Tall Tales

Review by KC Carlson

Please take a moment to consider the work of Al Jaffee, one of “the usual gang of idiots” from Mad Magazine. His most famous work, the Mad Fold-In, is incredibly inventive as well as being one of the most popular features of Mad. It’s also one of the longest-running, having appeared in almost every issue of Mad since its inception in 1964.

Tall Tales cover
Tall Tales
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He’s the creator of Mad‘s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” practically inventing “snark” as an everyday occurrence. And as a multiple choice opportunity — meaning more than one joke per panel.

Then there are Jaffee’s blueprints for new inventions, not as well-known as the first two, but still a popular Mad feature (at least in my brain). These were always seemingly ridiculous ideas for products or devices that didn’t exist — like a gun that would seal dog poo in frozen goo for easy disposal — but after reading Jaffee’s detailed cross-section descriptions of these remarkable devices and how they worked, you couldn’t help wanting to believe that they existed in real life. And some were actually developed, with Jaffee’s cartoon cited as the inspiration.

A sample strip showing vaguely Addamsesque characters

A sample strip showing vaguely Addamsesque characters

Q: What is the common element in all of the above features?

A: Jaffee broke the traditional format of comics and invented something different.

(Oh, and they’re all hysterically funny. Duh.)

So it should come as no surprise that when Jaffee decided to conquer syndicated comic strips, he changed the rules once again. His strip, which ran from 1957-1963 and was syndicated by the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate, was called Tall Tales. All comic strips at the time were square panels or ran horizontally. Tall Tales ran vertically.

According to Jaffee in the Preface to this book, readers cannot take in the entire area of a vertical area with a single glance. “As readers, we have a tendency to look at the strongest focal point first and then the secondary area. This dynamic allowed me to place the set-up for the joke in the first-glance area and pull the punchline with the second glance.”

And so Jaffee had invented a way to do a set-up, the actual gag, and occasionally a reaction – all in the same panel! Ingenious! Inconceivable! And also funny!

Tall Tales is a tall, 130-page hardcover collection of Jaffee’s very best Tall Tales strips from the first — and last — vertical strip in newspaper history. Collecting strips little-seen since their first publication over 40 years ago, Tall Tales is a fascinating snapshot of Jaffee’s charming work around the time of Trump, Humbug, and the debut of his work at Mad. The introduction is by Stephen Colbert, the man who presented to Jaffee a Fold-In birthday cake for the artist’s 85th birthday on an episode of The Colbert Report.

You can’t find a taller, skinnier collection of comics than this! (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)

2 Responses to “Tall Tales”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Thanks for posting this item. I was not aware that Al Jaffee ever created a comic strip, so this book went straight on to my Amazon wish list. If I don’t get it for Christmas, then I’ll have it by New Year’s Day :) I love the blog, never commented before but just wanted to say kudos.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thank you, and thanks for reading. I love knowing I’m making people aware of new things.




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