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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine

Mad magazine would make fun of anyone who was in the public eye, but some of those public figures had no sense of humor. In 1957, the target of one of the magazine’s articles was the FBI and its director, J. Edgar Hoover.

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

A visit from the FBI elicited an apology from the magazine, but the Bureau did not seem to realize that you can’t calm a nest of hornets by poking a stick at it. And thus began a back-and-forth battle between the feds and the humor magazine that lasted years.


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