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on the margins of life with MAD magazine & me . . . .

by | Mar 20, 2018 | Uncategorized

I adore treasure hunts. Invite me to an Easter egg hunt and I devolve into a vermont map hidden under beer bottle cap of Long Trail Aletunnel-visioned child, giddy with anticipation of finding pastel-colored treats hidden in flower beds. I adore advent calendars and lockets and old-school CrackerJacks for the treasures concealed within; I love fortune cookies and tea bags with quotes on the paper tags, and beer brands with surprises under bottle caps. I love reading the “Acknowledgements” section of books, for sometimes there’s a gem of an amusing anecdote tucked away in the author’s list of gratitude — as in Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary — which I read some 20 years ago and yet have never forgotten the delight of this jewel of an acknowledgement:

Among those personal friends I wish to thank […..] and to the otherwise anonymous Anthony S——, who grumbled to me that his fiancée had denied him romantic favors one summer morning because she was bent on finishing chapter 9, my apologies, embarrassed thanks for your forbearance, and best wishes for future marital bliss.


I love chancing upon small things purposefully left behind by others — things that are not obvious, that are not for everyone to find, but rather are only slightly hidden, to be stumbled upon by a few lucky somebodies, as with these whimsical beings peering out from a crack in someone’s wall along my morning walk….

whimisical wall beings hidden in a crack on my morning walk


As children, my best friend and I had a unique solution to boredom: We would take small slips of paper, and on each, write down an idea of something we might do together — say “coloring books” or “play with Barbies” or “build a fort”. We’d then take turns hiding our slips of paper throughout the room, for the other to find. (Forty years later and I remain in awe of our creativity and imagination!)

And as with every other red- and blue- blooded American kid of the 1970s worth their weight in Spaghetti-Os, my mind was mischievously infiltrated by the endless amusements of MAD Magazine. Anyone who grew up chortling over MAD Magazine has their favorite cartoonists. When I talk to My Man about MAD Magazine, his eyes get downright misty as he wistfully recites the names of nearly the entire staff of MAD from the days of our youth. Don Martin. Mort Drucker. Angelo Torres. Dave Berg. And of course his favorite, Al Jaffee.
Who didn’t get hold of a MAD magazine and immediately turn to Al Jaffe’s sure-to-be-amazing back page fold-In? Pure wizardry!

But of all the masterful artistry packed into an issue of MAD I think that which delighted me most was quite possibly overlooked by many. For stashed away in every issue of MAD — if you took time to notice — was magic hidden in the margins. Literally in the margins. These were the teensy tiny delightful bits of whimsy by the brilliant Sergio Aragones.

I just remember being in awe of the minuteness of his artistry. How did he do that?

And how COOL that someone decided to fill these tiny overlooked spaces with delight!

Marginal. Funny how “marginal” has come to mean insignificant. Yet sometimes margins are where jewels are found — be they in the pages of MAD magazine or centuries earlier, on the pages of Medieval manuscripts, where scribes added all kinds of unexpected treasures — including some rather naughty ones! — to the edges of pages.

This is why, when I design my greeting and postcards, I sometimes “hide” magic in the margins, in the way of a barely visible quote.

And it’s why, in every issue of my Inside the Studio email newsletter I hide a “wee little contest” — a wee opportunity for treasure found by those who are curious and look carefully where one might not otherwise look…. Their reward for their curiosity? An excellent chance to win a small gift from me: a little 5″ x 7″ original oil painting.

I’m about to release my next Inside the Studio Notes. And hmmmmm…. I wonder if we’ll have any treasure hunters out there? Remember, the best treasure is usually where you least expect it.

And — hee-hee! — sometimes, it’s right under your nose….

Subscribing to my Inside the Studio Notes is easy, just click here and follow the simple instructions. {You’ll also find an archive there of past editions.)

Thanks for reading! See you Inside the Studio!


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

a recent edition of Dawn Chandler's Inside the Studio Notes

a [cropped] sample of my Inside the Studio Notes — this one from autumn 2017.

Marginalia ~ By Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
‘Nonsense.’ ‘Please! ‘ ‘HA! ! ‘ –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote ‘Don’t be a ninny’
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls ‘Metaphor’ next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of ‘Irony’
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
‘Absolutely,’ they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
‘Yes.’ ‘Bull’s-eye.’ ‘My man! ‘
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written ‘Man vs. Nature’
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
‘Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.’


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Have a lovely day!