Mad Magazine's Al Jaffee

Is Al Jaffee, creator of Mad magazine's "Fold-In" and "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions," one of America's most beloved cartoonists? No, he's actually one of America's most beloved car tuner-uppers. No, he's actually one of America's most beloved guys who writes and draws funny pictures. No, you're confusing him with that Middle Eastern cartoonist, Al-Jaffee.

Danny Fingeroth and Al JaffeeAh, my. He has only himself to blame. Until his "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" started its decades-long run in Mad and in eight original paperbacks, with Jaffee winning a National Cartoonists Society award for the feature in 1975, sarcasm may as well have never been invented. And inevitably, these and other such accomplishments have taken the 88-year-old humorist down the sordid road of talks, book signings and lectures at such seedy venues as Columbia University's Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies. There, at the college's Schermerhorn Hall on Dec. 9, 2009, he appeared with host/moderator Danny Fingeroth – himself an author, comics historian, comic-book writer and a former editor of Marvel Comics' Spider-Man line – in an interview and Q&A to coincide with the release of Tall Tales (Abrams Books), a collection of 120 examples of Jaffee's 1957-1963, vertically printed comic strip syndicated out of the New York Herald Tribune.

Jaffee was born March 13, 1921, and after a peripatetic childhood wound up in the first graduating class of New York City's High School of Music & Art. Breaking into comic books in the early 1940s, he soon found himself working under editor Stan Lee at Timely Comics and Atlas Comics, the '40s and '50s precursors, respectively, of Marvel Comics. There he created the funny-animal feature "Ziggy Pig," which he soon paired with his "Silly Seal" to form the Abbott & Costello of anthropomorphic duos. Leafing through the Summer 1946 issue of All Surprise Comics one audience-member has brought, he supplies a little-known bit of comics history: "See that 'SL-166'?" he notes of a tiny inventory number attached to the first panel of a "Silly and Ziggy" story he hadn't done himself. "That means Stan Lee wrote it" during a time when creator credits weren't routinely given in comics. (The respected comics historian Michael J. Vassallo, without the benefit of having been at Timely, says the SL prefix appears in the inventory number of some of Timely's "Hey Look" one-pagers that were written and drawn by future legend Harvey Kurtzman. But the SL prefix appears on only 15 of Kurtzman's 130 pieces for Timely, and editor-in-chief Lee would have had the prerogative, if he had chosen, to write some material for freelancer Kurtzman to illustrate.)  

Jaffee debuted in the satirical Mad in 1955, soon after it had transitioned from color comic book to black-and-white magazine. When founding editor Kurtzman left to start-up the short-lived humor glossy Trump, Jaffee went with him. After a second, similar venture, Humbug, failed, Jaffee again approached Mad, where eventually, in addition to his many other contributions, he created the Fold-In in 1964. That venerable feature of the inside back cover continues to appear to this day.

Jaffee's connection to the late Kurtzman also continues to this day: At the Columbia event, Charles Kochman, executive editor of the Abrams imprint Abrams ComicArts, presented Jaffee with comicdom's Harvey Awards. Jaffee had been unable to attend the October ceremony, in which he was honored in absentia as 2009's Best Cartoonist, and was also bestowed a Special Award for Humor in Comics.

Pretty snappy, that. No question.

* * *

Danny Fingeroth: You were born in 1921 and raised in Savannah, Ga., Lithuania, and The Bronx. How'd you end up spending the first two years of your life in Savannah?

Al Jaffee: Well, it started by being born there. (audience laughs) I only spent six years there when my mother became nostalgic for the small-town Europe where she grew up and she decided to take us – me and my three younger brothers – on a trip to visit her family. I think it was supposed to be a short visit but it turned out to be something like six years. So I became a reverse immigrant when I came back to America, and that's how I inflicted myself on the rest of you.

You spend six years in Lithuania. What did you do there?

Well, it was an education in its own right. It was a very, very crowded village, and I just learned all the things you learn in a small town: how to make things, how to fish, how to make your own fishing pole and your own fishing line. It was really an exciting way of life, but I yearned to come back to America. Savannah was my home from the time I was born until I was six, and I really loved Savannah. I did the best I could in Lithuania, but in 1933, when Hitler became chancellor of Germany, my father came and sort of forcibly took most of us back; my mother did not come back.

How'd you end up coming to the Bronx instead of back to Georgia?

