As the late film critic Roger Ebert explained, “I learned to be a movie critic by reading MAD magazine. I learned a lot of other things from the magazine too, including a whole new slant on society. MAD’s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin–of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same dumb old formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe.”
After MAD, Kurtzman worked with a team of artists including Al Jaffee, Jack Davis and Will Elder on a series of short-lived but influential publications, including Trump, Humbug and Help! At Help!, a fortuitous nexus of nascent sketch comedy and underground “comix,” Kurtzman worked with then unknowns Woody Allen, Gloria Steinem and R. Crumb, among many others. Terry Gilliam, who met John Cleese while working there, considered Kurtzman “one of the godparents of Monty Python.”
If you happen to be in NYC, the Society of Illustrators is hosting a Harvey Kurtzman retrospective next month.