The Last Lighter Side of…Dave Berg

June 24, 2002

By Avi Green

This May 16, Dave Berg, one of MAD magazine’s most popular humorists, who wrote and drew The Lighter Side Of… satirical cartoons which parodied all sorts of things in everyday life, died at age 81 of cancer, in his city of residence, Los Angeles.

Aside from writing some of the funniest cartoons in the now 50 year-old history of MAD, he even drew himself into his own strips, as a character named Roger Kaputnik, who appeared in the roles of businessmen, fathers, and even medical patients. Even some of the Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD used to turn up in there as well many times, including the late, legendary publisher and guru Bill Gaines himself. And the results were so often hilarious. His family immigrated from Lithuania at the turn of the 20th century, and he was born in New York City. He first attended the Cooper Union Art School, and later, he got himself a job as an inker on Will Eisner’s now classic comic strip, The Spirit. He even later worked for Marvel at the time that they were still called Timely, under the auspices of the legendary Stan Lee.

When Berg first began writing and drawing freelance work for MAD back in 1956, his first works were satires of such phenomenons as pizza pies, teenagers, skin diving, and children’s playgrounds. I've got a compilation of some of his early works called MAD Trash, and they were very funny.

Later on, when Bill Gaines encouraged all of MAD’s staff writers to come up with a special style for themselves, so in 1962, Berg began drawing what he called “The Lighter Side Of…” in which he spoofed “the human condition”, civil rights movements, disgruntled youngsters, office life, parties, romance, classes in school, the young and the old, plus a lot of satires on movies, commercial broadcasts, and television programs. His spoofings were a wonderful take on society and culture in the everyday life of the United States. As Nick Meglin, one of MAD’s editors said, "Dave was a visual critic, but a warm-spirited critic, not a hard-nosed critic. He saw the American scene as a wonderful example of our culture, our society and our life, and did comments on that."

One of his most clever gimmicks in writing and drawing, as previously mentioned, was to draw many of his co-workers at MAD, including the late, great Bill Gaines himself, into his strips. And, as mentioned before, he even had his very own alter ego in drawing whom he named Roger Kaputnik, who even served as the central figure in one of two humorous books he wrote “Roger Kaputnik and God.”

Take a look at some of these unforgettable lines of lunacy from some of his strips:

From Nags to Riches

Rich man to wife: “When do I ever stop being hounded?

When I was a kid, my parents hounded and hounded me ‘YOU GOTTA MAKE GOOD, YOU GOTTA MAKE GOOD!’

Now my kids are hounding me

Because I did!”

It’s a classic parody that reflects the change in values that took place in a short period of time during the 1960's. Whereas the man's parents nagged him to succeed, his children criticized him for his very success. It shows that no matter what you do, sometimes you just can't win. And, here's this one:

Sunday Kind of Love

Little girl to father: "Oh daddy, I love the Russian Communists and the Red Chinese."

Father to little girl: "WHAT?!? Are you some kind of subversive? Didn't anybody tell you that they are planning to destroy us and that they are our ENEMIES?"

Little girl: "Yes, I know. But in Sunday school, they said we're supposed to love our enemies."

Father: "Oh! Yeah, I remember learning that when I was a kid."

And then, there's this one:

Economics

Black girl to white guy: "I'm conducting a survey for my social studies class project! Where does your family fit on the financial ladder?"

White guy to black girl: "Well, judging by the way my mother complains about not being able to afford a new washing machine, I guess we're not high-income!

And hearing the way my father complains about how much it's costing to keep my brother in college and us not being qualified for any assisstance programs would mean we're not a low-income family!

So put me down for middle-class!"

And then, finally, there's this one:

Leadership

Football coach to team: "...and remember this above all! Football is more than a game! It's the best education you can get in becoming your own man! You'll learn to develop initiative and make split-second decisions!

Now go out there and don't do anything except what I tell you to!"

A great example of how some people don't even follow through on their own words.
 
In later life, he was actively involved as a director of the US Boy and Girl Scouts division in Westchester County, NY, and was also the president of B’nai B’rith’s Marina del Rey branch in California.

Dave Berg will be one of the most missed of the MAD-men, and his last set of strips will be published in the September 2002 issue of MAD. He was one of the best they had who could satirize what everyday life is like, and it’s something to treasure for years to come. Who says nothing in MAD is worth keeping? The Lighter Side Of... most certainly is.

Avi Green, who often spends even more time at the doctor's office than Berg did, can be reached at avigreen2002@yahoo.com

Copyright 2002 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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