'Young Basil', published online in October 2017.

Johnny Sampson is an American comic artist, most notable for continuing the fold-in pages in Mad Magazine since 2020, after the retirement of the original creator, Al Jaffee. As of 2021, he is Mad Magazine's sole contributor of new material amidst the reprints of older features. Sampson is also a productive artist of gag comics, that appear in magazines and self-published book compilations. He also uses his talent to design posters, flyers and greeting cards.

Early life and career
Johnny Sampson was born in 1974 in Atlanta, Georgia. At age six, he moved with his family to Wildwood, Illinois. As a youngster his favorite comics were 'Batman', Mad Magazine and Peter Bagge's 'Hate'. Sampson earned a BFA in Painting from the University of Illinois in Champaign, and spent the 1990s playing in the rock bands Lunkhead and Pistolero, while doing design work for gig posters on the side. His roommate was a film student, who got him a job as storyboard designer. Between 2001 and 2006, Sampson lived in California, trying to find storyboard work in Hollywood. Unable to get a permanent vocation, he and his wife moved back to Chicago. Sampson discovered it was easier to find work in the advertising industry, and it paid much better too. Throughout most of the late 2000s and early 2010s, he worked on storyboards for advertising shorts and other commercial illustration assignments.


'Truly Madly', an autobiographical comic story published on Sampson's website.

Mad Magazine
Even though Sampson worked in a cartoony style and sometimes used comic strip-like panels in his commercial assignments, he never considered making comics. He felt it was a field too difficult to make a living in. In 2013, he changed his mind, when Pitchfork Media launched the Pitchfork Review, a magazine aiming to prove that printed media still had a chance in today's digital world. The editors asked Sampson to create a parody of a Mad Magazine fold-in: a page of which the left and right side have to be folded, so one can find the "hidden message". They were a tradition in Mad since 1964, when creator Al Jaffee introduced the feature. Sampson sent his fold-in not only to Pitchfork, but also to Al Jaffee, accompanied by a fan letter.

Three months later, Jaffee sent Sampson a reply, complimenting him with his illustration saying he "couldn't have done it better." The veteran encouraged Sampson to continue drawing fold-ins, but made Sampson's heart really pound by asking him: "I'm in my nineties and Mad will need someone to continue the feature. If you are in any way interested, I'll introduce you to the editorial staff." Thrilled, Sampson instantly started to make more comics, while  starting a regular e-mail correspondence with Jaffee and visiting him at his home. Sampson also visited Mad's offices in New York City for a talk with art director Sam Viviano and comics editor Ryan Flanders. Although they made it clear that Jaffee didn't yet need a successor, he was allowed to contribute new material to Mad's pages.


First Johnny Sampson cartoon published on The Fundalini Pages in Mad #542 (2018).

Starting in issue #542 (December 2016), Sampson's first cartoons appeared in Mad's letter department, 'The Fundalini Pages', which in 2018 was renamed to the 'Shorts and Briefs' section. After several one-shot comics and illustrated articles, Sampson had the honor of being the first artist, other than Jaffee, to illustrate the famous series 'Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions'. His first entry ran in the October 2019 issue under the title 'Snappy Internet Comments to Honest Questions', written by Matt Cohen. In the August 2020 issue, he illustrated 'Snappy Answers to Existential Questions', scripted by Desmond Devlin. In June 2020, the 99-year old Jaffee retired. Mad published a special tribute issue, which, apart from Jaffee's final fold-in, featured homages by fellow cartoonists. Sampson too made a tribute fold-in, which appeared online rather than in the magazine. It wasn't until the October 2020 issue when Sampson's first official fold-in saw print in Mad's pages. Contrary to his predecessor, Sampson makes extensive use of digital tools like Photoshop, but otherwise the concept has remained unaltered and the style Jaffee-esque. Since then, each new Mad issue has featured a fold-in written and drawn by Johnny Sampson.


Fold-in for Mad #11, 2019.

Still, Sampson joined Mad magazine at a time when the sales figures were going drastically downhill. On 4 July 2019, it was announced that the magazine would no longer be distributed in regular stores. To save costs, it would rely mostly on reprint material, with new, original content becoming scarcer. Indeed, slowly but surely most of the veteran contributors retired or went to other publications. By 2021, Sampson, Sergio Aragonés and Peter Kuper were the only people still producing new articles and comics. In the February 2021 issue, Aragonés said his farewell. Sampson paid tribute with the fold-in: 'How does Sergio Aragonés come up with so many marginals?'. One issue later (April 2021), Kuper left as well, consequently meaning the end of 'Spy vs. Spy'. Again, Sampson paid homage with a fold-in: 'When is a spy not a spy?'. Since then, Johnny Sampson is the only regular contributor left in Mad's pages; the "usual gang of idiots" reduced to just one. Sampson is fully aware of this sad fact, called himself the "Last Idiot Standing", but is determined to continue until the end.


Gag page for Mad #9, 2019.

Gag comics
In addition to Mad, Sampson creates gag comics for magazines like Smoke Signal, Black Eye 3, The Stranger, National Lampoon and Vice. Most are absurd in nature. One of his recurring characters is Chalky, a talking chalk figure on the pavement. Although drawn on the ground, Chalky is able to take any pose he wants. Another anti-hero is Total Fuck Up, a boy with serious sociopathic behavior whose gags are set at a County Fair. Sampson compiled the stories into two books, 'Total Fuck Up' (2016) and 'Total Fuck Up 2'. Another Sampson compilation, 'What Now?' (2015), is a collection of "existential cartoons fit for existential times", as the caption reads. His other comics have been collected in the annual books 'Slow Leak No. 1' (2017), 'Slow Leak No.2' (2018) and 'Slow Leak No.3' (2019).

Posters and advertisements
Sampson has designed concert posters for musical acts like The Black Keys, Benjamin Gibbard, Mick Jenkins and the Yonder Mountain String Band. His poster for the 13 July 2019 Blink-182 concert at Darling's Waterfront Pavillion in Bangor, Maine, is notable for its comic strip style. Sampson also used the comic format for his greeting card/poster 'Chicago, A Love Story': in twelve consecutive panels the city is portrayed as a horrible place. A citizen endures various hardships, though still sighs in the final panel he "loves this fuckin' place."


Blink-182 gig poster (2019).

www.johnnysampson.com

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