Founded by editor Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William Gaines in 1952, Mad Magazine,
launched as a comic book and was widely imitated and influential, impacting not only satirical media but the entire cultural landscape of the 20th century, with editor Al Feldstein increasing readership to more than 2,000,000 during its 1970s circulation peak.
It’s the last surviving title from the notorious EC Comics line, the magazine offers satire on all aspects of life and popular culture, politics, entertainment, and public figures.
Its format is divided into a number of recurring segments such as TV and movie parodies, as well as freeform articles.
Mad’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, is typically the focal point of the magazine’s cover, with his face often replacing a celebrity or character that is lampooned within the issue.
In 2010, the magazine’s oldest and longest-running contributor, Al Jaffee, told an interviewer,
Mad was designed to corrupt the minds of children. And from what I’m gathering from the minds of people all over, we succeeded.
Some of Mad Magazine‘s political cover art including the work of Jack Davis.
Following the success of the National Lampoon–backed Animal House, Mad lent its name in 1980 to a similarly risque comedy film, Up the Academy. It was such a commercial debacle and critical failure that Mad successfully arranged for all references to the magazine (including a cameo by Alfred E. Neuman) to be removed from future TV and video releases of the film, although those references were eventually restored on the DVD version, which was titled Mad Magazine Presents Up the Academy. Mad also devoted two pages of its magazine to an attack on the movie, titled Throw Up the Academy. The spoof’s ending collapsed into a series of interoffice memos between the writer, artist, editor and publisher, all bewailing the fact that they had been forced to satirize such a terrible film. On March 2, 2018, Mad announced via their Twitter page that a sequel to the original film will be written by an A-list film writer.
A 1974 Mad animated television pilot using selected material from the magazine was commissioned by ABC but the network decided to not broadcast it. Dick DeBartolo noted, “Nobody wanted to sponsor a show that made fun of products that were advertised on TV, like car manufacturers.” The program was instead created into a TV special, and is available for online viewing.
In the mid-1980s, Hanna-Barbera developed another potential Mad animated television series which was never broadcast.
In 1995, Fox Broadcasting Company’s Mad TV licensed the use of the magazine’s logo and characters. However, aside from short bumpers which animated existing Spy vs. Spy (1994–1998) and Don Martin (1995–2000) cartoons during the show’s first three seasons, there was no editorial or stylistic connection between the TV show and the magazine. Produced by Quincy Jones, the sketch comedy series was in the vein of NBC’s Saturday Night Live and Global/CBC’s SCTV, and ran for 14 seasons and 321 episodes. On January 12, 2016, The CW aired an hour-long special celebrating the series’ 20th anniversary. A large portion of the original cast returned. An eight-episode revival featuring a brand new cast premiered on July 26, 2016.
Animated Spy vs. Spy sequences were also seen in TV ads for Mountain Dew soda in 2004.
In September 2010, Cartoon Network began airing the animated series Mad, from Warner Bros. Animation and executive producer Sam Register (Teen Titans, Ben 10, Batman: The Brave and the Bold). The series aired short animated vignettes about current television shows, films, games and other aspects of popular culture. Much like Mad TV’s, this series also features appearances by Spy vs. Spy and Don Martin cartoons. Produced by Kevin Shinick (Robot Chicken) and Mark Marek (KaBlam!, The Andy Milonakis Show), the series ran from September 6, 2010, to December 2, 2013, lasting for four seasons and 103 episodes.
Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’s other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by MAD’s New York offices and submitted his work; his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.
One day in the 1960s a letter was delivered to the MAD offices bearing no name or address. Other than a postage stamp, the envelope bore only a picture of the magazine’s cover boy, Alfred E. Neuman.
Clearly, the gap-toothed face of the idiot kid had become iconic. Alfred and MAD, to use an overworked phrase, were joined at the hip. Already the grinning face had shown up in unlikely places: placards of him as a candidate — “You could do worse, you always have!” — were flaunted at political conventions. His features were sculpted in ice at a Dartmouth Winter Carnival. Fred Astaire danced in an Alfred mask during a TV special. A party of climbers planted a Neuman flag atop Mount Everest.
Alfred owes his place in history to four men. The first was MAD’s first editor, Harvey Kurtzman, who glimpsed the grinning face, captioned “Me worry?” on a postcard in 1954.
“It was a kid that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief,” Kurtzman recalled.
The boy soon made his way into the pages of the magazine, though he was as yet unnamed.
Kurtzman had been using the Neuman name mostly because it had the ring of a nonentity — although there was a Hollywood composer named Alfred Newman. Misspelled, with the added “E,” it too was integrated into the magazine.
When Al Feldstein replaced Kurtzman as editor, he decided to link “Alfred E. Neuman” with the face of the idiot kid. The idiot kid made his official debut in 1956 as a write-in candidate for President on the cover of MAD #30, and the magazine now had an official mascot and cover boy. In the next issue, Alfred made his second cover appearance pictured as an addition to Mount Rushmore.
Though others had their doubts, Nick Meglin, then an assistant editor, believed that MAD should continue to use Alfred as the magazine’s cover boy. “You’ll have to convince me,” said publisher Bill Gaines, who had veto power over all MAD covers. Playing up to Gaines’ interest in archaeology, Meglin submitted a rough sketch of Alfred in an Egyptian tomb and one or two others that emerged as cover illustrations later. Having been convinced there were endless possibilities, Gaines agreed that Alfred should reign as the magazine’s icon.
The Neuman face was created by Norman Mingo. Curiously, none of MAD’s artists, though extremely versatile, has been able to render accurately the Mingo prototype. When Mingo died in 1980, his obituary in The New York Times identified him in its headline as the “Illustrator Behind ‘Alfred E. Neuman’ Face.”
What is the source of the “What — Me Worry?” Boy? MAD asked its readers to help out and was deluged by suggestions and theories. The kid was used in 1915 to advertise a patent medicine; he was a newspaperman named Old Jack; he was taken from a biology textbook as an example of a person who lacked iodine; he was a testimonial on advertisements for painless dentistry; he was originated by comedian Garry Moore; he was a greeting-card alcoholic named Hooey McManus; he was a Siamese boy named Watmi Worri. One reader dug up a 1909 German calendar bearing a version of the inane smiling face.
By far the most pertinent correspondence came from a lawyer representing a Vermont woman named Helen Pratt Stuff. She claimed that her late husband, Harry Stuff, had created the kid in 1914, naming him “The Eternal Optimist.” Stuff’s copyrighted drawing, she charged, was the source of Alfred E. Neuman and she was taking MAD to court to prove it.
Thus began the great Alfred E. Neuman lawsuit. The stakes were not small. If MAD lost, it would be liable for millions of dollars in damages. And Alfred no longer would be permitted to show his worriless countenance in any MAD publication or property…
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