became a runaway hit, Kurzman looked to expand the franchise, by offering a slightly more sophisticated version for adults. With funding from his friend and fellow 1950's publishing icon Hugh Hefner, Kurzman launched "Humbug" in 1957. For various reasons which are explored in the foreword, Humbug was a commercial disappointment, and was cancelled after two years. Interestingly, the magazine's nonstandard size - which Kurzman hoped might draw attention and interest- hurt sales. Vendors tended to display it off to the side, or with newpapers, rather than with other magazines. (Oh business world! who can fathom your twisty mechanations?) By 1960, Humbug was forgotten by all but a small cadre of hardcore collectors. With the 2009 re-release of its complete run in two hardbound volumes, Humbug may now find a larger audience. I certainly enjoyed it. For the most part, it has the look and feel of MAD magazine, probably because MAD's Al Jaffee either personally rendered or oversaw, most of the artwork. The humor is recognizably in the flavor of MAD too, but as mentioned, it does venture into topics that might be over the heads of MAD's younger readers. The December 1957 issue, for example, contains a lengthy lampoon of Freemasonry. Fans may be particularly interested in a 2005 interview with Al Jaffee and Arnold Roth, which runs from pages 182-215. The talent and humor of these two is just so impressive- especially considering the conventions they were bucking in 1957. The interview is fascinating, and ranges from MAD's artistic inspirations, what it was like working for Kurtzman, MAD's odd relationship with PLAYBOY, and Jaffee's collaboration on another Kurtzman project: "HELP!". HELP! was Kurzman's second attempt to bring MAD-type humor to adult readers. It was also short lived, but is of interest, having had at times both Woody Allen and John Cleese on the payroll. I wonder if a hardbound set of HELP! might be in the works... (?)