A serious Interview with Bill Gaines
John M. Edwards, as a snot-nosed enfant terrible, tries to get a job at his favorite magazine: MAD.
A long time ago, when I was a young canny kid and a memorabilia collector, I was hellbent on getting the entire collection of valuable MAD Magazines back issues sheathed in plastic. (I already owned all the paperback collections which fit neatly into three wine boxes.)
Unsurprisingly, I decided on a lark to visit the famous Madison Avenue address where my favorite mag was published to meet some of their best humor writers.
Dressed to an ET in a tan “London Fog” Macintosh with my father’s buffed leather briefcase, I had brought along a soon-to-be-deposited copy of a faux mock-up issue of MAD, achieved through tracing my favorite Mort Drucker artwork and making up new text and captions. It included a pretty good sketch of Chuck Heston from “The Planet of the Apes,” which at the time was my favorite film. The original novel by Pierre Boulle wasn’t bad also, but nothing beat Rod Serling’s film script.
Arriving at the Madison Avenue headquarters, when I was a little too young to be in New York by myself, I thought I would present myself as a child prodigy with an adult sense of humor and very good taste in women.
I was shyly ushered in by an elegant leggy secretary to meet the legendary Mr. Bill Gaines, who just sat behind his corporate desk with a big smile on his bearded face, resembling a little an older Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead. The iconic head honcho of the MAD empire seemed very amused that I wanted a job at such a young age.
The only other guy there was Sergio Aragones, who kept exploding with laughter from his drawing table in the adjoining room. Sergio came in to take a long look at my work, with great interest: “Pretty good sketchwork. Did you do that?”
“Uh-huh! Me and a friend of mine: Erik D’Amato,” I admitted.
I couldn’t believe MAD was taking me seriously.
The legendary bearded Mr. Bill Gaines began reading my cartoon clouds and laughing (no: chuckling).
“All original,” I outlouded.
I proved also that I knew all of the other artists’ work, such as Dave Berg and Don Martin, and then I made my real pitch: “I’ve always wanted a complete collection of MAD magazines, but I’m working on it. . . .”
“Yes, I would like that too,” the legendary Mr. Bill Gaines muttered, gesturing with a grand sign resembling a squid the lack of much of anything at all in his office: bare bones.
Smiling, I’m sure, like Alfred E. Neumann himself, I asked abruptly, “Could I work for you for free?”
Sergio Aragones looked like I had just made his day.
“Come back in a couple of years and we’ll see what we can do,” the legendary Mr. Bill Gaines sniped, sipping his coffee like a barista from The Apple Store’s “Genius Bar.”
An exclamation point appeared over my head.
Abruptly, I was politely asked to leave by the bitchy secretary who acted like I was just another version of a precocious ventriloquist dummy, in the days before David Letterman perfected the gap-toothed smile, maybe perhaps from the Anthony Hopkin’s film “MAGIC”:
“Abracadabra, I sit on his knee/ Presto Change-o, now he is me/ Hocus pocus we take her to bed/ Magic’s fun, we’re dead!”
I also thought back to one of the scariest movies involving dummies I had ever seen, Dead of Night.
Also, Edgar Bergen’s “Charlie McCarthy” was an obvious influence for Alfred E. Neumann at MAD.
While “Mortimer Snerd” resembled a dead-ringer for the annoying dude from CRACKED. . . .
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