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July 5, 2019
Late in the afternoon on the day before the Fourth of July holiday, word broke that Mad Magazine was going to come to an end…of sorts.
Beginning with issue ten (the book relaunched with new numbering last year), the sixty-seven year old magazine will leave the newsstands, and will be distributed only to the direct market (comic book stores) and subscribers. With the following issue, Mad Magazine will go all-reprint, mining its vast archives to present classic material under a new cover every two months. They still plan to do a new “year in review” issue every year, since those still sell pretty well.
This is very sad for those of us who grew up on Mad Magazine. There’s no denying that Mad helped foster a healthy sense of cynicism and satire that shaped every generation since the 1950s. The cultural impact of Mad cannot be denied, and it will be missed, even if it had been largely irrelevant since the 1970s. It is apparently the only magazine that the president reads, even if he has to have the jokes explained to him.
The magazine is not completely dead, since it will live on as a reprint title, but for a largely topical humor magazine, that’s as close as you can get to a death sentence without actually taking it behind the barn and shooting it.
The reasons for this change are simple…magazines are not selling well at all anymore. The entire industry has been dealing with plummetting sales for decades. Prices are going up. Frequency of publication is dropping (Entertainment Weekly only comes out once a month now). Long-running publications are shutting down left and right. There is a bit more to it than that, however.
The Walmart Giants sold so well with very little new material, and with the bulk of the reprint material coming from books that were far from the best of DC’s vast library.
Now they’re taking Mad Magazine all-reprint. If sales remain steady, or even improve, that will demonstrate to the bean-counters that, maybe, just maybe, they don’t need to be publishing new material in all their comics every month.
I don’t think they’ll take DC all-reprint. They’ve already announced plans to bump up the new content in the Walmart Giants to 48 pages per issue, and to make them available to other retailers. However, I think the days of DC paying a creative team to produce 20 pages or so of new material for a comic that’s only selling 15,000 copies a month are rapidly coming to a close.
Another sign that DC is testing the waters for publishing more reprints is that they are borrowing a page from Marvel, and will start publishing “Facsmilie” editions of classic comics, as well as “Dollar Comics,” which will be DC’s version of Marvel’s “True Believers” reprint comics.
Comic book sales have dropped to the point where carefully-selected reprints could easily sell two or three times the number of copies of comics that all-new comics with those same characters sell each month.
There are comics with long runs of stories that could easily be reprinted on a monthly basis that would perform well: The classic Batman stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams and others are collected in several volumes, but would still sell well as single issues. The work of Steven Englehart on Batman, The Justice League and Green Lantern Corps would sell phenomonally well. They could go back and reprint Alan Moore and Steve Bissette’s Swamp Thing and probably sell more reprints now than the book sold in the direct market over thirty years ago. I have no interest in the current versions of Teen Titans, but I can’t imagine that reprints of the classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez comics wouldn’t sell spectacularly well.
I don’t think DC will go all-reprint. I do think that they could go mostly-reprint, creating new material for possibly as few as ten titles, with the rest of their line made up of classic reprints, and they’d probably increase their market share in the process.
And that, I believe, is where the fate of Mad Magazine plays into the future of comics. It’s really sort of hard to mourn the loss of Mad Magazine if it means we’ll get to see classic material by Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Don Martin, Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Basil Wolverton, Al Jaffee, Sergio Aragones and so many other legends.
Likewise, it’ll be hard to get upset if DC follows suit, and decides to publish the best material from its vast library instead of flooding the market with watered-down reboots of that material, written and drawn by lesser talents that I’ve never heard of before.
But I think that’s the real motivating factor of the fate of Mad Magazine. It’s just bean-counters, counting beans and testing the waters for a bigger bean-counting move.
That is this week’s PopCulteer. You know the drill.