HomeArts & EntertainmentArtAl Jaffe, 'Mad' Magazine Cartoonist Who Created the 'Fold-In,' Dead at 102

Al Jaffe, ‘Mad’ Magazine Cartoonist Who Created the ‘Fold-In,’ Dead at 102

Al Jaffe, the storied cartoonist who created two staple features of Mad magazine, the “Fold-In” and “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” died Monday, April 10, The New York Times  reports. He was 102. 

Jaffee’s granddaughter, Fani Thomson, confirmed his death, saying it was caused by multi-system organ failure. 

Jaffee enjoyed a Guinness World Record-setting 77 years as a professional cartoonist, starting in 1942 and ending just a couple of years ago, in June 2020, when he finally decided to retire at the age of 99. He started working for Mad in 1955, three years after its founding, and his decision to finally cap his pens came just as the long-running satire magazine stopped publishing new material.

Born in Savannah, Georgia on March 13, 1921, Jaffee had a somewhat peculiar childhood. At the age of six, his mother decided to take him and his three younger brothers back to the shtetl in Lithuania from which she’d emigrated. The trip was only supposed to last one month, but it turned into a six-year ordeal as his parents battled over custody. During his time in Lithuania, however, Jaffee’s father started sending him Sunday comics from America, which is where his love for cartooning began. 

Upon his return to the U.S., Jaffee threw himself into art, earning a spot in the inaugural class at New York City’s High School of Music and Art (two of his classmates, William Gaines and Harvey Kurtzman, would later found Mad). As a professional artist, Jaffe’s knack for parody and satire was apparent from one of his earliest characters: Inferior Man, an obvious spoof of caped crusaders, who easily caved at the pressure of fighting crime. Inferior Man was purchased by comics giant Will Eisner, and Jaffee later spent some time working for another luminary, Stan Lee.

When Jaffee first started contributing to Mad, it was mostly as a writer; at the time, he was also working on other projects, including a syndicated comic strip called “Tall Tales.” His creative breakthrough came in 1964 when he published his first “Fold-In” — a brilliant back cover idea that involved folding an illustration vertically and inward to reveal a new picture and punch-line. For 55 years, Jaffee was the only person at Mad who drew the “Fold-In,” creating well over 500 and publishing his final one in June 2020 (a somber yet sardonic bit about the end of Mad).

While the “Fold-In” showcased Jaffee’s drawing and writing skills, “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” — which Jaffee debuted in 1965 — was all about quickfire quips and burns. In an interview (originally published in Mike Sacks’ 2009 book, And Here’s the Kicker, with a longer version printed in Vulture last month), Jaffee explained the origins of the segment, saying it occurred to him when he was trying to fix an antenna on the roof of his house. 

“Suddenly, I heard my son climbing up this ladder. He asked me a question that he asked every time he came home from school: ‘Where’s Mom?’ And I answered, ‘I killed her and I’m stuffing her down this chimney.’ He knew I was kidding, obviously, but I thought about this afterward, and it occurred to me that there must be a million times a day we all get asked questions to which you either don’t know the answer or it’s a pointless question. Up on the roof, how the hell would I know where Mom was?”

Jaffee was widely lauded for his work over the years. He won numerous prizes from the National Cartoonists society in the Seventies, and in 2007, he won the industry’s top prize, the Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year. 


In that interview with Mike Sacks, Jaffee offered up a joke that he probably could’ve guessed would inevitably become the kicker in at least one of his obituaries. He was asked to provide a “snappy answer” to the stupid question, “How do you think you’ll be remembered?”

The answer: “Is space available on Mount Rushmore?” 

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