My father was a manager of a department store in Savannah, but he lost his job because of the family problems he was having; he was preoccupied with rescuing [the remaining family] from Europe. So the only thing he could do was come back to New York, where he had once worked in the Post Office, and he managed to get a job in the Post Office.

Did you have trouble catching up in school?

I did. I was 12 years old when I returned and I was put in the third grade. …After six years in Europe and with no one speaking English except my family I started to pick up local [Lithuanian-Jewish] accents. I tried to emulate the children of the Bronx but I don't know how successful I was. The only way I could integrate myself into their good graces was by drawing pictures on the sidewalk with chalk – Mickey Mouse and Little Orphan Annie and stuff like that. That did save me, being able to draw, because the bullies stopped being bullies when they started to admire what I was doing.

Al Jaffee and his 2009 Harvey AwardsWere you at school with Will Elder at that point?

Yeah; when I got into middle school, I met him there. … The two of us, we were brought up into an art class and we were told to draw something, and … we each drew a picture …  and then they informed us that Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had created a new High School of Music & Art, and that we were chosen because of this slipshod contest that we were involved in. (audience laughs) But it was a turning point. We were sent down to the principal's office – we were usually there for other reasons (audience laughs) – I guess we thought it had some connection to what we had just gone through with the drawing and everything, but I still had no idea. And Willie turned to me with a thick Bronx accent and said, "I tink dere gonna send us to AHT school." (audience laughs). And sure enough he guessed right. And they told us about the mayor's new school and it was really a turning point in our lives, because our other choices were academic, at which we were absolutely total failures, or industrial, which we didn't care about, or a trade school…. These things were so unappealing to us that when the principal said it was an art school we were just blown away.

You went to Music & Art with a bunch of other [future EC and Mad artists].

Harvey Kurtzman was there. Al Feldstein, who later replaced Harvey Kurtzman as editor of Mad. John Severin and a lot of younger ones. Because I was in the first class I was a senior, but there were lots of freshman and juniors whom I didn't get to know who later went on to become very well known in the comic book field and other fine arts.

Did you know the other guys in high school as well? Did you know Kurtzman there?

Yes, I knew him. He was a freshman when I was a senior, so I knew him a little bit, mainly because people pointed him out to me … because of the work this kid was doing. And he was brilliant.

After high school you went to work for Will Eisner, who created The Spirit.

I briefly worked for Eisner. Most of us didn't know what to do with ourselves, because getting into an advertising agency as an artist was very difficult. For one thing, there was a certain amount of prejudice; people with Jewish names or African Americans would have difficulty getting into lily-white ad agencies. And there were certain class distinctions as well. So most of us gave up trying for that. Some of it had to do with the fact that we weren't good enough. But then came the comic book industry which was created to a large extent by Jews, and the feeling was that there wouldn't be any anti-Semitic problems, so that was an opening for many. Not having a lot of original ideas I decided to do Inferior Man, which was a real rip-off of Superman. So I took Inferior Man to Will Eisner and expected him to kick me out of there, but he said, "I think this is a very funny idea," and he hired me to do it as a filler in his comic books; a one- or two-page filler, which I did for a while. And then I went on to glory. (audience laughs) I went on to be out of work I think.

Stan Lee gave you work.

AJ: Yes, Stan Lee was my big break. I took these few things that I had done for Will Eisner up to Stan Lee; someone tipped me off that he had replaced [Joe] Simon and [Jack] Kirby. Stan Lee was a year younger than I was – I was about 19 and he was 18 – and I showed him Inferior Man and he pulled out a script and threw it at me and said, "If you can do this, I'll give you more work," and it was a feature title 'Squat Car Squad', and it was about two bumbling policeman. So I did it and then he said, "Alright, you did a funny job, now start writing scripts and illustrating them." And he never even edited the stuff; I just brought it in and it got published. And we had a very good relationship. (audience laughs)

Then you did "Ziggy Pig & Silly Seal."

The thing that an editor likes more then anything else is for people to take away problems. So if he could say to me, "Write this feature and draw it," and not have to edit it, that was one comic feature that he didn't have a problem with. So he figured he could get another one. He said, "Why don't you create an animal strip?" So I tried to think of an animal that no one had used, and Silly Seal was the one I came up with; no one was doing a seal. Of course the whole thing was ridiculous, because all the characters were fighting the Nazis, and the notion of a seal fighting the Nazis (audience laughs), there was something ludicrous about it. There was a rumor that submarines were in our waters so Silly Seal made a boat out of ice with an ice cannon that shoots snowballs. I mean, how can you live with yourself? (audience laughs) But for some reason it not only caught on …  [but Stan] then said, "Create another one," which was Ziggy Pig and the whole thing was getting crazy. But it came time for me to go into the service, and I noticed that once I was in the Air Force the PX was flooded with comic books. Apparently, there weren't that many soldiers who had gone through college and who were that literate, and … when I saw how they were churning out Silly Seal and Ziggy Pig by the millions, I felt somewhat cheated because I was having to learn to fly an airplane while these guys were making all that money. Even after I returned from service they were still publishing these creatures.

