Al Feldstein by Michael Netzer
October 24, 1925|
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||April 29, 2014
near Livingston, Montana
|Area(s)||Writer, Artist, Editor|
Albert Bernard "Al" Feldstein (October 24, 1925 – April 29, 2014) was an American writer, editor, and artist, best known for his work at EC Comics and, from 1956 to 1985, as the editor of the satirical magazine Mad. After retiring from Mad, Feldstein concentrated on American paintings of Western wildlife.
Early life and career
Al Feldstein was born October 24, 1925, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Max, who made dental molds, and Beatrice Feldstein. After winning an award in the 1939 New York World's Fair poster contest, he decided on a career in the art field and studied at the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. While in high school, he was hired by Jerry Iger to work in the S. M. Iger Studio, a packager of comic-book stories supplying outsourced content to publishers entering the new medium. He recalled,
...running errands, erasing pages and doing general gofer work after school for three dollars a week (later raised to five...then twelve over the Summer, full time!). ... It was there (at the Iger Studio) that I began to learn to do comic-book art — first, by inking backgrounds, then penciling and inking backgrounds, then inking figures penciled by others,then penciling and inking figures, and finally doing whole pages from beginning to end.
After graduating from high school he attended the Art Students League. There he took night classes while attending Brooklyn College during the day. In July 1943, at age 17, he enlisted in the US Air Force as an aviation cadet and began his basic training in Blytheville, Arkansas. His cadet class was held in reserve, and he was assigned to Special Services, creating signs and service club murals, decorating planes and flight jackets, drawing comic strips for field newspapers and painting squadron insignias for orderly rooms.
After his discharge, Feldstein freelanced art for comic books, including Fox Comics. Feldstein recalled that Bob Farrell, whom he considered a "wheeler-dealer" driving a convertible Cadillac, introduced him to Victor Fox in return for a commission from all payments Fox made to him. Feldstein rewrote Farrell's scripts for Fox and produced the art for the stories. He described Fox as the "typical exploiting comic book publisher of his day, grinding out shameless imitations of successful titles and trends" and mistreating his writers and artists.
Feldstein wrote, drew and packaged the complete Junior and Sunny books for Fox, and produced a comic book adaptation of Meet Corliss Archer. Warned by his letterer Jim Wroten to be cautious about payments from Victor Fox, who'd "gotten himself into financial trouble", Feldstein approached Bill Gaines, who'd just taken over as EC Comics publisher following his father's death in a speedboat crash. Feldstein's initial EC assignment was drawing a teenage book, the beginning of a long working relationship with Gaines.
Arriving at EC in 1948, Feldstein began as an artist, but he soon combined art with writing, eventually editing most of the EC titles. Although he originally wrote and illustrated approximately one story per comic, in addition to doing many covers, Feldstein finally focused on editing and writing, reserving his artwork primarily for covers. From late 1950 through 1953, he edited and wrote stories for seven EC titles.
As EC's editor, Feldstein created a literate line, balancing his genre tales with potent graphic stories probing the underbelly of American life. In creating stories around such topics as racial prejudice, rape, domestic violence, police brutality, drug addiction and child abuse, he succeeded in addressing problems and issues which the 1950s radio, motion picture and television industries were too timid to dramatize.
While developing a stable of contributing writers that included Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, Daniel Keyes, Jack Oleck and Carl Wessler, he published the first work of Harlan Ellison. EC employed the comics industry's finest artists and published promotional copy to make readers aware of their staff. Feldstein encouraged the EC illustrators to maintain their personal art styles, and this emphasis on individuality gave the EC line a unique appearance. Distinctive front cover designs framing those recognizable art styles made Feldstein's titles easy to spot on crowded newsstands.
Those comic books, known as EC's New Trend group, included Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories, Crime SuspenStories, Panic and Piracy. After the New Trend titles folded in 1955, Feldstein edited EC's short-lived New Direction line, followed by EC's Picto-Fiction magazines.
After industry and government pressures forced Gaines to shut down most of his EC titles, Feldstein was briefly separated from the company. But when Harvey Kurtzman left Mad in 1956, Gaines turned to his former editor. Feldstein spent the next 29 years at the helm of what became one of the nation's leading and most influential magazines. It is unclear what the circulation of the magazine was when Feldstein took over but it is estimated to be between 325,000 to 750,000. By the 1960s, it had increased to over a million, and by the 1970s, it had doubled to two million. Circulation multiplied more than eight times during Feldstein's tenure, peaking at 2,850,000 in 1974, although it declined to three quarters of that figure by the end of his time as editor.
Feldstein has been credited with giving the magazine the personality of a "smart-alecky, sniggering and indisputably clever spitball-shooter."
Many new cartoonists and writers surfaced during the early years of Feldstein's editorship. This process leveled off in the 1960s as the magazine came to rely on a steady group of contributors. Feldstein's first issue as editor (#29) was also the first issue to display the twisted work of cartoonist Don Martin. A few months later, he hired Mort Drucker, who quickly established himself as their premier caricaturist on movie satires with Angelo Torres drawing the TV parodies. By 1961, with the introduction of Antonio Prohías and Dave Berg, he had fully established the format that kept the magazine a commercial success for decades.
After he retired from Mad in 1984, Feldstein began painting again after his son, Mark Feldstein, gave him his first oil paint set since pre-Mad. He left Connecticut and relocated in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he spent three years painting the Teton Range and its wildlife. Two of his paintings from that period placed in the Top 100 of Arts for the Parks, a competition created in 1986 by the National Park Academy of the Arts.
Feldstein moved in 1992 to Paradise Valley, Montana, near Livingston, finding new approaches to depict the Western way of life in his acrylic paintings. In 1999, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts degree by Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, and that year again ranked in the Top 100 of the Arts for the Parks' Competition. He is represented by numerous Northwest galleries, and he continued to create his Western, wildlife and landscape paintings at his 270 acre (1.1 km²) ranch south of Livingston and north of Yellowstone National Park.
He was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2003.
- VanHollebeke, Jim (2002) . "Interview with Al Feldstein". Canovanograms. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- Dlugos, Jenn (2003). "Al Feldstein Interview". Classic-Horror.com. Retrieved January 10, 2012.
- Weber, Bruce (1 May 2014). "Al Feldstein, the Soul of Mad Magazine, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
- Brown, Matthew (30 April 2014). "Al Feldstein, Who Headed Mad Magazine, Dies". Associated Press. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
- Berk, Jon (2004). "The Weird Wonder(ous) World of Victor Fox's Fantastic Mystery Men". Comicartville.com. Retrieved January 10, 2012.
- Wertham, Fredric (2008). "Who was Victor S. Fox?". From the Desk of Dr. Wertham. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- Hajdu, David (2008). The Ten-Cent Plague. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-312-42823-5. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- "Al Feldstein Biography". Gallery Artists. House of Fine Art, Montana. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- Morton, Lisa: HWA publicity (19 March 2011). "Datlow, Feldstein Win Lifetime Horror Award" (PDF). Press release. Horror Writers Association. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- Official website
- Al Feldstein at the Internet Movie Database
- Dr. Gangrene: Interview with Al Feldstein (April 3, 2009)
- Who's Who of American Comic Books: 1928-1999
- Horror Writers Association: Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award
- Mark Feldstein
- "How I Was Stalked by George Carlin" by Mark Feldstein