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. The pair are constantly 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.
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 travelled 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 drew a total of 241 Spy vs. Spy strips for Mad magazine, the last one appearing in issue #269 (March 1987). After that he wrote several strips for Clarke or Manak to draw, with his last such contribution in issue #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.
Some were largely uncredited, simply being signed "M&S" (MAD 335) or "M&e" (MAD 352).
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 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 MADdest 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.
Leaders — They are the barrel-chested, medal-decorated bosses of Black Spy and White Spy, who give them tasks and punish them for their failures. The Leaders were phased out when Peter Kuper took over writing and illustrating the strip.
Media related to Spy vs. Spy at Wikimedia Commons