Al Feldstein (1925-2014)

Cover of Weird Science #13 by Al Feldstein

Cover of Weird Science #13 by Al Feldstein

Former editor of Mad Magazine Al Feldstein died April 29 at his home in Montana. He was 88.

I long ago forgave him for rejecting the parody of Star Trek I drew in the ninth grade with a ballpoint pen on lined notebook paper, and sent with a return envelope too small for the manuscript because it was – of course! – going to sell. The only rule of professional writing I didn’t break at the time was to submit to a publication I hadn’t read. I knew it very well: I loved Mad.

Feldstein was hired by EC (“Educational Comics”) as an artist in 1948. In the mid-1950s he edited EC’s New Trend group, known for such titles as Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, and Tales from the Crypt. The Wertham-inspired crackdown on comics forced EC to kill many of its titles and put Feldstein out of work. However, when Mad’s founding editor Harvey Kurtzman departed in 1956, Feldstein took his place and spent the next three decades satirizing America from Madison Avenue to Hollywood.

Feldstein’s aptitude for art was evident when he won an award in the 1939 New York World’s Fair poster contest. He trained at Manhattan’s High School of Music and Art and Brooklyn College. When he was 15 he went to work in the Eisner & Iger shop, an art service for comic book publishers, making $3 a week inking balloon lines and erasing pages.

His career at Mad ended in 1984 as its fading popularity led to a precipitous drop in circulation.

He moved to Wyoming, and later, Montana. He resumed his early interest in oil painting, depicting wildlife, nature scenes and fantasy art. Several of his works placed in the Top 100 of Arts for the Parks, a competition created in 1986 by the National Park Academy of the Arts.

In 2000, he received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Rocky Mountain College.

He was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 2011, he received the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Horror Writers Association.

Feldstein’s survivors include his wife, Michelle, stepdaughter Katrina Oppelt, her husband, and two grandsons.

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7 thoughts on “Al Feldstein (1925-2014)

  1. If Al Feldstein was born in 1925, his death came at more like 88 than 78. But he certainly did a lot of interesting work at EC. Editing those books meant he wrote a lot of them, too. I had the opportunity to interview EC publisher William Gaines many years ago, and he certainly credited Feldstein for the quality of the EC horror comics. His writing, I believe, also shows up in Panic, the sister publication of Mad that ended before the latter converted to a magazine But Wikipedia says Feldstein the editor also bought scripts from some notable sf writers as well, including Otto Binder, Daniel Keyes and Harlan Ellison (one of Ellison’s first sales).

  2. Corrected now — thanks for catching the error.

    I would have mentioned Ellison if I could have corroborated that detail in the Wikipedia article. The Wikipedia says Feldstein “published the first work of Harlan Ellison” but (a) it appears from the Internet Science Fiction Database that his first work appeared in Cleveland newspapers, and (b) the ISFDB doesn’t show an early 1950s Ellison credit in EC.

    When he hears about Feldstein’s passing Ellison may say something about it in his Forum. I will keep an eye open.

  3. The story goes that EC initially “borrowed” stories of Ray Bradbury. When Ray was told of this he made a call a check was quickly dispatched.

  4. I heard that story, too, although I can’t source it now. According to Wikipedia, the plagiarism eventually led to more, authorized Bradbury adaptations, which were collected in two paperback volumes (“The Autumn People” and “Tomorrow Midnight”) in the 1960s, when Ballantine was publishing a series of EC reprint paperbacks.

  5. Richard, thanks for linking to the Mark Evanier piece. It seems to tell a lot about Al Feldstein in the context of a single event. The part about Feldstein NOT being much of a playful prankster like other Mad Magazine staffers seemed to be is telling. I have a copy of Dick DeBartolo’s 1994 memoir “Good Days and MAD”, about Mad Magazine. The book devotes a lot of space to Mad publisher William Gaines and many other staff members, but it barely mentions Al Feldstein, and Mark Evanier’s piece gives some hint as to why that’s the case.

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