Here's Crazy #1 (1953):
************John Benson’s book, The Sincerest Form of Parody, is an excellent example of an overview (with examples) of a less-than-excellent subject. To wit (ho-ho), it is a book about all of them furshlugginer imitations of Mad comics that popped up in the wake of Mad’s success.
Benson, whom I admire as a comics historian,* obviously researched his subject matter. It appears that he read all of the Mad imitators of that period. The book reproduces a couple of dozen stories, some better than others, but none up to the high standards set by Harvey Kurtzman and Mad.
There just weren’t any other talents like Kurtzman out there at the time. There were writers who could write funny, and artists who could draw funny, but they couldn’t write and draw Kurtzman-funny. Even if the artists were technically good, they just didn’t come up to the level set by Kurtzman’s inspired cadre of cartoonists, artists like Elder, Wood, and Davis. At the time, they were the holy trinity of humor.
In my opinion, the best Mad imitations are what you see above you, the Mad-like comics from Atlas, and Harvey Comics’ short-lived Flip, with the sharp Davis-like drawing by Howard Nostrand. EC Comics’ own in-house imitation, Panic, had some gems like Wood’s “African Scream,” shown in Pappy’s #871 or Elder’s “The Lady Or the Tiger,” the latter reproduced in Benson’s book. But same publisher or not, Panic was still a Mad imitator.
If Kurtzman worried at all about posterity, his name or his stories being remembered, he need not have been concerned. Kurtzman is one of the comic book geniuses, and they were rare, so we remember him. Reprints over the years have kept the twenty-three issues of Mad comics available to fans in various print formats, even two digital versions. The imitations just don’t get that kind of treatment, so The Sincerest Form of Parody makes some of the better imitators (“better” being subjective) available for the first time since their original publication almost sixty years ago.
I recommend The Sincerest Form of Parody with a qualification. The stories can be more bizarre than laugh-out-loud funny, and oftentimes (which happens with Mad, also) the satirical references are obscured by the half dozen decades between their first appearance and this book. Production is top notch, and the reproduction from the original four-color comic books is excellent.
It’s available from Amazon.com or your favorite bookseller. If your local comic shop has it or will order it for you, that’s even better.
The Sincerest Form of Parody by John Benson with introduction by Jay Lynch. Fantagraphics Book, 2011, trade paperback, 192 pages, 7 ¼” x 10”. $24.99 suggested retail.
*Benson also wrote Romance Without Tears, and Confessions, Romances, Secrets and Temptations, about the love comics of St. John publishing and writer Dana Dutch.