cover image Humbug


Harvey Kurtzman, Author, Will Elder, Author, Arnold Roth, Author and various. Fantagraphics $60 (476p) ISBN 978-1-56097-933-3

MAD ’s early years have been justly lauded for their japing assault on postwar American culture, but this outstanding two-volume boxed set reflects the history of comedy in the period after staff stars like Kurtzman jumped ship in 1956. Humbug , whose mere 11 monthly issues published in 1957 and 1958 are all collected here, was a refreshing if little-noticed seat-of-the-pants hybrid of MAD -style buffoonery and a tony wit that sadly never found its place. Read today, Humbug seems a time capsule from when comedy was entering its drier, postvaudevillian period; comedians still wore ties and were expected to if not attend college at least have read a book or two. The magazine’s mix of chaos and control—Kurtzman’s Cecil B. DeMille–sized comedic crowd scenes set against Larry Siegel’s pitch-perfect literary satires—creates an uneasy balance that almost necessitated a short shelf life, much in the same manner as National Lampoon (which years later briefly picked up the mantle that Humbug threw down). The set might not be best for end-to-end reading (11 issues is a heavy dose, with all those Sputnik and Have Gun, Will Travel references) but for dry cocktail laughs and low schoolboy snorts, it’s hard to think of a better pair of books to have at your nightstand. (Mar.)