For the last few weeks, we've been posting excerpts from the essays Frank Jacobs wrote for our 60th Anniversary book, Totally Mad: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity. We've already shared "Who Was Bill Gaines?", "Has MAD Ever Been Sued?" and "What Were the MAD Trips?" Today we delve into the early days of our moronic mascot, Alfred E. Neuman.
“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 (MAD #32) 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...
Each week for the rest of the year, we'll be posting excerpts from the essays Frank Jacobs wrote for our 60th Anniversary book, Totally Mad: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity. We've already shared "Who Was Bill Gaines?" and "Has MAD Ever Been Sued?" Be sure to come back next week to read the (partial) answer to the question "Who is Alfred E. Neuman?"
By 1960, MAD had become an oddball national institution, and Bill Gaines wanted to keep it that way. His method was to create what came to be the MAD Family, made up of the editorial staff, steady contributors, even the magazine’s attorneys and accountant. The glue that held the group together was the annual MAD trip. Many of the writers and artists had never met. What better way for everyone to get to know their brethren than to fly them, all expenses paid, for a week or two in a foreign clime? These vacations, with their anticipations and memories, would knot the family ties even tighter. Especially if the trips were stag.
“I never met two wives who could get along with each other,” Gaines said at the time. “Bringing wives on the trips would divide the convivial MAD group into cliques. The wives would spend so much on clothing trying to outdo each other that it would cost the boys a fortune, and I can’t see any point to that.”
Two of the magazine’s mainstays, editor Al Feldstein and illustrator Mort Drucker, passed up the trips because of the all-male edict. The other MADmen accepted readily, eager to get a break from the typewriter and drawing-board. Skeptics might point out that Gaines, divorced at the time, was not burdened with the problem of leaving a wife at home. It would take 20 years before the stag rule was relaxed.
The first trip took the travelers to Haiti, one of Gaines’ favorite watering holes. The tone was set the first day. Discovering that the magazine had one subscriber in Port-au-Prince, Gaines piled his charges into five Jeeps, drove to the lad’s home, and presented him with a renewal card.
The next four trips were to the Caribbean, but Gaines was not happy. The West Indies bored him — especially Puerto Rico, where he spent most of his days reading and napping in his room or ordering a snack on the shaded terrace. Occasionally, in a neighborly gesture, he would tread cautiously across the beach to where the rest of the MADmen were sunning. After a few pleasantries, he would shuffle back to the hotel, relieved to be away from the sun and surf and the picture of grown men actually enjoying the stuff — sometimes, even, exercising in it.
There were better places to go with better things to see and better food to eat, and in the fall of 1966 Gaines loosened his belt and took the group to Paris, and then to Surinam, Italy, Kenya, Athens, Japan, London, Copenhagen, and the Soviet Union — to every continent save Australia and Antarctica, 27 trips in all.
The tone was set early on. In Florence, the vacationers were grouped on the steps of the Duomo Cathedral when a shouting parade of striking local laborers stampeded by. In the middle of the marchers, carrying an appropriated picket sign with his clenched fist raised high, was Sergio Aragonés.
In Venice, Nick Meglin scrutinized his admission ticket to the Palace of the Doges. “What does it say?” he was asked. “It says,” answered Meglin, “you may have already won this palace.” At the Vatican, Dick DeBartolo looked at the opulence and remarked, “God isn’t dead. He just can’t afford the rent.”
In Moscow, Gaines was continually stared at by the local populace. At first it was thought that this was because of his beard and massive mop of hair. It was later learned, however, that to Muscovite eyes, at least, Gaines resembled Karl Marx. The abundance of beards in the travelers prompted one observer to remark that the MAD gang looked like a road company of Benjamin Harrison’s cabinet.
Gaines himself climbed — yes, climbed — to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and there placed an “Alfred E. Neuman for President” poster. It was rumored, but not confirmed, that the tower leaned an inch or two more after that.
Each week for the rest of the year, we'll be posting excerpts from the essays Frank Jacobs wrote for our 60th Anniversary book, Totally Mad: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity. Leading off is a piece about the man who started it all, MAD founder William M. Gaines. Be sure to come back next week to read the (partial) answer to the question "Has MAD Ever Been Sued?"
With the untimely death of his father, Bill Gaines seemed unprepared to become the head of Educational Comics, often abbreviated as EC. He was naïve and inexperienced, but even he could see that the company, then $100,000 in the red, was in deep trouble. Its kiddie comics — “Bouncy Bunny in the Friendly Forest” was a typical title — had seen their day.
Gaines experimented, tapped his creative side, and a new breed of comic book emerged. Its name was horror. Gaines and writer/editor Al Feldstein hit the jackpot and begot an empire that would spawn the most fanatical cult in the history of the industry. EC now stood for Entertaining Comics, and with the changeover a new Bill Gaines gradually emerged: an efficient, determined, honest-to-goodness publisher and businessman.
A few years later, with the enormous success of MAD, the transformation was complete. Gaines became the prototype of a leader — unshaven, unkempt, and sometimes off the rails — but a leader nonetheless, and a father figure to many.
Longtime MAD art director John Putnam agreed. “He can be a warm friend and yet keeps a workable distance between himself and his employees. I’m never made to feel like an employee, but I’m not going to walk all over him — no one is.”
The door to Gaines’ office was almost always open and unless he was counting money or double-checking items on his daily calendar, he was available to anyone. He loved gossip and listened avidly to any tidbit, but almost never contributed a view of his own.
