Although Mad Magazine was widely available when I was a kid, it wasn’t a comic I liked particularly. It seemed to be made up mainly of movie parodies and as I never got to go to the cinema (I didn’t see Star Wars until it was on TV years later. Cry for poor old Paul) they didn’t work for me. Plus, I hated those square speech balloons. (What can I say? I was a child.) However, I have very fond memories of Al Jaffee after being given a copy of his Snappy Answers To Stupid Question collection one Christmas. I thought it was great. So great in fact that I’ve waited my whole life since for someone to ask me if I’ve been in a car accident after being in a car accident just so I can say, “No, I’ve just always wanted a convertible”.
Tall Tales is a collection of tall cartoons drawn by Jaffee during the late fifties and early sixties. They follow the standard newspaper comic strip shape except instead of being horizontal, as they normally are, they’re vertical. The effect is surprising because, although these are wordless single panelled gag cartoons, you find that they have a narrative of sorts that can read in a variety of ways. From top to bottom, bottom to top, from the middle outwards. Jaffee has great fun with the format he’s devised by supernaturally controlling the ways our eyes track his gags.
This is a collection of the best of the Tall Tales cartoons but I still remain impressed at Jaffee’s gag rate. I often daydream about producing a newspaper cartoon but I’m never sure that I could last longer than a week before repeating myself or drying up altogether. He kept this up for six years in Tall Tales and for decades if you include his Mad cartoons. What’s most impressive to me is his ability to distil a strong joke down to the most effective way of telling it. One extra or one less piece of information could render the gag useless.
Anyway, I bought Tall Tales from The Works, the book returns shop where customers run the risk of injury due to the precarious way that staff stack their stock. It retails for £7.99 but I got it for a super value £2.99. Amazingly, The Works still has copies for sale, now discounted further to £1.99, so if you want me to pick you up a copy then let me know. Or, I might buy them all and give them to friends and family this Christmas.