Spy vs. Spy
|Spy vs. Spy|
|Current status / schedule||Ongoing|
|Launch date||Mad magazine #60 (Jan. 1961)|
|Publisher(s)||EC Comics; Time Warner|
|Genre(s)||Political satire, Black comedy, Humor, Comedy|
Spy vs. Spy is a wordless comic strip published in Mad magazine. It features two agents involved in espionage activities who are completely identical except for the fact that one is dressed all in white and the other all in black. The pair are constantly at war with each other, using a variety of booby-traps to inflict harm on the other. The spies usually alternate between victory and defeat with each new strip. A metaphor for the Cold War, the strip was created by Cuban expatriate cartoonist Antonio Prohías, and debuted in Mad #60, dated January 1961. Spy vs. Spy is currently written and drawn by Peter Kuper.
Prohías was a prolific cartoonist in Cuba known for political satire. He fled to the United States on May 1, 1960, three days before Fidel Castro's government nationalized the last of the Cuban free press. Prohías sought work in his profession and travelled to the offices of Mad magazine in New York City on July 12, 1960. After a successful showing of his work and a prototype cartoon for Spy vs. Spy, Prohías was hired.
Prohías cryptically "signed" each strip on its first panel with a sequence of Morse code characters that spell "BY PROHIAS". In a 1983 interview with the Miami Herald, Prohías reflected on the success of Spy vs. Spy, stating, "The sweetest revenge has been to turn Fidel's accusation of me as a spy into a moneymaking venture." Prohías, however, was censored by Mad magazine publisher William Gaines on at least one occasion: the strip that eventually appeared in Mad magazine #84 (Jan. 1964) was altered, as the spies were depicted drinking and smoking (Gaines had a strong anti-smoking stance). Prohías completed a total of 241 Spy vs. Spy strips for Mad magazine, the last one appearing in issue #269 (March 1987), when he retired due to ill health.
Peter Kuper took over as writer and artist for the strip with Mad magazine #356 (April 1997). It has since been drawn in full-color.
Black Spy and White Spy — Wearing wide-brimmed hats and dressed in overcoats, both Spies have long pointed faces. They are identical except for one being entirely in white and one entirely in black. The Spies were modeled after El Hombre Siniestro ("The Sinister Man"), a character Prohías created in the Cuban magazine Bohemia in 1956. Like the Spies, he wore a wide-brimmed hat and overcoat and had a long pointed nose. His description from the Spy vs. Spy Complete Casebook says it best: "A dark and dastardly character, El Hombre Siniestro thought nothing of chopping the tails off of dogs, or even the legs off of little girls. . . [he] was born out of the national psychosis of the Cuban people." At the time right after Castro rose to power, there was a pronounced feeling of fatality and sinisterness in Cuba, and Prohías depicted this the El Hombre Siniestro strip. He can be easily compared to the Spies — although, instead of fighting against a set rival, he simply does horrible things to anyone he can find.
The cover copy of the The All New Mad Secret File on Spy vs. Spy provides early insight to the characters and Prohías' views on the Castro regime and the CIA (who were constantly attempting to oust Castro):
You are about to meet Black Spy and White Spy – the two MADdest spies in the whole world. Their antics are almost as funny as the CIA's. . . . When it comes to intrigue, these guys make it way outtrigue. They are the only two spies we know who haven't the sense to come in out of the cold. But they have a ball – mainly trying to outwit each other.
Grey Spy — She debuted in Mad magazine #73 (Sept. 1962) (the strip was temporarily renamed Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy). Grey Spy's appearances were sporadic, but she always triumphed by using the infatuations of Black Spy and White Spy to her advantage. Prohías explained, "the lady Spy represented neutrality. She would decide for White Spy or Black Spy, and she also added some balance and variety to the basic 'Spy vs. Spy' formula." Grey Spy's last appearance under Prohías was Mad magazine #99 (Dec. 1965); she did not appear again until Bob Clarke and Duck Edwing took over the strip.
Leaders — They are the barrel-chested, medal-decorated bosses of Black Spy and White Spy, who give the latter two tasks and punish them for their failures. The leaders were phased out when Peter Kuper took over writing and illustrating the strip.
- A Sunday strip series (39 in total) was released every week in 2002; 2014 in the MAD news, syndicated by Tribune Media Services and featuring Duck Edwing and Dave Manak returning as writer and artist respectively.
- A series of thirteen strips titled Spy vs. Spy Jr. was published in Mad Kids magazine from 2006–2009. It depicted the three Spies as children, playing harmless practical jokes on each other. It appeared in every Mad Kids issue.
- Four video games based on the strip have also been released (including one for the Nintendo Entertainment System).
- A "Spy vs. Spy" board game was released by Milton Bradley in 1986.
- Animated segments of Spy vs. Spy appeared in the unaired 1974 Mad Magazine Television Special, and in MADtv seasons 1-3 (1995-1999).
- In 2004, the characters were featured in television commercials for the soft drink Mountain Dew, also serving as they are previously used on MADtv.
- "Spy vs. Spy" was a skit in every episode of Cartoon Network's animated series Mad. It ran from September 6, 2010 – December 2, 2013 (103 short skits in 103 episodes), including themed skits depending on the time the episode first aired (i.e. a Christmas or Halloween theme). In the series' final episodes, the two characters and background of the skit were drawn in three dimensions instead of the classic comic book style. It served as their two previous decade cartoons.
- The All New Mad Secret File on Spy vs. Spy (Signet, 1965) — reprinted by Warner Books in 1971, and Watson-Guptill in 2009
- Spy vs. Spy Follow Up File (Signet, 1968) — reprinted by Warner Books in 1971, and Watson-Guptill in 2009
- The Third Mad Dossier of Spy vs. Spy (Warner Books, 1972)
- The Fourth Mad Declassified Papers on Spy vs. Spy (Warner Books, 1974) — reprinted by Watson-Guptill, 2009
- The Fifth Mad Report on Spy vs. Spy (Warner Books, 1978)
- Mad's Big Book of Spy vs. Spy Capers and Other Surprises (Warner Books, 1982)
- The Sixth Mad Case Book on Spy vs. Spy (Warner Books, 1988)
- Prohías' Spy vs. Spy: The Updated Files (Warner Books, 1989)
- Spy vs. Spy: The Updated Files #8 (Warner Books, 1993)
- Spy vs. Spy: The Complete Casebook (Watson-Guptill, 2001) — reprinted by DC Comics, 2011
- Spy vs. Spy: The Joke and Dagger Files (Watson-Guptill, 2007)
- Amazingly Stupid MAD (MAD Cartoon Network, 2013)
- Spy vs. Spy: Casebook of Craziness (MAD Cartoon Network, 2014)