Getting MAD

(This post isn’t about getting angry – it’s about getting in MAD Magazine for the first time.)

MAD was the seminal magazine of my childhood. And although I’d always wanted to be in MAD, I knew from a young age that my interest was in someday doing a comic strip, so MAD was always a distant dream.

Fast forward to me being an actual cartoonist and knowing MAD artist Tom Richmond. I’d asked Tom a few vague questions about getting into MAD, and he was nice enough to answer them, but it felt like it wasn’t “my thing.” (The MAD style of humor didn’t feel like something I could do well, like political cartoons. They just aren’t “my thing,” so I don’t do them.)

At the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Weekend (the Reuben is our Oscar) in 2005, I picked up a flyer about MAD starting a new section called “Strip Club.” And listed were some strip guys that I knew – Keith Knight, Rob Harrell, etc. I thought to myself, “Hmmm, I’m a strip guy…maybe this is my ticket in.”

I e-mailed the editor listed on the flyer and, since I was going to be in New York City in a few weeks, set up a meeting. I had a great time meeting Jon Bresman. He couldn’t have been sweeter, spending time with someone who hadn’t even submitted anything yet. I showed him some of my work, both Bo Nanas-related and non, and he was very encouraging. I left feeling that I could definitely do this.

Take a look at that last sentence. “I could definitely do this.” This could not be more unlike me. I just don’t have that kind of confidence. I actually thought I’d knock it out of the park with my first submission.

So, based on something Jon had commented on on my site, I created an on-going religious allegory strip.

Now look at that sentence. “An on-going religious allegory strip.” What was I thinking? I was obviously delusional…and yet I still thought they’d bite. To no one’s surprise but mine, Jon passed on it, but was still very encouraging. (I would post this infamous strip but I’ve actually got it on the back burner as a graphic novel idea.)

Over the next year I came up with some more strip ideas and some other pieces for the other sections of MAD…and Jon was encouraging every time. In other words, no sales. (I’ve found a number of these rejected pieces while digging in my files. Just the kind of embarrassing items I’ll start posting soon.)

I was going to NYC quite often and so I’d meet with Jon on each trip. But I was starting to feel like I was wasting his time.

In June 2006, I was in NYC for the Licensing Show with my friend (and fellow cartoonist) Chuck Gamble. I had set up another meeting with Jon and, as I was walking up to their building, I was thinking, “Oh, man. What are we going to talk about?” Then I remembered that I had sent him some ideas just before leaving home so I didn’t seem as much like a stalker. “Yeah, we can talk about those. He’ll say, ‘Good try’ and that’ll be that.”

I walked into Jon’s office and he said, “We’re buying two of these” and the inside of my head exploded. The rest of the visit was a blur, with me wearing a big, stupid grin the whole time.

Here’s the sketches for the two Me, Myself and My Puppet strips they took.

kovaleski_puppetcheck_sk

kovaleski_puppetshower_sk

As I was coming out of the building, I called my wife and excitedly told her that I was the newest member of “the usual gang of idiots.” She didn’t understand what the heck I was talking about. When I explained that that’s what the artists and writers are called in the masthead, she screamed with joy. (I think she had to pull over the car she was driving as well.) Then I called Chuck at our hotel and told him the exact same thing. He’s a geek. He knew exactly what I was talking about.

When I got back to the hotel I got a call from Jon. He said that there’s a wall in the hall of the MAD offices that the artists draw on when they visit. Had I noticed it? (Had I?! I had to stop myself from worshiping it and sacrificing a goat to it.) And would I like to add a drawing to it? (Would I?! And then I don’t remember much at all except for Chuck keeping me from swallowing my tongue.)

The funny thing is, because I had only done a couple of sketches of the guy and his puppet, I couldn’t really draw them that well and had to practice in the hotel room before scribbling on the wall at MAD a few days later.

(I’ve been meaning to write this piece for the blog since I started it. With MAD going to a quarterly publication schedule, I feel like I’m doing it a bit out of a newly-minted nostalgia for “the old days.” And “the old days” aren’t officially over until after issue #500 in a couple of months.)

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