'Mad' man's life, art showcased in new book
Mary-Lou Weisman's latest release, "Al Jaffee's Mad World" -- with original art by the award-winning cartoonist and creator of Mad magazine's popular Fold-In feature -- is unlike any of her previous best-selling books. Then again, despite their down-to-earth humor intermixed with strong doses of truth, all of Weisman's books are as varied as the personal experiences they are based upon.
"Al Jaffee's Mad World," developed from a series of conversations between old friends, who initially met at their respective summer homes in Provincetown, reveals lesser known details about Jaffee's complex upbringing that, in some ways, is paradoxical to the persona displayed through the work displayed on Mad's pages.
"It's such a compelling story," Weisman noted. "It simmered inside of me."
With an illustrious writing career that began with a column in Fairfield County's long-defunct Fairpress weekly newspaper -- as well as numerous contributions to The New York Times and other periodicals -- Weisman's publishing debut, "Intensive Care," was a highly personal, realistic account of what it's like to care for a chronically ill child.
Jaffee, who still divides his time between Provincetown and New York, said, "Mary-Lou captured the story of my life and perfectly. When we met as summer neighbors in Provincetown I think Mary-Lou was intrigued, as most people are, that a relatively normal looking person could be connected to zany Mad magazine. As we got to know each other socially, I guess I revealed my serious side and unusual early life and this increased her interest in my story."
Although he was born in the United States, Jaffee's mother took him and his brothers back to her native village in Lithuania, a shtetl that had no electricity and indoor plumbing. His father, however, retrieved them twice -- the second time was at the onset of World War II. His mother insisted on staying, though, and likely perished when the German soldiers invaded and killed all of the Jews in the small village.
Weisman said her research was conducted in a series of less formal interviews. "It was more like two friends talking," she explained. However, Weisman's keen journalistic instincts alerted her to when there was more to the story than Jaffee was revealing. "We interviewed, we re-interviewed and we went back over the same territory again," she chuckled. "My questions would remind him of things he thought he had forgotten. It was an excavation process. This man had survived by not looking back. It was not his modus operandi to dwell on the past."
Despite his satirical commentary in Mad magazine, Jaffee is not one to look for the spotlight. "Some friends wonder why I'd agree to unearth my past which was filled with unhappy memories," Jaffee admitted. "I suppose some of it may have been for therapeutic reasons. After all, thousands of people spill their guts to shrinks every hour and pay for it even. But for me it was not greatly emotional. I dealt with it long ago and determined that moving on to happy, new adventures were more rewarding than dwelling on old tragedies."
Jaffee continued, "Being interviewed for a book about one's life is tricky in many ways. Should one let it all hang out or should one carefully edit and only display good things? In my case I decided not only to reveal the warts, but to illustrate them as well."
Although Weisman no longer spends summers in Provincetown, Jaffe and his wife, Joyce, continue to take up residence there from May to September. The rest of time is spent in New York. Wherever he is, though, Jaffe works.
"Al doesn't like change," Weisman noted. "He works six hours a day. He loves his work. He keeps promising us that one summer he'll go up to Provincetown and take a real vacation, but we don't think that will ever happen."