Just trying to not make anyone mad here.

§ July 31st, 2023 § Filed under mad magazine, publishing § 18 Comments

So a little while back I was at the local grocery store, doing my weekly hunting and gathering as my Paleolithic ancestors once did, when I paused at the magazine section.

I used to love the magazine section of grocery stores. While my dad shopped, I, as a young Mikester, would hang out near all the books and magazines trying to pick which one I’d be able to talk my way into including with the evening’s haul. I was generally successful, as both my parents, like me, were voracious readers and we’d usually come home with a book or magazine(s) or both for them as well.

And the magazine sections used to be huge, or at least they appeared to be so to me in the 1970s/early 1980s. So many choices, so many weird and wonderful mags, and this was the era when you could still find comic book publications. Not so much the comic books, though there was a limited selection at some shops, but, like, the Marvel magazines were a little more common. That’s where I first spotted Pizzazz, for example, eventually getting a subscription (only for it to be cancelled shortly thereafter, with Amazing Spider-Man replacing the rest of the sub).

One quick memory I had specifically of the Marvel mags at the grocery store was when I spotted the Hulk mag on the shelf. I must have declared out loud to myself “hey, it’s Hulk” or something to that effect as an adult walking by, a really old guy, probably at least in his 40s, replied to be by cheerfully growling “HULK!” and, like, lifting up his arms, fists clenched, and stomped by Lou Ferrigno-style.

Anyway, I loved me the magazine sections way back when. The exotic allure of them has declined somewhat in my later years, as my employment has generally revolved around managing shops that were essentially all magazine racks. But that didn’t stop me on my recent visit to the grocery store, as I gazed upon the one section over which I used to obsess.

Much smaller now, of course, not just because my size relative to the rack has increased, but it’s just plain physically smaller. Not so many paperbacks, not so many magazines, not as much wild varieties of publications (wither CB Citizens’ Band? Wither UFO Report?).

But still present, in some form, is Mad. As a kid, Mad was an easy sell to take home as my dad read it when he was a kid, and realized a true and proper education included exposure to The Usual Gang of Idiots. Of course, today, the actual Mad magazine exists only in comic shops (like my own), but special publications are still offered to more general outlets. Like, say, grocery stores, where I spotted this item on the shelf:

Magazine-sized, squarebound, a mix of color and black and white interiors, featuring mostly the direct spoofs of sci-fi movies (like Star Wars, natch, and 2001: A Space Odyssey) along with other articles making fun of same. Out of nostalgia (both for Mad and for “buying something from the grocery store rack”) along with a desire to have some of these parodies available to me in a slightly more permanent format, I threw it into the cart. Because I’m an adult now and I can buy dumb things if I want to. Usually. If I have the money.

An interesting thing I noticed in this publication is something I hadn’t noticed in Mad before. Well, okay, it’s not like I’ve been keeping tabs on this or anything, but I noticed a little editorial rejiggering of one of the spoofs. A spoof I am very familiar with, having read it when it originally came out about a million times. Let us go back to the heady days of Cover Date January 1978 (probably more like around Fall ’77) and take a peek at Mad #196, parodying one of the biggest and most influential movies in Hollywood history:

Oh yeah, that’s the stuff. And the parody itself is beautifully illustrated by Harry North, Esq. (and surprisingly not by the usual Mad movie parodist Mort Drucker), with some solid jokery by stalwarts Larry Siegel and Dick De Bartolo). However, one gag in the original…let’s say it didn’t age well:

Yes, I censored it slightly, don’t yell at me, people inclined to yell about this sort of thing. Anyway, the gag is playing off the public perception of some that Threepio’s…prissiness reads as “gay,” and this panel is leaning into and exaggerating that idea, complete with The Gay Stance. The derogatory use of that specific word was probably seen as okay because 1) it could be read as poking fun at that perception, and 2) as Bully‘s pal John mentioned to me when he helped me track down that original panel, the term had been used in All in the Family and was probably thought to be fair game.

Still, the joke can come across as homophobic (and while Artoo, from inference, may be a dick in the movies, I think we all prefer to assume he’s not that much of a dick), and that particular use of that term has, as we’ve hopefully grown more aware of and sensitive to the needs of others, become not acceptable.

As such, here’s how the panel appears in the 2023 publication I’ve purchased:

Okay, the joke…hmmm, surface level, still not great. And we’re farther away from the “Threepio is obviously gay” idea that was once so widespread, piggybacking on the Star Wars phenomenon itself, and thus losing that context to inform the panel. And Artoo still comes across as a real jerk.

But That Word is gone, because in today’s culture just casually throwing it out there for a gag like this, is Not Cool, Dude. Not a great joke, particularly removed from the wider cultural context which, frankly, didn’t help it all that much in the first place, but at least now it won’t read as just straight-up offensive. It’ll just be normal levels of offensive.

Over the years, Mad hadn’t necessarily had the…greatest track record with jokes involving the LGBTQIA community early on, punching down more often than not. I believe, though, they’ve avoided reprinting much of that material. But the Star Wars parody is…well, it’s the original Star Wars parody from Mad, it can’t be easily buried. And sometimes things just don’t age well, so if they wanted to keep reprinting the Star Wars parody, well, someone made the decision to take out the slur.

Like I said, I don’t know if this was as widespread practice with Mad‘s reprints, or it they purposely avoided that content until they couldn’t.

About twenty years ago Mad put out a special that included all the Star Wars parodies at that point. I had a copy of that, but no longer, and I believe That Word was still intact. If anyone can confirm, or if they know of other examples of Mad fiddling with jokes from back then that don’t hold up now, please let me know.

thanks to Bully, the Little Shocked Bull, for production help. DON’T LOOK, BULLY

18 Responses to “Just trying to not make anyone mad here.”

  • Andrew Davison says:

    A lot of Mad humour hasn’t aged well — just have a look at some of the parodies from the 50’s and 60’s. And being English, a lot of the US references left me clueless as a kid.

