Print Rediscovers a Delightful New Dimension

The under-explored world of interactive print in magazines and newspapers -- from the Mad Magazine Fold-In to the New York Times for Kids to a life-sized cutout of Brigitte Bardot in a negligee.

Later this year, DC Entertainment will stop regularly publishing Mad magazine, the humor publication founded in 1952. It means, among other things, the end of one of the more unique and beloved innovations in printed media.

In nearly every issue since 1964, the inside back cover has featured the Mad Fold-In, a visual gag drawn by Al Jaffee. Its punchline was revealed by physically folding the page, accordion-style, to align two halves of an image and accompanying text. They were often lurid, with biting social commentary on topics including public health and the war in Vietnam. The Fold-In was, in part, a parody of Playboy centerfolds, but it broke new ground in the genre. And its loss is more notable for its current rarity.

Physical interaction with print publications today rarely goes much beyond turning the page or filling in a crossword puzzle. Despite being products that are held in the hands of their audiences, most newspapers and magazines are designed more to be looked at than touched. But there is a long history of interactive print beyond the Fold-In—and signs that a delightful genre may not be disappearing just yet.

Interactive elements such as the Fold-In have existed throughout the history of magazines—sometimes as pure editorial content, other times as marketing gimmicks, says Tony Quinn, a magazine historian and editor whose website, Magforum, is a compendium of magazine covers, trends, and quirks. ...