I enjoyed doing [Timely's] "Super Rabbit." I did not create "Super Rabbit"; Stan gave it to me and I enjoyed doing it because I had free rein to write stories with more realistic plots where Super Rabbit had problems that ordinary people have, such as his uniform didn't come back from the cleaners in time to fight crime. Stan Lee did a lot of that stuff later on, with superheroes.

And you also did [Timely/Atlas' teen-humor franchise] "Patsy Walker."

"Patsy Walker" was the yoke around my neck. Y'know, I enjoyed writing "Patsy Walker" but writing for  teenage girls just wasn't my métier. I did it for about five years and it was pretty popular.

Then you got involved with publisher William Gaines and the Mad crew. How did you end up going to Mad?

Kurtzman tried to recruit me to work on Mad when he first started Mad, but despite the fact that "Patsy Walker" wasn't really the kind of work I would prefer to do, I was making pretty good money at it. I did two comic books a month, writing and drawing, and it paid pretty good. But I really envied Kurtzman and my old friend Willie Elder and all the guys who were working for Mad because that stuff would have been more comfortable for me. However, I got into a little contretemps with Stan Lee and we kind of parted ways. Nothing serious; I think we had both reached a point where it was time to change. I called Harvey up and said, "Harvey, I quit ‘Patsy Walker' I'm coming to work for you," and he said, "I just quit Mad.' And that's how he informed me he was going to work for [Hugh] Hefner, and produce Trump which lasted only two issues. And then we did Humbug.

Why did Trump only last two issues?

Hefner was an admirer of Kurtzman's Mad, the comic books, and he kept after Harvey and said, "If you ever want to do a real classy magazine like ‘Mad' but with full-color and all the production, just let me know." So Harvey got into a bit of a conflict with Bill Gaines, the details of which I'm not that familiar with, except that I think Harvey wanted more money and he wanted to operate the magazine, and either Bill didn't want to pay more money or he was satisfied with the magazine he had, and so Harvey I guess, having a commitment from Hefner in his pocket, he decided to leave. But Hefner had to discontinue Trump because the magazine business went into a tailspin at that time. A number of big American magazines like Colliers and a few were  in very big trouble and the banks aren't advancing money. Of course Hefner was working with nothing but bank money; he would put all the profit he made from Playboy right back into the magazine to make it even better, so he was overextended. The banks called in his loans, so Trump fell by the wayside and we were out of work. That's when Harvey talked us into investing our own money into Humbug and we went broke. And this is a success story. (audience laughs)

You were never out of work.

I was never out of work but I was out of income.

How'd you end up back at Humbug?

When Humbug folded, and with having borrowed on my life insurance policy and every penny I had in the bank to put into Humbug and we worked on 11 issues without a single penny of payment, so all of us – a couple of people did get a little bit of money because otherwise they wouldn't have been able to work at all – but most of us borrowed. So when it got to the end of it, we had to go out of business. What do you do at that point? You sit down at your drawing table and  say, "What am I going to do now?" and I had on me a whole batch of scripts I had written and I decided to bite the bullet and call our competitor, Mad, Al Feldstein, and I said, "Al, please don't hang up on me because I went with Harvey," they were at loggerheads, and he said, "I'm not going to hang up on you," and I said, "I wrote a lot of scripts for Humbug  that we couldn't use. Would you be interested?" And he said, "Come on down." The minute I came down there he bought every script; 11 scripts, he bought them all on the spot and then ushered me into Bill Gaines' office and Bill sat me down and went through every issue of Humbug and wanted me to point out the ones that I had written ... and when we finished he walked into Al Feldstein's office and said, "Hire this guy."

"Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions": How did you come up with that concept?

