The Mad Fold-In is a feature found on the inside back cover of virtually every Mad magazine since 1964. Written and drawn by Al Jaffee, the Fold-In is one of the most well-known aspects of the magazine. The feature was conceived in response to centerfolds in popular magazines, particularly Playboy.
Explaining his original inspiration, Jaffee said:
- "Playboy had a foldout of a beautiful woman in each issue, and Life Magazine had these large, striking foldouts in which they'd show how the earth began or the solar system or something on that order -- some massive panorama. Many magazines were hopping on the bandwagon, offering similar full-color spreads to their readers. I noticed this and thought, what's a good satirical comment on the trend? Then I figured, why not reverse it? If other magazines are doing these big, full-color foldouts, well, cheap old Mad should go completely the opposite way and do an ultra-modest black-and-white Fold-In!"
In 2011, Jaffee reflected, "The thing that I got a kick out of was... Jeopardy! showed a fold-in and the contestants all came up with the word they were looking for, which was “fold-in.” So I realized, I created an English language word."
A Mad Fold-In consists of a single drawing, with a paragraph of text underneath, and a panel across the top with a question. Each Fold-In also features instructions on how to manipulate the Fold-In, as well as a picture illustrating the procedure. Under the instructions are two arrows labeled "A" and "B". When the paper is folded so that points "A" and "B" are touching, the remaining unobscured text underneath the picture becomes the answer to the question, and the picture itself changes into a fresh image reflecting the new text, as the middle 50% of the drawing vanishes.
For example, a 1969 Fold-In asking, "What is the one thing protest marches have greatly improved?" depicted a stream of placard-carrying marchers, but folded into the image of the underside of a worn-out sole and the answer, "SHOE SALES." A drawing of a fearsome panther stalking a variety of jungle animals accompanying the question "What predatory creature most threatens the survival of endangered species?" contracted to the image of a lavishly swaddled woman and the solution "FUR LOVERS." (In the larger drawing, the two halves of her fur coat had been the foliage of trees.) Following the 1991 Tailhook scandal, a Navy war room became a female officer being sexually molested by a gauntlet of her comrades.
The Far Side creator Gary Larson described his experience with the Fold-In: "The dilemma was always this: Very slowly and carefully fold the back cover... without creasing the page and quickly look at the joke. Jaffee's artistry before the folding was so amazing that I suspect I was not alone in not wanting to deface it in any way."
Mad publisher Bill Gaines joked that he was a fan of the Fold-In because he knew that serious collectors valued pristine, unfolded copies, and would therefore be inspired to purchase two copies of each issue-- one to fold, and another to preserve intact.
In 1972, Jaffee received a Special Features Reuben Award for his Fold-Ins. A retrospective collection of his Fold-Ins, "Fold This Book!", was published in 1997. A four-volume hardcover set, The Mad Fold-In Collection: 1964-2010, was released in September 2011.
Typically, a Fold-In uses visual trickery to match the ostensible topic. Jaffee says, "I could do ten of these a day if the big picture didn't have any connection with the answer. The tricky part is having a connection. In order for the copy to read correctly after it's folded, there has to be a marriage of some sort." Jaffee occasionally adds an extra layer of deception. His Fold-In design for issue #495, for a question about "packaging garbage," prominently showed two separate halves of the Pixar character Wall-E within a larger drawing of a junkyard. But both Wall-E halves were on the wrong side of the fold, and thus disappeared into the real picture, which was about the TMZ gossip website.
Jaffee only uses a computer for typographic maneuvers, to make certain fold-in tricks easier to design. Otherwise, all of his work is done by hand. "I'm working on a hard, flat board... I cannot fold it. That's why my planning has to be so correct." In 2008, Jaffee told the Cape Cod Times, "I never see the finished painting folded until it's printed in the magazine. I guess I have that kind of visual mind where I can see the two sides without actually putting them together." Contrasting current art techniques and Jaffee's approach, MAD's art director, Sam Viviano, said, "I think part of the brilliance of the fold-in is lost on the younger generations who are so used to Photoshop and being able to do stuff like that on a computer."
Jaffee's first three Fold-Ins featured gags about the Elizabeth Taylor-Eddie Fisher-Richard Burton love triangle, Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller's battle for the 1964 Republican Presidential nomination, and The Beatles' departure back to England. Fold-In topics in the years 2008 and 2009 have included Guitar Hero, teen pregnancy, and Jay Leno temporarily leaving The Tonight Show. "Before anyone knew it," wrote comics historian Christopher Irving, "the hundreds of Fold-Ins created a timeline of American history, political satire, and entertainment."
