Fearless satirical magazines in ‘Mad World’ 

The San Francisco Public Library celebrates satirical periodicals in the 2015 edition of its annual wit and humor exhibition, recognizing funny and fearless publications that have amused the public and skewered the pompous and the powerful.

“Mad World: Subversive Humor Magazines From the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor,” runs through May 31 in the main library’s Skylight Gallery. It contains more than a dozen display cases filled with interanational publications from the 1800s to current times.

Drawn in part from donations attorney Nat Schmulowitz made to the library in 1947, the show includes content ranging from edgy political commentary to pop-culture spoofery to Cold War propaganda. Not only does it showcase this form of humor, it drives home the need for freedom of speech.v Charlie Hebdo, the irreverent, left-wing French magazine whose targets include far-right and religious subjects, leads things off at the entrance. The display explores the 1970-born weekly’s roots in the twice-banned French magazine Hara-Kiri. It also contains Charlie covers and cartoons, including the free-speech-embracing illustration its Jan. 14, 2015 edition, which was published a week after two Islamist gunmen killed 12 people at the magazine.

Punch, the British humor magazine, also figures prominently in the show. Born in the 1840s and peaking in circulation a century later, the publication was a parlor institution back when reading was still a serious pastime. Not always incisive, however, Punch was criticized for its anti-Irish caricatures.v German selections include Simplicissimus, an 1896-founded magazine whose artists included George Grosz and Kathe Kollwitz, and Tarantel, an anticommunist humor and propaganda magazine printed in West Berlin and smuggled into East Germany.

Also from the iron-curtain era comes the Pravda-published Krokodil, though it didn’t initially make it to San Francisco. Delivery was suppressed by the U.S. Postal Service, which deemed its anti-American cartoons and other contents “vicious” propaganda.

American publications include Puck, known for colorful lithographic cartoons, and Mad magazine, which launched as a comic book in 1952. Famed for cultural parodies and mascot Alfred E. Neuman, Mad achieved circulation figures exceeding 2 million in the 1970s. It was an inspiration for Charlie Hebdo.

Locals may be drawn to the display of The Nose, the 1988-established satirical investigative magazine suggestive of Spy, but focusing on the Western U.S. – a land “filled with crackers and outlaws and freaks,” to quote cofounder Jack Boulware. Sample headline: “Melvin Belli: Lawyer/Alien!”

IF YOU GO

Mad World: Subversive Humor Magazines From the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor

Where: Main Library, Skylight Gallery, 100 Larkin St., S.F.

When: Daily through May 31

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 557-4277, www.sfpl.org

Note: In conjunction with the show, “The Nose” co-founder Jack Boulware and cartoonist Mark Fiore appear at 6 p.m. May 5.

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Anita Katz

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