You don't sit down and say, "Today I'm going to come up with a blockbuster idea." That gets you nowhere. I was working in the creative trades, so I was aware all the time of any idea floating out there. In my case with "Snappy Answers," I lived on Long Island and we had periodic storms which knocked down our TV antenna…. First you look at the television set and you see jagged lines, and then you go outside and wonder why, and there's this antenna hanging over the chimney. So I borrowed an extension ladder, I'm terrified of heights, I get up there, two stories, and I'm juggling this thing and trying to straighten it up, and I've got pliers, and I hear the thump of footsteps on the ladder. And finally, I can feel someone's hot breath right behind me and it says, "Where's Mom?"

"I have killed her and I'm stuffing her down the chimney." (audience laughs) My son didn't speak to me for the rest of the week.

And I thought about this. I came up with this under duress. I began to think about things that people ask where either there's no possibility in the world that you will have the answer to that question under the circumstances, or the answer is so obvious that the question is superfluous. You know, like you're standing, there's a line of people and a big sign that says "bus stop" and someone comes over and says, "Does the bus stop here?" We all go through this. So I did sit down at that point and try to think of things like that that were more common than someone fixing an antenna. Other things, like, "Are you asleep?" (audience laughs) I just did samples of it and Feldstein loved it immediately and assigned me to do a bunch more, and that was where it started. And then I milked it.

Where did the Fold-In come from?

 The first one actually was so simplistic that I'm almost embarrassed. It was supposed to be a gag commentary not so much on the subject matter, but on the ridiculous fold-outs. The most popular one at the time was the Playboy fold-out of naked ladies, but then other magazines, like National Geographic, Life magazine, even Sports Illustrated – I subscribed to all these magazines and I noticed that one by one they were starting to do this fancy, colorful fold-outs. Today "colorful" doesn't mean much to you because you can get color on your computer, but way back then in 1964, color in a magazine was such an expensive process. Mad didn't have any color. So it automatically got me to thinking in reverse again, the way I did with Inferior Man, which is the reverse of Superman, so I said to myself, "They're all doing this fancy color fold-outs that involve three pages of a magazine. Why doesn't Mad do a cheap, black and white fold?" And I did a sample and the sample was, as I said, very simple; it had Richard Burton, who at that time was rumored to have an affair with Elizabeth Taylor, it had Richard Burton on the left and Elizabeth Taylor on the right and you think it's going to fold in to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor…oh the question was something about who's going to be the next love interest for Elizabeth Taylor? Because she'd had so many. And it turned out to be some young man in the crowd. I mean that was the whole simple idea. It was one gag making fun of Mad itself trying to emulate the expensive trends that were in other magazines. I never expected another one. Suddenly, I get a call from Bill Gaines: "How would you like to do another one?" So I said, "Well, I don't know if I can come up with anything else; that was the only one I could think of." And I came up with [the second one, "Who Wants to be President More than Anything?"]

That was 1964, so you came up with a few more ideas since.

I've gotten one in every issue except three issues, and the reason for [those exclusions] was that they needed the inside back cover for something else. Oh, and one other reason was that I did a Fold-In front cover and they wouldn't pay me to do two.

How long does it take you to do one of these?

I usually came up with an idea – in recent years, they supply the idea, because they have a conference where they wanted to deal with subject matter that was hot, and I might come up with something bout the stock market. I used to have to come up with an idea and then make a sketch and try to sell them on the idea and the sketch, and then get to it, and that would take a total of about two weeks. Now the actual artwork takes me about a week to 10 days, depending on how complicated it is.

Your Mad paperback books are new material, not collected material.

All my paperback books are new material. I have to tell you why I had to write my own material: because I couldn't sell my artwork. (audience laughs) I'm not kidding; when I first started out I would come and peddle my funny cartoons and I thought, "Gee, funny drawings, everybody's gonna love them. All they have to do is give me a script and I'll draw funny cartoons." Nobody was interested. When I sat down and wrote my own script, then they would say, "Oh, well, go ahead and draw it," and that's how I was able to break in. The only [time otherwise] was when Stan Lee gave me that Squat-Car Squad story and said, "See what you can do with it." But he had me write them from then on; he only gave me one.

[DF shows photos of Jaffee receiving the Reuben Award, flanked by fellow Mad artists, including Jack Davis]

AJ: Jack Davis … is a phenomenal artist, and also the fastest artist I've ever seen in my life. I was on a "Mad" trip with Jack – he was my roommate, I think – and he was late for breakfast or something, and what had happened was that he had been drawing a "Time" magazine cover on the bus, and when the bus stopped he went into the post office to mail it to "Time" magazine. He was such a phenomenal artist.

How did the comic strip Tall Tales come about?