In 2010, Jaffee described the earliest Fold-Ins:
- "I thought to myself... now it's folded in and I've got to have something on the left side here, and something right side here. And the only thing that popped into my head was that Elizabeth Taylor had just dumped Eddie Fisher and was carrying on with Richard Burton. So I had Elizabeth Taylor kissing Richard Burton, and a cop is holding the crowd back — and just for the fun of it I put Eddie Fisher being trampled by the crowd. What a cruel thing to do! And then, when you fold it in, she's moving on from Richard Burton and kissing the next guy in the crowd. It's so simplistic and silly and juvenile! And anyone could have done that!
- "I showed it to Al Feldstein, and the first thing I said was, 'Al, I've got this crazy idea, and you're not going to buy it, because it mutilates the magazine.' So I put it in front of him, and the thing about Al was, he liked things that intrigued him. The mechanics of it intrigued him. He said, 'You mean, you fold it, like this . . . ? And then . . . ?' He folded it, he unfolded it, he folded it, and then he said, 'I like this!' But I said, 'Al, it mutilates the magazine.' And he said, 'Well, I'll have to check it with Bill.' He takes it, runs it to Bill's office, and he was there a little while, and he comes back and he says, 'We're going to do it! You know what Bill said? Bill said, "So they mutilate the magazine, and then they'll buy another one to save!"'
- "Four or five weeks later, Al comes over to me and says, 'When are you going to do the next fold-in?' And I said, 'I don't have another fold-in. That was it!' So he said, 'Come on, you can come up with something else.' I wracked my brain, and the only thing I could come up with was Nixon [whose face was hidden within curtain folds]. That one really set the tone for what the cleverness of the fold-ins has to be. It couldn't just be bringing someone from the left to kiss someone on the right."
From its debut in 1964, the Fold-In has rarely been absent from Mad's pages. Since issue #86, six issues (#121, #190, #212, #219, #353 and #360) did not feature Fold-Ins, although Jaffee still wrote and drew four of those issues' back covers. (#219 featured a see-through effect which combined elements from the back cover and inside back cover could be held up to a light source to reveal the visual punchline.) The third Fold-In, in issue #88, had an unusual diagonally-folded layout which was never repeated. The first 33 Fold-Ins were printed in black-and-white; starting with Mad #119 (June 1968), all Fold-Ins have been presented in color.
On occasion, the feature has been moved from its usual spot. In the annual "20 Worst of the Year" issue, the Fold-In is used as one of the 20 items, and appears as an internal page of the magazine. Issue #320 (July 1993) featured a Fold-in as the front cover.
Outside cultural references
On January 24, 2010, the New York Times published a specially-constructed "Fold-In" crossword. The fully completed puzzle could be folded in the Jaffee style to reveal six further solutions, each of which was something that could itself be folded (e.g. LAWN CHAIR, NEWSPAPER, POKER HAND and ORIGAMI). Also mimicking Mad's design, the top and bottom rows of the crossword both featured an "A" and a "B" in their horizontal grids, which needed to be folded together to touch one another to produce the desired result.
Beck's 2005 video for "Girl" features a number of fold-ins, ranging from paper fold-ins to elaborate collapsible sets, including a foldable sidewalk and a foldable pharmacy. One of the video's Fold-Ins reveals the name "Al Jaffee".
In 2006, Stephen Colbert saluted Jaffee's 85th birthday on an episode of The Colbert Report with a large "fold-in" birthday cake, bearing the message "AL, YOU HAVE REPEATEDLY SHOWN ARTISTRY & CARE OF GREAT CREDIT TO YOUR FIELD." But after the center slice was removed, the remainder spelled out the message "AL, YOU ARE OLD."
That was not Jaffee's first interaction with the comedian. In 2010, he recalled:
- "I got a call from The Daily Show — they asked me if I would contribute a fold-in to their book, America. I said I'd be happy to do it. When I was done, I called up the producer who'd contacted me, and I said, 'I've finished the fold-in, where shall I send it?' And he said — and this was a great compliment — 'Oh, please Mr. Jaffee, could you deliver it in person? The whole crew wants to meet you.' And that's where I met Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and all the writers, and they told me it was our work in Mad that inspired them. Not me, particularly, but us, generally. They're your age, and they said, 'Without you guys, we wouldn't be here.' And I felt really good about that."
- Dick DeBartolo, Daily Giz Wiz, episode 473 http://twit.tv/dgw473
- Fold This Book!, Jaffee, Al, Warner Books, 1997
- Neil Genzlinger, "A Veteran Mad Man Remains in the Fold," New York Times, "Arts and Leisure," 25, March 30, 2008
- Fold This Book!, Jaffee, Al, Warner Books, 1997
- Jacobs, Frank (2000). Mad Cover to Cover. Watson-Guptill Productions. p. 175. ISBN 0-8230-1684-6.
- 24, Jan. (January 23, 2010). "Abridged Edition". The New York Times.
- Fold-Ins, Past and Present New York Times site displaying some of Jaffee's Mad Fold-Ins
- More Jaffee Fold-Ins