Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide: Tall Tales by Al Jaffee

For anyone who ever read Mad magazine, the name Al Jaffee is seared into memory. But before he was Mad, he was syndicated in newspapers nationwide with a strip called “Tall Tales.” Turning up his nose at the standard horizontal format, Jaffee created something, well, taller, one column wide and several inches tall. Now 120 of the best have been gathered into a book, also called Tall Tales (Abrams). Without a single word, each cartoon deftly tells a single joke, and they’re often incredibly funny.

Using the simplest of lines and nothing but black ink -- a starkness that reminds me of the theatre drawings of Al Hirschfeld -- Jaffee manages to tell tales that are almost painfully insightful (painful thanks to the cramps they induce). One of the things that make them so funny is the absolute lack of pretense; they simply show us as we are, which makes them as eye-opening as they are gut-busting.

Finally, like Jaffee’s tales themselves, the book is tall -- but at just $14.95 retail, it’s also low enough to be the comedy bargain of the year.

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