Conversation between Judith Yaross Lee and John Bird, Part 2

The conversation between the two co-editors of Seeing MAD continues this week with part two! If you missed the first part of the conversation, it can be found here.

Judith: Now let’s talk about our book, Seeing Mad.

John: I find it interesting the way our book evolved. We did not set out to edit a scholarly book about Mad. Instead, the book grew organically, with a haphazard beginning. The scholarly society both of us are members and past presidents of, the American Humor Studies Association, and the academic conference we have both long been involved with, the American Literature Association, played large parts. At one ALA conference early in this decade, I presented a paper on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, a session sponsored by the AHSA. In the discussion afterward, we talked about the influence of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and I remember that you commented that Mad had a similar if not greater lasting influence. You suggested a session on Mad for the next year’s conference. Do you remember anything about that?

Judith: No, I don’t. But it sounds like me! I adored Rocky and His Friends; when my family was invited by the Nielson ratings folks in the early ’60s to record everything we watched on TV, my sister and I wrote down that we and five of our most intimate friends watched it with us every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.  But I know that Mad was more influential on me and the whole Baby Boom generation, because it antedated and outlasted Rocky and took on topics far beyond the Cold War, important though that was. I had bought the CD archive Completely MAD with my first discretionary faculty development money in the early 2000s, but hadn’t done much with it except urge Teodora Carabas, then a doctoral student interested in Cold War humor, to use it for a paper on “Spy vs. Spy.” Her article came out in 2007. Looking back, I guess at your session on Rocky, I hoped that Mad’s time had finally come.

John: Your suggestion resulted in 2013 in my paper “Sing Along with Alfred,” in which I recalled singing “Hello Delly!” with my friends when I was 13 or so, a neighborhood bonding experience that I proposed extended nationwide. My paper included analysis of the Mad song parodies, but I also encouraged the session attendees to sing along with me as we looked at the lyrics by Frank Jacobs, Larry Siegel, and others. The response was gleeful and raucous, no doubt disturbing the scholarly sessions adjacent to our room. What are your memories of that session?  

Judith: Our enjoyment did prompt some guy from the session next door to stick his head into the door and scold us. More than once. You spoke last, so we’d chuckled through two papers already, but you offered such a wonderful combination of detailed analysis and well-chosen examples that we had to work at not drowning you out with our laughter. I think we were all channeling our enthusiasm into song when you handed out lyrics at the end and asked us to join in.

John: Tell me about your suggestion that we co-edit a special issue of Studies in American Humor on Mad.

Judith: At the time of that ALA session I had just become the editor of the journal and discovered that we had no backlog of accepted articles and very little still under peer review. So I was worried about filling the next two issues at that same time that I had ambitions to grow the journal by expanding its contents beyond its two staple topics, literary humor and stand-up comedy. When the Mad session drew a large, unexpected audience of scholars from societies other than the AHSA, I saw the opportunity to draw new contributors to the journal and to highlight graphic humor, which hadn’t received much attention by the journal beforehand but was an enduring interest of mine. And of course, as a past president of the Research Society for American Periodicals and the author of a book on New Yorker humor, I had a sense of how rich the scholarship on Mad could be. So I asked you if you wanted to serve as guest co-editor for a special issue about a year from then, in the fall of 2014. 

When we sent out the call for papers, I think we were both expecting to receive about a dozen proposals from which to choose four—maybe five–for development and publication. That’s typical for a special issue. Do you remember how stunned we were by the response? We had been so worried that we wouldn’t have enough material that we begged a few people we knew to consider submitting, and then got something like 30 proposals, many more than we could handle. We tripled the length of the journal but couldn’t change the manuscript deadline, so we exhausted ourselves producing that issue-244 pages–in under six months.  

John: One thing we realized early on was that we had too much material for even the triple issue that was taking shape. We had some good proposals that we could not use, including my “Sing Along with Alfred.” I suppose that was when we realized we had the makings of a book-length study of Mad.

Join us next week for the third and final part of their interview!

1 Comment

  1. […] The final part of the conversation between the two co-editors of Seeing MAD finishes this week! If you missed the first or second part of the conversation, they can be found here and here. […]


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