AN INTERVIEW by Jim Vanhollebeke - copyright 1999-2000

In the early to mid-1950's at the notorious E.C. comics... Al Feldstein created, wrote, illustrated and edited a popular line of titles which are now collector's items. They included horror titles such as Tales From The Crypt which was adapted in the '90's for HBO television, plus science-fiction, suspense, and other genres.
In 1955 he became editor of E.C.'s MAD magazine. He took the mag's then circulation from 375,000 to a high of almost 3 million by gathering a staff of talented artists and writers, supervising its operations, editing and re-writing stories, designing layouts, and creating the format that led to MAD's success, including adopting and highlighting its trademark, the idiotic grin of Alfred E. Neuman!

In 1984, Al retired from MAD and went back to his first love, painting. In 1992, he moved to Paradise Valley, Montana and now enjoys painting Montana's ranch life, wildlife, and its beautiful wild scenery. He is represented by many galleries in the Northwest and has received many awards.

In 1999, Jim Vanhollebeke, a long time fan of Al's and the legendary E.C. Comics in general, conducted an impromptu interview with Mr. Feldstein. Al was forthright and very gracious for which Jim will be eternally grateful.
Following is the interview (edited):

JIM VANHOLLEBEKE - First of all Mr. Feldstein, thank you for the countless hours of entertainment all those years ago and still today with the current reprints. I am sorry that you and Bill (Bill Gaines - then owner of E.C. Comics and Al's collaborator) were not on better terms before he passed on. I have just visted your beautiful web site ( and it's so gratifying to see that you are now enjoying a second incredible life. Your western paintings are just beautiful and your Deer Haven Ranch looks like heaven! I hope to be able to visit some day. You are a legend and a hero. So again, my heartfelt thanks.

- Thank you, Jim, for your ego-building and kind words. Yes, Bill Gaines and I had differences of opinions about the future of MAD and what should be done about it, so I decided to retire. As it turned out, my fears were well-founded. MAD's circulation has nose dived since my end-of-l984 retirement, and the TV show I wanted to do 25 years ago, which Bill resisted, finally came to pass after his death. But the idiots up at Time-Warner, not ever having a clue about what the old MAD was really all about, handed it over to a rock music producer who turned out an imitation of Saturday Night Live, only much more raunchy. It certainly isn't the TV show I envisioned. And the over-staffed and under-talented D.C. supervision of the current MAD has resulted in a low-selling (275,000) no-character-or-personality-or-point-of-view product that I'm so glad I'm no longer affiliated with. It certainly isn't the MAD that I wanted to bring into the 90's and the 21st Century! Oh, well... By the way, would love to have you visit us some day.

JVH - I find myself wondering: Have you met Russ Cochran, publisher of the latest round of E.C. reprints?

AF - Yes, I've met him, many times when he'd drop by the MAD offices to visit Bill Gaines many years ago.
JVH - What do you think of Cochran's E.C. horror, sci-fi, and crime comic reprints? AF - I think they are fantastic, wonderful reproductions of the original black-and-white art, and an invaluable permanent record of what we did back in those wonderful E.C. years.

- Are you at all surprised at E.C.'s longevity thus far?

- Of course I am! If I wasn't, I'd be rich, because I would have saved hundreds of mint copies of everything we printed that were available to me back in those days, and I could be selling them now for a fortune. But who knew?! I never imagined they'd become valuable collectors' items! And Bill Gaines's personal collection of twelve mint copies of each issue of each title that he put away (and are now being sold by Sotheby's) weren't saved because he knew, but because he wanted a record for any possible questions that might arise concerning his second class mail entries.

JVH - Do you think the contemporary reprints should continue into new issues??

AF - I'm not sure what you mean by new issues. They are already being reprinted by Gemstone Publishing Company, Russ Cochran.

- Would you be receptive to certain solicitations for your writing and/or drawing if E.C. started pumping out new stories?

AF - If the money was right and the project was right. I'm retired and loving my fine art pursuits now. It would all depend upon the offer.

JVH - How 'bout your possible services in reviving the ghoul-lunatics (the Cryptkeeper and friends) and Sci-Fi tales?

AF - Since I don't own the rights to the E.C. properties, I couldn't entertain any offers concerning them except with the approval of the Gaines estate.

- Are you glad it's all behind you?

AF - I wish it was all behind me! I am constantly being wrenched back, doing fine art commissions of my old E.C. covers (I have that right!) for rich E.C. collectors and fans. Being invited to comic conventions as an honored guest, being bugged by old fans like you (only kidding!). But it was a fun time that I remember fondly, and a painful time at the end that I remember with sadness.

- Don't you think a bio-book about all of you E.C. comics guys would be great?

