Al Jaffee, The Greatest Comedy Artist Of All Time, Dead At 102

Al Jaffee, the creator of Mad Magazine's Fold-In cartoons, passed away at 102.

By Sean Thiessen | Updated

Al Jaffee, the award-winning cartoonist best known for his work on Mad Magazine, passed away at the age of 102. As reported by WSAZ, Jaffee died of multiple organ failure in New York, just three years after he retired at age 99. Jaffee’s contribution to comics is legendary.

Al Jaffee was best known at Mad for creating the Fold-In, a cartoon that, after the page was folded, became a clever new image. His first effort at the gag was in 1964 when he poked fun at actress Elizabeth Taylor for leaving her husband, Eddie Fisher, for actor Richard Burton. 

The page starts as a drawing of a man and woman together on one side, with a handsome young man held back by police on the other. When the page is folded, the woman and the handsome man are kissing.

The Fold-In was meant to be a one-time gag, but it was so well-received that Al Jaffee was commissioned to do more. Jaffee came back with a more clever, biting piece that saw 1964 presidential candidates Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater delivering opposing messages. When the page was folded in, it revealed an image of Richard Nixon’s head.

Al Jaffee went on to say that the Nixon Fold-In set the standard for how clever the gag needed to be going forward. He went on to create so many that the Fold-Ins were collected in a four-volume box set that was released in 2011.

Before Al Jaffee started at Mad Magazine, he had a troubled childhood. His mother longed to live in Lithuania, while his father opted to stay in America. Torn between the two countries took a toll on the young Jaffee as in Lithuania, resources were scarce, but bullies were plentiful. Comic strips sent by his father helped Jaffee learn to read and write, and art became his coping mechanism.

He later settled with his father in New York as a teenager and joined the High School of Music and Art. There, Jaffee attended school with future Mad co-workers Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman. Before Al Jaffee started at Mad Magazine in the mid-1950s, he worked as an artist for Timely Comics, which later became Marvel Comics.

The success of Mad Magazine wavered over the years, but the wit and creative spark of Al Jaffee endured through the decades. His work has inspired countless artists and comedians, including Stephen Colbert, who commemorated Jaffee’s 85th birthday on The Colbert Report with a Fold-In-style cake.

Al Jaffee also inspired comedian Jon Stewart. When Stewart and his Daily Show team created America (The Book), they commissioned a Fold-In from Jaffee. When the artist asked where he ought to send the finished product, Stewart’s team requested Jaffee deliver the cartoon in person because everyone in the office wanted to meet him.

In 2013, Al Jaffee was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame during San Diego Comic-Con. Over the course of more than half a century, Jaffee cemented himself as one of the most prolific and influential cartoonists in history. His work at Mad Magazine made a splash that continues to ripple through generations of artists ready to critique the culture through comedy.