Oral history interview with Al Jaffee, 2016


Jaffee, Al (Interviewee)
Snider, Suzanne (Interviewer)
Oral history interview with Al Jaffee, 2016
In the first session of this interview, Al Jaffee discusses his childhood years spent in Savannah, Georgia; Zarasai, Lithuania; and New York City. He describes Lithuania in detail, characterizing those years as ones of scarcity but invention and adventure for him and his brother Harry. Jaffee speculates about his parents’ decisions during his childhood and offers his perceptions of: his mother’s fa ith and practice of Orthodox Judaism; his father’s pursuit of the American Dream; and how his years in Lithuania contributed to his informal education and creative development. Jaffee recalls the Sunday comics of his childhood, citing: The Katzenjammer Kids, Etta Kett, Bringing Up Father and Flash Gordon. He touches on his time at the High School of Music and Art in New York City; his thoughts on humor; how the comic book industry emerged; and how technology and the decline of print media has changed the comics. In the second session, Jaffee discusses his career in detail, citing projects such as: Al Jaffee’s Mad Inventions, comic strip Patsy Walker, “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”, and the MAD magazine Fold-In. He chronicles his work at Timely Comics with Stan Lee, his transition to freelance work, and how he became involved with MAD magazine. He recounts his father’s journey to Lithuania to rescue Jaffee and his three brothers in 1933. Jaffee recalls the anti-semitism of New York City in the 1940s and why many young Jewish professionals changed names. He references his professional relationships and collaborations with Stan Lee, Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, and Al Feldstein and discusses family life. In the third session, Jaffee discusses his relationship to Provincetown where he and his wife Joyce have spent summers since the 1970s. He also discusses his relationship to Judaism and religion more generally. Jaffee reflects on his father's sacrifice and his daily life while supporting three sons in New York as a substitute mailman and Jaffee revisits the sons' return from Lithuania to the United States. Jeffee also talks about suburban life, including building a boat with his son and his choice to move to the suburbs when he could not find an apartment in the Bronx. Jaffee describes the process of collaborating with his biographer on AL JAFFEE'S MAD LIFE. Finally, he discusses his art activities at the time of the interview, including illustrations on exhibit in Zarasai and the challenges of representing Donald Trump
Collection Name
Individual interviews oral history collection
Cartoonists; Comic books, strips, etc.--United States; American wit and humor, Pictorial; Zarasai (Lithuania); Provincetown (Mass.); Jaffee, Al; Kurtzman, Harvey; Lee, Stan, 1922-; Mad; Timely Comics; Hellcat (Fictitious character); High School of Music and Art (New York, N.Y.)
oral histories
Physical Description
153 pages; 14 WAV files
Note (Biographical)
Al Jaffee (1921-) is an American cartoonist, best known for his work for MAD magazine. Born in Savannah, Georgia, Jaffee spent much of his youth in Zarasai, Lithuania, returning to the United States in 1933. Jaffee graduated from the High School of Mu sic and Art in New York and served in the military during World War II. In the 1940s, he began working for Marvel-precursor Timely Comics. In 1955, he began work with MAD, an association that would continue for over six decades
Interviewed by Suzanne Snider on March 18, March 21, and December 21, 2016
Note (Provenance)
Al Jaffee, Gift, 2016
Library Location
Columbia Center for Oral History, Columbia University
Browse Location’s Digital Content
Catalog Record
Also In
Oral History Archives at Columbia
Persistent URL
Related URLs
Available digital content for this interview.