Again, the life of a freelance is really quite insecure, especially when you have the whole catastrophe of a wife and children and a mortgage and all that. You cast about all the time for ideas, and in my early years the road to security was a newspaper feature. There you got contracts and if they sent the stuff out and it was successful you got more and more papers, you made more and more money. Sparky [Charles] Schultz, who did Peanuts, he started that way, and his feature, Peanuts, was almost dropped because they had a meeting and found out they only had about six newspapers after about a year and they felt they were not going to go anywhere with this thing. But one of the salesmen told me a couple of people had said, "It's such a delightful feature, let's hang it another six months and see what happens," and of course, as they say, the rest is history and it started to become popular. And at one point he was making more money than Oprah, which is an achievement.

So security was in newspaper work, so I tried to figure out how I could get in. And someone told me that you could only get into newspapers by pushing out another comic strip, and that's not that easy to do. The other information I got at that time – this is in the 1950s – was that newspaper space was condensing, and it was becoming more and more difficult to sell comic strips because of shrinking newspapers. So I tried to figure out what kind of space can I get into that isn't being used, like the want-ads and other undesirable spots, and a one-column thing would do it. And the Herald Tribune took it on immediately and they did sell it to a lot of these dead-end spaces. Then we started to pick up a lot of foreign papers because [the strip] didn't have any words, it was all pantomime, and I had a bigger list abroad than I had in America. And then the manager of the syndicate, whose name I will not say, came to me and said, "You know, Americans don't like comic strips without words. You have to put words in them." So I forced words in and immediately lost 35 foreign papers and I didn't pick up any American papers. But it did last about six years, so it paid the bills.

Audience question: Can you talk a little bit about the [1950s] comic-book bans and hearings that resulted in lots of popular titles disappearing or being "cleaned up," and how that affected your career?

The people who really suffered that were the people who were, well, Bill Gaines, who was doing horror comics: Tales from the Crypt and [others]. Bill Gaines went out of business; Mad saved his neck. But a lot of other outfits that were doing, not specifically horror, but [comics that] had a lot of violence in them, whether it was Westerns with lots of shooting and killing, after the psychologist Dr. [Frderic] Wertham came out with a book, Seduction of the Innocent, and the [U.S. Senate's] Kefauver Committee investigated and connected juvenile delinquency with comic books, the comic business could only save itself by creating a censorship board – the Comics Code. … I wasn't affected because at first I was doing "Super Rabbit" and, y'know, little animal things, although (jokes) there were rumors about Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal (audience laughs). And then, of course, I did the teenage stuff like "Patsy Walker," which basically was a rip-off of Archie Comics, just another aspect of it. So I was working all the time; I didn't have a problem. And Mad was alright – although the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, had a complete file on Mad and everyone in it. But I wasn't there at the time. I would have been proud to have a file. (audience laughs)

Audience question: Did all you guys working at Mad in the ‘60s realize how cool you were?

How cool? Or how cruel? (audience laughs) I thank you for the compliment, because I certainly thought it was cool, personally, but as to how other people felt, you never know. I heard from a lot of grown-ups that they wouldn't let their children read it because it was attacking our institutions, among them advertising. It took a long time for people to grow up and realize that making fun of things that deserve it, or that are really begging for it, that that's legitimate comments. But there were a lot of grown-ups who were very uptight about it and I was very proud to be in league with the children; I thought more along their lines than I ever did with adults, and I think it goes for today too. I mean, I think the kids are way ahead of the adults in knowing what's funny.

Audience question: A lot of the comics creators in the ‘50s or even the ‘60s wouldn't want to say they were in comics when they were socializing. What did you say when you were out socializing with your family and your wife and people said, "What do you do for a living?"

AJ: You're absolutely right. A lot of my friends would refer to themselves as illustrators instead of cartoonists. It's fine to be an illustrator, and everybody would like to be Norman Rockwell, but Rube Goldberg was just fine, too. I would get into arguments [when] some people said they wouldn't allow their kids to read comics; they would prefer for them to read fine literature. I said, "Your first job is to worry about your kid learning to read. [audience laughs] And your kid will learn to read a lot faster by letting him read what he enjoys reading. And then he'll move on to literature." Children aren't idiots. I mean everybody's read comics and then they go to classics. I was never ashamed to admit that I did this stuff.

