Gaines, William M.

views updated


GAINES, WILLIAM M. (1922–1992), U.S. magazine publisher. Gaines, the publisher of the wildly satirical Mad magazine, was the son of Max Gaines, publisher of the All-American Comics division of DC Comics and also an influential figure in the history of comics, having tested the idea of selling comics on newsstands, inspiring the creation of the character Wonder Woman. A veteran of the U.S. Army, William attended New York University. Upon his father's death, he inherited a faltering comic-book empire in the late 1940s and turned it into a huge success with science fiction, fantasy, and realistic war comics. His horror comics were subtle satiric approaches to horror with genuine dilemmas and startling outcomes, often drawn from classic authors like Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. His fantasy titles dealt with adult issues such as racism and the meaning of progress and had stories adapted from the work of Ray Bradbury and others. The books featured artists who came to be among the most prominent commercial illustrators of the 20th century, including Will *Elder.

The first issue of Mad reached the newsstands in 1952 and had sharp sendups of movies, advertising celebrities, and comic strips: Mickey Mouse became Mickey Rodent and Superman was Superduperman. To the delight of its largely teenage audience, it brought satire into the mainstream, along with up-to-the minute New York humor sprinkled with Yiddish, nonsense, and non sequiturs. The cover featured a goofy-faced, gap-toothed boy named Alfred E. Neuman with the caption "What? Me worry?" It was an image and slogan that proved iconic, and the character appeared on the cover of virtually every issue of Mad and was picked up and satirized in other national publications.

Gaines's comics may have appealed to adults, but the general public considered comic books to be aimed at children. With the publication of Dr. Fredric Wertham's The Seduction of the Innocent, which found damaging material in the comics, comic books in the Gaines style drew the attention of the U.S. Congress and other moralists. Under questioning by a Congressional committee, Gaines defended his magazine. "The truth is that delinquency is the product of the real environment in which the child lives," Gaines told the committee in voluntary testimony, "and not of the fiction he reads." But the Comics Code Authority, modeled on motion-picture production rules, banned bloodthirsty material and Gaines suspended publication of his horror comics. He reissued Mad as a magazine in 1955 to skirt the code.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]