MAD’s Spy vs. Spy, which first appeared in 1961, is one of my favorite things ever. The premise of the comic strip by Antonio Prohias is genius. In a sort of James Bond meets Heckle and Jeckle, two rival agents – one dressed in black, the other in white, but otherwise identical – take turns trying to eliminate each other. The futility of this ongoing battle only heightens the comedy, as, with each new episode, they come up with more inventive and varied ways to try to cause the others’ demise. All of this is masterfully rendered in only black and white and with no dialogue.
I’ve been eagerly hoping to find these ever since I saw them in the Sneak Peeks last year as a sub-series of MAD magazine models in the 2017 Hot Wheels Pop Culture line. Initially, I found only the Don Martin cars, which are great in their own way. But while I was looking through the mainlines the other day at Target, my son – who is a second-generation Spy vs. Spy fan – spotted these hanging nearby.
I love the simplicity of the packaging and the decorations on these models. I don’t mind so much that they cheated and used some red highlights, since it ties in nicely with the MAD logo and the redlines on the tires. The ’66 Dodge A100, with it’s fairly extreme square features, seems an appropriate Cold War era vehicle for this particular mission.
Antonio Prohias was born in Cuba in 1921. He was an experienced, prolific and award-winning cartoonist by the time he arrived in New York in 1960 – forced to flee his homeland after angering Fidel Castro with his anti-Communist drawings. When he took his portfolio to the MAD offices, he was immediately hired and his black and white Spies became an integral part of the magazine. Of his wordless style, Prohias has said (as quoted in Spy vs. Spy: the Complete Casebook), “As far as I’m concerned, drawing is a language in itself. I feel words are superfluous. In fact, even in Cuba I used Spanish as little as possible. All the power was in the drawings.”
As a youngster who loved to draw, I paid close attention to what Prohias was doing. He brought life to a spare palette with textures; endless varieties of brick and stone, clouds and smoke, tree bark and woodgrain. His skillful use of the brush tied together the page while adding and drama and tension. Prohias’ compositions defied two dimensions and his smart construction of the panels told the story fluidly.