[Audience question about why Trump folded after two issues]

AJ: I think Trump had problems which surpassed just the problem of the funding. Harvey Kurtzman, bless his soul, was a good friend of mine, he was just a smart guy and had a brilliant career at Mad magazine. But I think he just wanted to move up and become America's Punch magazine or an illustrated New Yorker magazine, and it was the wrong time with the wrong product. The reason Mad was successful right from the beginning was that it stirred the rebelliousness that was inchoate in a lot of people at that time. There were wars going on, there was a draft going on; colleges were decimated by the draft, or potentially decimated. There was McCarthyism. We were going through some really bad times in the ‘50s. And here comes this cheap little, rebellious rag on cheap paper and it's making fun of our institutions: It's making fun of politics, it's making fun of advertising, it's making fun of itself. It's making fun of radio shows, it's making fun of movies, and it's making fun of comic books, of Superman, of Batman. It was rebellious through and through, all just for the fun of it. And it was 25 cents – it was 10 cents to begin with, then it was 25 cents. I think this had great appeal. And Hefner decided we were going to do this for the upper class – put out a 50-cent magazine, all slick with fancy color like Playboy. But it wasn't going to fly, I think, even if he didn't get into trouble financially; it just wasn't going to have the rebellious feel that it needed at that time. And he also interfered by telling us that the funny stuff Kurtzman was doing at Mad, he would ask for that to be toned down or taken out because it was a little too kiddish; he wanted it to be a bit more for the grown-ups. In my view, that's the whole story.

[Audience request for a story about Mad's famous vacation trips]

Well, I think the funniest one was really Mad's first trip. How that came about, I don't know. I suspect it was because a man by the name of Lyle Stuart was a publisher – he put out sex books and stuff like that – [who] was a good friend of Bill Gaines, and he took his people on an all-paid vacation once a year, and somebody said to Bill, "Why don't you do that with your group? They'll get to know each other and become friendly and all that." So our first trip was to Haiti. (audience titters) Well, it's kind of funny now to think of going to Haiti – that would be a typical Mad kind of thought: Lyle Stuart's taking them to Paris –we'll go to Haiti. (audience laughs) But I have to be honest with you, that wasn't the reason. Haiti was peaceful and really quite beautiful at that time; 1963, I believe. It was run with an iron hand by [dictator] Papa Doc [Duvalier], so it was peaceful – peaceful because there was a Nazi at every corner. But the hotel was well-guarded and everything was beautiful. And Bill hired four jeeps for us to take – one driver and three other people – and go drive around. And one of the things that was suggested, that Bill had in mind, he said, "We had one subscriber in Haiti, and he didn't renew." (audience roars) So four jeeps pull up to [his house], Bill walks up and says [to him], "You had a subscription. Why didn't you renew?" (audience roars) "All right, I'll give you a year's free subscription!"

I went on a total of 30 trips. I was on every one of them; I and one other guy were the only two on every one. It sort of made a family out of freelance people. You know, they had a small staff and the bulk of the staff was freelance; we would never get to know each other because you're coming to deliver your work and no one else is there, just the staff. But going on these trips coalesced the whole group and we all became distant friends from then on and we had some wonderful, wonderful trips. And for that I am very grateful to Bill. I enjoyed those trips.

One of the things we did when we came back from a trip is we gave a party for Bill Gaines. And it was in a funky little place down in the Bowery, a very nice little restaurant, a seafood restaurant And we would go there and we were supposed to bring all the photographs we took on the trip. And then we started the policy of creating an album where everyone who was on the trip did something in the album: If you were a writer you wrote something, like a little funny essay; if you were an artist, you did a cartoon, whatever you wanted. Even photographers, too. Then we had a trip to Russia and I can only tell you what I did. Bill Gaines was a notorious slob; I think he travelled on these trips with one set of clothing, the one he was wearing. … When we were in Russia, what was happening to all of us was that people on the street, it was still the Soviet Union, people on the street were coming up and one guy sidled up to me and told me he would give me 50 rubles for my shoes, which happened to be Pierre Cardin, because it was going out of business and I bought them for about a tenth of what they cost. But still, these Russians knew, they knew the stuff. So he comes up to me and he says, "I'll give you 50 rubles for your shoes," and then he said, "60 rubles for your jacket." And everybody experienced this. So when it came to drawing a picture for the album, I had one guy with a Russian who comes up and says, "I'll give you 50 rubles for your shoes." A second [Russian] comes up and says, "I'll give you 60 rubles for your jacket." And a third [Russian] comes up to Bill Gaines and says, "You give me 50 dollars and I'll give you my clothes!" (audience laughter)


Interview transcription by Allie Finkel.

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