AF - I think a table top bio book about me, my early years, my entry into the comic book world, my art and stories for E.C., my 29 years as editor of MAD, and my current fine art would be great! Individual bio books about the other guys would be great too, of course. I know of one book in the works about Bernie Krigstein that is being written by his nephew!

- Do you agree there's a lot more of the E.C. story (stories) that should be told?

AF - Ahhhh... now you have hit upon a sore spot with me. The true story of my influence over Bill Gaines in the early years which led to the successful creation of the E.C. line, my autonomous rule over MAD after I took over from Harvey Kurtzman at 375,000 copies quarterly (if he made the deadlines) and my consequently turning the magazine into an American icon with sales of 2,800,000 eight times a year, with 250 paperback reprint and original titles, four annuals, and eleven foreign editions was totally surpressed by Bill Gaines after my retirement, writing me out of the E.C. and MAD histories. Only now are the true stories and the proper credits coming to light.

- I know I was sure surprised when I began learning how extensive your roles were in the formation and literal creation of E.C. and MAD. And some of the mis-placed accolades make my blood boil. You were E.C. Bill was your fan! Why I oughtta'... Oh... sorry 'bout all this ramblin'... heh heh...

AF - Sorry about mine!
heh heh...

- Mr. Feldstein, I know you've resented Bill Gaines at times and I can't blame you, but it is Harvey Kurtzman, editor of MAD during the first few years who has always stuck in my craw. Bill was way too good to the likes of 'im! Just my opinion.

AF - Ahhhh... you have touched on another sore point with me. Throughout my career as editor of MAD (1956-1984), I was never able to overcome the cult-myth reputation of Harvey Kurtzman who failed miserably at being able to edit/publish another successful MAD-type magazine/immitation once he left the creative, brainstorming, competitive, advisory, chiding, encouraging atmosphere of E.C. I painfully remember many articles about Mad published in the '70's, N.Y. Times Sunday Magazine, etc., about it's infuence on America's youth through the late fifties and sixties, well after Harvey had left and I'd taken over, and never mentioning me, but crediting Harvey for its success.
Harvey was a great talent, I will be the first to admit, which is why I convinced Bill to hire him, gave him work in my books, encouraged Bill to give him his own titles, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, and suggested that his third title be an adult humor book, even to the title, recommending that from phrases used by the Cryptkeeper, Old Witch, etc., like Welcome to my E.C. MAD Mag, Tales From..., that we should call it E.C.s MAD Mag... which Harvey, rightly so, shortened to MAD.
His initial efforts were to humorize the story genres being puiblished by E.C. in its other titles, i.e. a funny sci-fi story, a ridiculous horror story, etc.. It wasn't until I chided him to humorize more recognizeable comic book properties, i.e. The Lone Ranger (The Lone Stranger), Superman (Superdooperman), etc., that the magazine began to show some promise. And further chiding on my part pushed him into satirizing other subjects throughout Americana. My own magazine, Panic, an admitted imitation of MAD, was a hastily-written-and-edited (one week, as opposed to Harvey's 8-week, later 4-week schedule) that forshadowed my future success with MAD.
It is interesting that, in the annuls of fandom, Harvey, due to his cult-myth following, and Bill, due to his publishing successful magazines created by others, and Wally Wood, whom I encouraged to break loose from the clutches of Harry Harrison and start working for me on his own as an individual talent, are all in the "Will Eisner Comic Hall of Fame" and I have never been awarded that honor. Such is life.
However, I am happily retired, living on a 270 acre ranch here in Montana, and doing my fine art thing thanks to my cash and credit arrangement with Bill Gaines. He paid me cash and he took the credit!

JVH - Believe me Al, I'm not the only bozo who's been able to read between the lines on all this crap. You'll get your due. The final book hasn't been written.

AF - Yeh, but I'm 73... and fading fast!

JVH - Too bad it has to take a hundred years, but that's history for you !!

AF - Not much consolation!

JVH Thank you so much for spending this time and sharing. I can't tell you how much this means to me as a fan. Best wishes and take care, Al.

AF - Take care yourself, and keep me posted on any scuttlebutt you hear about E.C. and/or me. I've been invited to the 2000 San Diego ComicCon as an honored guest. It's E.C.'s 50th birthday / anniversary! So who knows?!
MAD-ly yours,
Al Feldstein

Jim Vanhollebeke is an occasional writer and recording artist in Michigan. His writings have varied from humorous fiction to science research but are professionally limited to his reputation as an Elvis writer, most notably a 12 year run with his ForElvisFansOnly column in Goldmine (and later Discoveries) magazines.
He was always in awe of the writing and innovative satire contained in the legendary E.C. comic books of the 50's and it's influence on his style is always evident.
Also an Elvis Presley sound-alike singer, he has released several albums and loves to brag that he is mentioned in several books about Elvis (!).