Interview: Al Jaffee [unabridged]

By DAN MAZUR  |  November 18, 2010

Was that a newspaper strip or — ? Newspaper. It didn't last because I think it was too intelligent.

Did you ever try to get a syndicated strip sold? [laughs] I have about two dozen. I did two weeks of continuity, pencils and ink on about 15 or 20 comic strips. I sold one.

That's what you had to do? Two weeks worth? Two weeks worth to show that you could continue doing it.

Was that something you did in the early days before your comic-book work or later after you were doing Mad? I did it during my comic-book time because the great dream was to get the security — to get rid of the insecurity of freelance, which is what comic-book work was, and get the security of a contract with the syndicates. And most of the people I met who had syndicated comic strips had these things for life, y'know. They went on forever, they died while doing them. So the security of a syndicated strip was the dream of almost every guy I knew. But breaking in was extremely difficult.

Was there anti-Semitism there, too? I don't know. Anti-Semitism is an easy boogie man. Y'know, there was anti-Semitism, I mean if you had an editor at a syndicate who was totally anti-Semitic, he's going to be very polite when you bring it in but you're not going to sell it to him. But how would you know? He's not going to get up and say, "Y'know, I'm anti-Semitic." He's not going to say anything.

There were some Jewish newspaper cartoonists. There were some very very famous ones. Milt Gross.

Al Capp. Milt Gross, Al Capp, and the head of the Hearst syndicate, King Features, was Sylvan Byck, who I believe was Jewish. So I think there was a smattering of anti-Semitism, as there was everywhere. I ran into it in the Army, I ran into it lots of places. I was never personally insulted, to tell you the truth, no one ever did anything that — I mean, I've always been treated well. But it certainly did exist to some degree. However it was easier to get into comic books because there was no anti-Semitism.

What was the strip you sold?Tall Tales.

When did you sell that? I think in 1956. . . .

Oh, it was a vertical strip. The story behind that was, when you said it's vertical, is that I was desperate because I'd just come off the failure of a second magazine I was on, Humbug. And I was now unemployed, my connection with Stan Lee was broken, and I had to figure out something. So the mantra in the business that I had heard always was that to put a new strip in, you had to knock somebody out, because newspapers were not expanding the comic pages, in fact, they were more interested in getting rid of all of them, because they had originally started out as circulation builders and I don't think they are circulation builders anymore, what they are is nostalgia builders.

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