Spy vs Spy is a wordless comic strip published in MAD magazine. It features two agents involved in stereotypical and comical espionage activities. One is dressed in white, and the other in black, but they are otherwise identical, and are particularly known for their long, beaklike heads and their white pupils and black sclera. The pair are always at war with each other, using a variety of booby-traps to inflict harm on the other. The spies usually alternate between victory and defeat with each new strip. A parody of the political ideologies of the Cold War, the strip was created by Cuban expatriate cartoonist Antonio Prohías, and debuted in MAD #60, dated January 1961. Spy vs Spy is currently written and drawn by Peter Kuper.
The Spy vs Spy characters have been featured in such media as video games and an animated television series, and in such merchandise as action figures and trading cards.
Prohías was a prolific cartoonist in Cuba known for political satire. He fled to the United States on May 1, 1960, three days before Fidel Castro's government nationalized the last of the Cuban free press. Prohías sought work in his profession and traveled to the offices of MAD magazine in New York City on July 12, 1960. After a successful showing of his work and a prototype cartoon for Spy vs Spy, Prohías was hired.
Prohías cryptically signed each strip on its first panel with a sequence of Morse code characters that spell "BY PROHIAS". In a 1983 interview with the Miami Herald, Prohías reflected on the success of Spy vs Spy, stating, "The sweetest revenge has been to turn Fidel's accusation of me as a spy into a moneymaking venture." Prohías, however, was censored by Mad magazine publisher William Gaines on at least one occasion: the strip that eventually appeared in Mad magazine #84 (Jan. 1964) was altered to remove scenes where the spies drink and smoke (Gaines had a strong anti-smoking stance). Prohías completed a total of 241 Spy vs Spy strips for Mad magazine, the last one appearing in #269 (March 1987). After that he drew gag strips for the titles (such as one involving radioactive waste in #287) and wrote several stories for Clarke or Manak to draw, with his last such contribution in #337 (July 1995).
The strips continued, with writer Duck Edwing and artist Bob Clarke creating the majority. Their strips are identifiable by Clarke's drawing style but signed " 'C/e", or " 'C/p" in the Prohias-written cases. David Manak also contributed later on.
Some were largely uncredited, simply being signed "M&S" (MAD 335) or "M&e" (MAD 352).
George Woodbridge contributed briefly to the comics in 1993.
Peter Kuper took over as writer and artist for the strip with Mad magazine #356 (April 1997). It was later drawn in full color when the magazine changed from a black and white to full-color format.
Black Spy and White Spy (or "Man in Black" and "Man in White") — Wearing wide-brimmed hats and dressed in overcoats, both Spies have long pointed faces. They are identical except for one being entirely in white and one entirely in black. The Spies were modeled after El Hombre Siniestro ("The Sinister Man"), a character Prohías created in the Cuban magazine Bohemia in 1956. Like the Spies, he wore a wide-brimmed hat and overcoat and had a long pointed nose. Prohías described the character as someone who "thought nothing of chopping the tails off of dogs, or even the legs off of little girls" and stated he was "born out of the national psychosis of the Cuban people." 'El Hombre Siniestro bears a strong resemblance to the Spies—although, instead of fighting against a set rival, he simply does horrible things to anyone he can find.
The cover copy of The All New Mad Secret File on Spy vs Spy provides early insight to the characters and Prohías' views on the Castro regime and the CIA:
- You are about to meet Black Spy and White Spy – the two MADest spies in the whole world. Their antics are almost as funny as the CIA's. . . . When it comes to intrigue, these guys make it way outtrigue. They are the only two spies we know who haven't the sense to come in out of the cold. But they have a ball – mainly trying to outwit each other.
Grey Spy (or "Woman in Grey") — She debuted in Mad magazine #73 (Sept. 1962) (the strip was temporarily renamed Spy vs Spy vs Spy). Grey Spy's appearances were sporadic, but she always triumphed by using the infatuations of Black Spy and White Spy to her advantage. Prohías explained, "the lady Spy represented neutrality. She would decide for White Spy or Black Spy, and she also added some balance and variety to the basic 'Spy vs Spy' formula." Grey Spy's last appearance under Prohías was Mad Magazine #99 (Dec. 1965); she did not appear again until Bob Clarke and Duck Edwing took over the strip.
