By Alison Leigh Cowan, New York Times
For a quarter century, Jewish children have hungrily followed the kooky adventures of the Shpy, the adventurous hero of The Moshiach Times, a family-friendly magazine that is published six times a year in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. (Think Highlights, but Jewish.)
With a closet full of disguises and more gadgets than 007, the Shpy volunteers his services when innocent people or ancient traditions are imperiled. He escapes from a giant Mixmaster when investigating a case of stolen hamantaschen, and thwarts a mysterious bee infestation that nearly spoils the fall holiday of Sukkot. In one installment, he invents a repellent to keep the sinister Yetzer Hora at bay, complete with a catchy slogan: “Let us Shpray.”
Young fans of the Shpy can be forgiven for skipping over the credits on Page 2 of the magazine. It is hard to fathom, though, how the rest of New York has barely noticed that the artist responsible for making the Shpy such a mensch is Al Jaffee. Yes, that Al Jaffee. The same 89-year-old bad boy whose work has been appearing for more than half a century in the occasionally rude, irreverent, and bawdy pages of Mad magazine.
“Al Jaffee’s Mad Life,” the new biography of Mr. Jaffee just published by HarperCollins, flags the connection but even it quickly moves on without exploring how Mr. Jaffee came to work for the magazine or how the odd pairing has worked out.
Stuffed into a tiny office above a children’s museum on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, the staff of The Moshiach Times seems unruffled by Mr. Jaffee’s other pursuits and notes that the Shpy is easily the magazine’s most popular feature.
The magazine has roughly 10,000 subscribers who pay $15 a year, according to the staff. Money, however, is not the point.
The magazine, whose title refers to the Hebrew word for Messiah, was started in 1980 by Chabad-Lubavitch’s Tzivos Hashem arm as a way to promote Jewish values among the young. Embedded in the cover design is the proclamation, “We want Moshiach now.”