“Bill will listen and Bill will laugh,” said Putnam, “but that’s all. I’ve never heard him put anyone on the staff down.”
Gaines’ office was a museum of sentimental and macabre memorabilia. The first thing you saw was the gigantic presence of King Kong peering in a window. The papier-mâché, fur-covered gorilla was handcrafted by artist Sergio Aragonés and presented to Gaines as a Christmas gift from his staff and contributors. Hanging from the ceiling were zeppelins of various sizes — all gifts from MADmen — and the outlandish MAD Zeppelin, co-created by artist George Woodbridge and art director John Putnam and later included as a bonus cut-out in a MAD Special.
Gaines’ most cherished possession was his calendar on which, in a script only he could decipher, he notated his missions for the day. As each task was completed, he blackened out the mission with savage satisfaction. It was vital, important, even sacred for him to get every item crossed out.
Contrary to the size of his person, appetite, and bankroll, Gaines thought small—at least as publisher of MAD. Playboy’s Hugh Hefner once asked him what new projects he was planning.
“None,” Gaines replied.
“None?” Hefner asked incredulously.
“It was like I was guilty of blasphemy,” Gaines said later.
What one must realize is that Gaines was terrified of getting involved in an operation too big for him to handle personally. Therein lieth ruin — not for Hefner, perhaps, but assuredly for himself. He didn’t seek to build an empire; MAD would provide him with a modest, quite profitable kingdom.
We are proud to announce the third installment of our popular book series, MAD’s Greatest Artists — this one celebrating the legendary Mort Drucker, universally acclaimed as one of the greatest humorous illustrators and caricaturists of all time. It always struck us as odd that a man of Mort’s immense talent would work for us, but we’re glad he does! This book is a rich compilation of Mort’s MAD work from the past five decades, including movie parodies, TV spoofs, and satirical jabs at eight presidents! It also features a brand new interview with Mort himself by longtime MAD Editor Nick Meglin. As an added bonus, there's a full-color, pull-out vintage poster reprinted for the first time in almost 50 years! With an introduction by Michael J. Fox, the book features essays by some of Hollywood’s greatest directors, including J.J. Abrams, Frank Darabont, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. On sale October 23 from Running Press. Pre-order your copy today by clicking here!
The National Cartoonists Society held the 66th Annual Reuben Awards in Las Vegas this past weekend. The big winner at this year's ceremony was none other than MAD's very own Tom Richmond, who took home the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year! The Reuben is the highest honor a professional cartoonist can receive. Past winners include such big names as Charles Schulz, Gary Larson, Matt Groening, and four legendary members of MAD's Usual Gang of Idiots: Mort Drucker, Sergio Aragonés, Jack Davis and Al Jaffee! Below is a photo of Tom holding his shiny new Reuben surrounded by three of the four previous MAD winners, along with MAD Art Director Sam Viviano and longtime MAD Editor Nick Meglin.
Congratulations, Tom! Now come down off your cloud and get going on the next movie parody! Deadlines don't care about fancy awards.
Huge thanks to David Folkman for the photo!
Click the image to make it bigger!
One of the highlights of the “SCAD MAD MAD MAD Weekend,” hosted last weekend by the Southeastern Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society at the Savannah College of Art and Design, was a “Spy vs. Spy” competition organized by Anthony Fisher, Chairman of the school’s Sequential Arts Department. Students were instructed to immerse themselves in the work of “Spy” creator Antonio Prohias, and then come up with their best black-and-white take on the eternal antagonists. Sixteen entries made the finals, which were then judged on Friday by the event’s guests of honor, MAD legends Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Nick Meglin, Paul Coker, Sergio Aragonés, and Tom Richmond, as well as MAD Art Director Sam Viviano. Here are the three winners:
First Place: Undergraduate Meaghan “Meg” Casey
Check out Meg's website here!
Below is a lovely photo of her with some of the attending members of "The Usual Gang of Idiots" in Savannah.
Al Jaffee, Tom Richmond, Paul Coker, Sergio Aragonés, Meg Casey,
Sam Viviano, Nick Meglin and Anthony Fisher
Photo via Tom Richmond
Second Place: Undergraduate Fred Stresing
Check out Fred's website here!
Third Place: Graduate Jerald Lewis
Check out Jerald's website here!
Three cheers for the three winners! Peter Kuper, watch your back!
UPDATE 11/29/11: THANKS TO ALL WHO SENT IN. WE CAN NO LONGER ACCEPT REQUESTS.
We've shown you lots of good stuff we found in our stock room cleanup, and now it's time for YOU to share in some of the bounty. The postcard you see below depicts MAD founder/publisher William M. Gaines, longtime editor Nick Meglin, and current (and also longtime!) editor John Ficarra "hard at work" in the old MAD office at 485 MADison Avenue. It was illustrated by the one and only Mort Drucker! (Yep, the very same Mort Drucker who used to draw covers for the Bob Hope comic book.)
We came across a big stack of them in the stock room, but as you can see, there was a limited number produced:
So, do you want one of your own? You DO? Luckily, they're easy to get: mail us a self-addressed STAMPED envelope that will fit the 3.5" x 5.5" card. We'll pop one in there, seal it with a kiss and send it back your way. One per customer, and make sure it's stamped! Send it to:
Three Idiots Postcard
New York, NY 10019
Once we run out, that's that! So stop reading this stupid blog and go find an envelope NOW!