See other Characters.
- A Sunday strip series (39 in total) was released every week in 2002; 2014 in the MAD news, syndicated by Tribune Media Services and featuring Duck Edwing and Dave Manak returning as writer and artist respectively.
- A series of thirteen strips titled Spy vs Spy Jr. was published in Mad Kids magazine from 2006–2009. It depicted the three Spies as children, playing harmless practical jokes on each other. It appeared in every Mad Kids issue.
- Spy vs Spy: The Complete Casebook
- Spy vs Spy 2: The Joke and Dagger Files
- Spy vs Spy Omnibus
- Spy vs Spy: An Explosive Celebration
- Video games based on the strip have been released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, and Apple II.
- A "Spy vs Spy" board game was released by Milton Bradley in 1986.
- Animated segments of Spy vs Spy appeared in the unaired 1974 Mad Magazine Television Special, and in MADtv seasons 1 to about 3 (1995 until 1997) with Rough Draft Korea.
- In 2004, the characters were featured in television commercials for the soft drink Mountain Dew, also serving as they are previously used on MADtv.
- "Spy vs Spy" was a skit in every episode of Cartoon Network's animated series Mad. It ran from September 6, 2010 – December 2, 2013 (there was one skit per episode; in total, there were 103 short skits in 103 episodes), including themed skits depending on the time the episode first aired (i.e. a Christmas or Halloween theme). In the series' final episodes, the two characters and background of the skit were drawn in three dimensions instead of the classic comic book style. It served as their two previous decade cartoons. Both spies claimed victory 51 times, and one of their feuds resulted in a draw.
- Amazingly Stupid MAD (MAD Cartoon Network, 2013)
- Spy vs Spy: Casebook of Craziness (MAD Cartoon Network, 2014)
- The All New Mad Secret File on Spy vs Spy (Signet, 1965) — reprinted by Warner Books in 1971, and Watson-Guptill in 2009
- Spy vs Spy Follow Up File (Signet, 1968) — reprinted by Warner Books in 1971, and Watson-Guptill in 2009
- The Third Mad Dossier of Spy vs Spy (Warner Books, 1972)
- The Fourth Mad Declassified Papers on Spy vs Spy (Warner Books, 1974) — reprinted by Watson-Guptill, 2009
- The Fifth Mad Report on Spy vs Spy (Warner Books, 1978)
- Mad's Big Book of Spy vs Spy Capers and Other Surprises (Warner Books, 1982)
- The Sixth Mad Case Book on Spy vs Spy (Warner Books, 1988)
- Prohías' Spy vs Spy: The Updated Files (Warner Books, 1989)
- Spy vs Spy: The Updated Files #8 (Warner Books, 1993)
- Spy vs Spy: The Complete Casebook (Watson-Guptill, 2001) — reprinted by DC Comics, 2011
- Spy vs Spy: The Joke and Dagger Files (Watson-Guptill, 2007)
- Spy vs Spy: An Explosive Celebration (Liberty Street, 2015)
- Spy vs Spy: The Big Blast (Time Inc. Books, 2016)
- Teodora Carabas. 2007. Tales Calculated to Drive You MAD: The Debunking of Spies, Superheroes, and Cold War Rhetoric in MAD Magazine's 'Spy vs Spy. The Journal of Popular Culture Volume 40. Pages 4–24. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5931.2007.00351.x
- Spy vs Spy Headquarters. http://www.spyvsspyhq.com/history.html
- "Spy vs Spy: The Complete Casebook", Prohías, A. (Watson-Guptill, 2001).
- http://www.madcoversite.com/ugoi-antonio_prohias.html Mad Magazine Contributors-Antonio Prohias
- In the Studio. June 1997. Next Generation. Issue 30. Page 19. Imagine Media. https://archive.org/stream/NextGeneration30Jun1997/Next_Generation_30_Jun_1997#page/n19
- "Spy vs Spy," BoardGameGeek.com. Accessed July 1, 2015.
- "Spy vs Spy Mountain Dew Commercials," YBCW.com. Accessed July 1, 2015.