Mad’s Greatest Artists: Dave Berg – Five Decades of “The Lighter Side Of…”; foreword by Drew Friedman (Running Press, 272 pages, $30). The Mad Magazine tone starts right off with the “Our Price-Cheap” -style announcement of the price on the dustflap: “$30 cheap in the U.S.A. $34.50 Cheap, eh? In Canada. £20. Bloody cheap in the U.K.”
Something by Dave Berg, we’re told, ran in every issue of MAD for 41 years. “The Lighter Side Of…” was his most famous creation. Drew Friedman tells us in his foreword here, it “debuted in 1961, a more innocent era of Mad” and featured “a square-jawed alter-ego, the moralizing everyman Roger Kaputnik.”
The first cartoon from the ’50s we encounter here gives us Berg’s take from August 1957 on “Modern Furniture” showing us a confounding “slat-bench coffee table combination” you can pour coffee through right to the rug, and a zebra-striped ottoman that, two panels later, turns into the rump of a real zebra.
Berg’s farewell “lighter side” from a new millennium gives us Kaputnik given an oversized hearing aid by his doctor, which he tells him doesn’t work but has the desired effect anyway because “when anyone sees it, they talk louder.”
The idea that a few generations of genuinely innocent American children – ever-winnowing numbers to be sure as sophistication was afflicted upon them at increasingly early ages – were taught how to think about the world by MAD magazine and its stubbornly innocent satire helps explain where American media have gone for four decades. The distance from Dave Berg to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher may be long, but it goes in a straight line.
To know that in the world we now live in that the Dave Bergs – i.e. almost charter members of “the usual gang of idiots” – are celebrated at gift book season is even more weirdly cheery news than a serious new biography of Norman Rockwell getting major attention everywhere.
Friedman tells us that Berg, in real life, liked to wear a T-shirt around his neighborhood that read “MAD’s Dave Berg.”
Such innocence. So pure and so sweet when looked at in the cold light of day now.
– Jeff Simon