Interview: Al Jaffee [unabridged]

By DAN MAZUR  |  November 18, 2010

So we had to be very inventive, but it helped a lot that Harry and I had a memory of America and we knew what a big ship was so we could make little ships and sail them on the lake.

Did you start to draw then too? We drew all the time. Harry and I had natural talent, Harry was more of a fine artist and very inventive, so any time we were going to build anything we drew pictures of every part, and it was very easy then to just go around and look for piece of wood to make whatever you needed and cut it up into the shape that we drew.

Was paper scarce? We didn't have paper, and scrounging up paper to draw on was a big problem. There was wrapping paper for herring, so you could scrounge that up, and we collected stuff from the garbage to draw on. Cardboard was available in that manufactured items from Germany would be shipped in — like boots and manufactured galoshes — I remember those in particular, because everyone had to have galoshes.

It was rainy? Muddy? You needed them in the winter time, because winter was so severe, that in early fall you started wearing felt boots that came up to about here, and of course you couldn't walk in the snow or mud with felt, so you put galoshes on the bottoms of them. You got extra-large galoshes for this, even little kids. So then you'd have these leftover boxes, and I had some friends whose parents owned stores and I would scrounge these leftover cardboard things, and that's all we'd draw on. But I don't regret the education I got in being resourceful. I still stupidly make everything that I could go out and buy for what I can earn in a minute, and I spend an hour making it.

Like what? Oh that bulletin board, I just made that. I made it a couple days ago and the only reason I made it is because my downstairs neighbor in Provincetown was lining something with cork and he had this piece leftover and he said can you use this? So I took it and brought it here and then I went out and bought a couple strips of wood and made that. And that carving over, there those are mine. But that comes from this because of making things, but it was stimulated tremendously by cartoons comics strips, comic books. Comic books of course I discovered late. Well not that late. I was 12 years old when I found my first comic book. I think it was the first one to come out, Famous Funnies. They were reprints. Bill Gaines, who owned Mad, his father was instrumental in that because Max Gaines was a printers' representative during the Depression. Of course very little was going on anywhere, so people scrambled to try and figure out how to use whatever resources they had. And Max Gaines had these empty presses and the story that I heard — and there are people who argued that someone else had a similar idea, it's like, you know, dozens of people invented the telephone — but the story I know was that Max Gaines went to the syndicates and said what do you do with your comic strips after they're used on Sunday — he was only interested in the color ones. And they said they're useless, its yesterday's newspaper, we throw 'em out. And so he said can I use some of them, and they said go ahead. So he put together little comic books with a 10-cent price on it got in his car and drove from candy store to candy store and dropped off a few in each one and said I'll be around later in the day to pick up the ones you haven't sold. I guess he must have made a deal, sell 'em for 10 cents and you keep a nickel and give me a nickel, that part I don't have any information about.

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