By Susie Davidson
CALIF. - Mad Magazine’s Dave Berg passed away May 17 of cancer at the age of 81, at his home in Marina del Rey, Calif. With Al Jaffee, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Wally Wood and others, he represented the comic core of the twisted, classic periodical beloved by kids of all ages. Joining the enterprise in 1957, his work appeared in over 360 issues; he also wrote and drew 17 spinoff, paperback books, which included "Mad's Dave Berg Looks at Living," "Mad's Dave Berg Looks at Things," and "Mad's Dave Berg Looks at the USA."
His father, a Brooklyn bookbinder who had once studied at a rabbinical school, seemed to pass on his influences. A devout, fixated and highly moral outlook characterized Berg’s religious, humorous books "My Friend God" and "Roger Kaputnik and God." He also lectured at college campuses on the Talmud, and served as president of B'nai B'rith in Marina del Rey, Calif.
As a child, he won art scholarships from early on, and embraced the comic book genre from its beginnings. Berg attended Cooper Union Art School in New York before working, along with artist Jules Feiffer, in the studio of comic artist Eisner. Following an Army Air Corps and war correspondent stint in World War II, based in Iwo Jima, Guam, Saipan and Japan, he worked for Spider-Man artist Stan Lee before becoming part of Mad.
Berg’s strips echoed topical events and issues, in his inimitably irreverant way. His “The Lighter Side of” began in 1961, and dissected and satirized everyday American family rituals. They also often reflected his own family, which was headed by his irrascable alter-ego Roger Kaputnik, wife Vivian and children. He seemed to play out his inner beliefs, fears and observations in his work, which was in truth anything but the “lighter side.”
“It was more than just gags, it was a psychological and sociological study of the human condition, and truth in humour,” he once said of his work. “My father's comic strips so expertly pegged the human condition,” says daughter Nancy Berg, “that psychologists would keep them on file to show frustrated patients.”
“For Berg, the inability to conceptualize direct action is resolved in his Judaic faith,” says international DJ and audio producer Terre Thaemlitz. “Berg was actively lecturing on religious topics at campus events, the transcripts of which were ultimately compiled and published in “My Friend God”. But within Roger Kaputnik's paranoia remains the fear that the Master Plan may be no more than a trick by The Man, and that a "What me worry?" outlook is not so much an exercise in blind faith as a subjugation to the material.”
Berg’s final "Lighter Side" panels are scheduled for the 50th anniversary issue of Mad, due out this September.