As talented and perceptive as Harvey Kurtzman was, I've always had a sad feeling of missed possibilities about him. He wrote and edited two titles for EC (TWO-FISTED TALES and FRONTLINE COMBAT) which had meticulous research and strong moral points to make.. they were more about the hopelessness and injustice of war, rather than the gung-ho flave-waving stuff other publishers put out. With the top artists of EC to work with, Kurtzman turned out classic material that still hits hard today. But, to make more money despite his slow careful writing style, he began EC's humor comic, TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD. Those early color comics issues of MAD are gems. Even after MAD went to a full size black & white magazine format, it kept for years a really subversive satirical outlook.
But Harvey Kurtzman left MAD to be his own boss, and (sorry to say) he never quite produced as fine a product as he seemed capable of. Maybe he benefitted from Bill Gaines' input and the EC atmosphere; maybe his approach to comedy was formulaic and would have worn thin anyway. In any case, Kurtzman edited two issues of TRUMP for Hugh Hefner, and edited HELP! for a few years. He went on to produce LITTLE ANNIE FANNY for PLAYBOY, an epic satirizing current fads and trends, always with a heavy dose of nudity and implied sex. I think LITTLE ANNIE FANNY is better than it's usually given credit for being. It had low points and dragged on too long, but at its best, it was both funny and incisive.At one point, Kurtzman started his own magazine, HUMBUG. From what I've seen, it was clever and witty, with great art. (Seriously... Will Elder, Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, Arnold Roth.. those guys would be funnyn if you had them illustrate the Yellow Pages.) But something is definitely lacking. It's just not as funny as MAD was. Sometimes I wonder if Kurtzman needed more editorial guidance and prodding than he would accept. The material has dated badly, too. Then-current movies which have been forgotten and trends long since left behind don't help humor. Anyway, here are a few glimpses at HUMBUG.
This is a spoof of BABY DOLL, part of that 1950s genre of decadent Southern sleaziness we got from Tennessee Williams and TOBACCO ROAD. Art looks like Arnold Roth to me, but I could be wrong (again).
And here is a look at tailfins on cars. Huh? What...? See, in 1957, this would have been fresh and topical. But unless you're a car buff or know some history, it'll fall flat. It's like writing a skit about Napster.