    But, trying to patch up jokes for modern sensibilities is likely to be a never-ending process, and just another excuse for outrage. I’d prefer some kind of “trigger warning” at the start of the original unedited material. Plus, displaying this warning in a prominent position will encourage more kids to buy it.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    It’s like the Arthur Lee and Love song says: “You’re just a product of the times.” I think if the MAD editor(s) had wanted to really jazz it up–and make kids Google a word–they could have had R2D2 refer to C3P0 as an “epicine” robot…that seems fairly accurate without causing offense, no?

    Anyway, despite MAD being imperfect, it basically lead to Monty Python, SNL and at least 40 years worth of sarcastic and caustic sit coms…many of which contain ideas and jokes that are considered inappropriate or offensive now. Cultures evolve and change.

    I will say that on the cover of that MAD magazine no. 196, Alfred looks more like he’s wearing David Carradine’s helmet from the 1975 cult classic film “Death Race 2000!”

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    I vaguely remember a reprint in the ’80s (maybe around the time Jedi came out?) where the word was replaced with “gay,” but those memories are 40 years old, so I can’t be sure.

  • King of the Moon says:

    I was raised in such a stifling household, I was a Cracked reader because Mad was so scandalous

  • Sean Mageean says:

    @King of the Moon–that’s CRAZY…

  • LouReedRichards says:

    I see no problem with the change – like you and others have said, gotta change with the times. So many words we once used in a cavalier fashion have become verboten, and for good reasons. In my own life, and I imagine for a lot of others, the word you censored out was tossed around like it was nothing but a simple play ground put down. Only years later did the full offense of the word become clear.

    Not to mention, the people who are prone to get outraged by that kind of change will just move on to the next thing to be outraged by – doesn’t take much to get them going.

    I received this MAD special as part of birthday package a couple of years ago. I haven’t read MAD in a loooong time, not surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as funny to me as it was when I was 10 years old, but a joke here or there still really worked.

    I was mostly shocked by the $12.99 (!) price and seeing Jack Davis’ artwork diminished by the coloring. Davis is the first cartoonists I was able to identify as a kid, and still an absolute favorite of mine, but that color did his work no favors.

  • Sean Mageean says:


    I first became aware of the legendary Jack Davis as a result of the old Spalding “Street Ball” with Rick Barry and Dr. J. advertisements featured in late ’70s comic books.

  • Brian F says:

    A few days ago I got a bug up my butt to rewatch Rockford Files so I talked the wife into it & after a brief search away we went. Well, in the first episode (aka edited version of the initial TV movie from the mid-1970s) Rockford calls a bad guy by a gay slur as a way to initiate a fight with him.
    It took the fun right out of the room.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “parodying one of the biggest and most influential movies in Hollywood history”

    The Ten Commandments?

    Oh, I see, a different over-the-top unbelievable spectacle!

    I have maintained for YEARS that CP & R2 are a gay couple. Read between the lines, folks!

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    I am 100% on board with censoring slurs out of older material. I don’t mean those that are essential to the story (e.g. the f-slur being used in Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert), but the more casual, vernacular usage as seen above. Such usage takes me right out of the story, even if certain words were in greater usage at the time. I grew up in the ‘80s, the f-slur & r-slur were common insults/negative descriptors. That doesn’t mean we ever need to hear them again.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    This is off topic from MAD magazine, but since we just lost Paul Reubens the other day (may he Rest In Peace, was there ever a Pee Wee Herman comic,or did the character ever cameo in any comic book–or did MAD magazine ever do a satire on him?

  • Chris says:

    He was on the September 1987 cover of Mad, I assume there was a parody inside?

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    Completely off topic, but Mike, would you mind sharing/promoting this GFM? Looks like Bill Messner-Loebs could get evicted, just after getting out of the hospital. https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-writerartist-bill-messnerloebs?utm_campaign=p_lico+share-sheet-first-launch&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    what impresses me the most is that Warner/DC/Whomever actually still has editors on staff who would read and, you know, edit as needed. The personnel purges at DC have been very noticeable since they happened. I still have no idea what the organization concept is behind the DC monthly promo/order book.

  • LouReedRichards says:

    @ Sean

    Sorry for the late response – yeah, that ad is a classic. Seems like it’s on a million back covers from that time period. Between that, the Raid bugs, movie posters and MAD, Jack Davis really shaped a lot of my childhood memories.
    An Art Director at an agency I worked for had a framed Davis original of Lewis Grizzard eating a hamburger and holding a golf club. I walked by his cube one day and saw it hanging there. “Holy crap…that’s a Jack Davis!”, “yep” he said in that knowing way a person with good taste responds to another. He had to downsize a few years ago and gave it to me. Turned out it’s just a really nice print (had to use a loupe to tell though,) regardless, I still love it!
    God, the way he could draw feet…

  • Sean Mageean says:

    @LouReedRichards…cool Jack Davis story!
    The first non-reprint EC comic I ever bought was Two Fisted Tales no.30 –with a classic Jack Davis cover of a soldier with a lit cigarette, which draws the enemy’s fire.

    Here’s a cool interview Bob Costas did with William Gaines…


  • tomthedog says:

    I’m just seeing this now, so I’ll add very late: just a few years ago (maybe timed for the release of Episode IX? But I feel like it was more recently than that) I bought a MAD Star Wars special edition at the grocery store, and it had that word intact, along with a disclaimer at the beginning of the magazine (historical context, etc. etc.). I wish I could find that copy now. Maybe it was a reprint of an earlier edition, but I’m sure that disclaimer was new