Jake Tapper remembers it well, the way certain childhood memories remain as indelible as the deepest India ink. It was the bicentennial year, when he was an impressionable 7-year-old, and staring back at him from a glossy magazine cover was the Fonz, as rendered by the late great MAD artist Jack Rickard. The moment was, the CNN anchor notes, his own seduction of the comics innocent.
From then on, young Jacob Tapper returned to Fat Jack’s comics shop in Philly to score back issues and repackaged MAD paperbacks. And “from that date through my adulthood, MAD magazine has been poisoning my mind with its rudeness, disrespect and unadulterated nonsense,” Tapper writes in the foreword to the magazine’s forthcoming parody book, MAD About Trump, which is due out in June.
MAD, however, has not only turned over an introductory page to the host of The Lead. Its editors are also enabling the mind they long ago poisoned by publishing new original art by Tapper — who, well before sketching on air, drew the comic strip Static Cling for The Dartmouth before graduating in 1991.
The cartoon includes Tapper’s self-caricature, as well as the president, the MAD mascot and CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer.
“Trump is most fun to draw — just a great mash of caricature-able features, from bouffant to eyebrows and scowl, to the high cheekbones and the regal pride,” the Washington-based Tapper said. And “Wolf has such iconic features he wasn’t all that tough — which also made it easy to ‘Blitzerize’ Alfred E. Neuman.”
By contrast, he says, “It’s tough for me to draw myself — usually way too self-critical. I made myself look like the oldest person in the drawing.” (Tapper’s own two young children focus on the “parentheses-wrinkles” around the mouth when drawing Dad, so he did, too.)
So just what were the MAD execs thinking in turning over valuable real estate to Tapper?
“I took an informal poll around the MAD offices and, to a person, Jake was everyone’s No. 2 choice to write the book’s foreword,” MAD editor John Ficarra says. “Vladimir Putin was No. 1, but our repeated calls to the Kremlin went unreturned.”
Four decades after that Happy Days cover first won over Tapper, he is especially humbled by the chance to draw for the magazine.
“As a fan and collector of MAD magazines as a kid, I am well aware that my art is unworthy. I remain in absolute awe of MAD artist Mort Drucker, and loved Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman and Al Jaffee and Don Martin and Angelo Torres and Peter Kuper and Sergio Aragones,” Tapper said, adding: “So the sincere feeling is: My cartoon does not belong here.”
So was MAD pleased with what Tapper turned in?
“I think Jake has a great future as a professional cartoonist, and that’s a really good thing,” Ficarra said. “His association with MAD is pretty much going to kill his broadcasting career.”