Alfred E. Neuman Portrait by Norman Mingo (1956)

"It Didn't Hurt A Bit" (1908 Ad for Antikamnia Pain Relief Tablets)

"Sure, I'm for Roosevelt" (1940 Postcard)

The MAD Reader (1954)

MAD #21 - 1st Appearance of Alfred E. Neuman in MAD Magazine (March 1955)

MAD #30 - 1st Color & Enduring Appearance of Alfred E. Neuman in MAD Magazine (December 1956)

Alfred E. Neuman: Fictional Pop Culture Icon

In June 2014, DC Comics published its second series of Mad Magazine variants across its New 52 flagship titles to once again honor the long-running humor magazine (DC had successfully published its first series of Mad variant covers across its titles the year before). For this second series, DC borrows not just Mad Magazine’s artistic style but Alfred E. Neuman’s likeness for the covers of 21 comics, lampooning DC’s most popular characters and villains. All 21 covers of this second series are shown below.

Alfred E. Neuman — the fictitious mascot and poster child for the American humor magazine Mad featuring a distinct face, parted red hair, a gap-tooth smile, freckles, a protruding nose, and a scrawny body — first emerged in the U.S. decades prior to his famously iconic association with Mad magazine, appearing in early twentieth-century advertisements for painless dentistry (which is the origin of his “What, me worry?” motto) and, in the early 1930s, on presidential campaign postcards with the caption, “Sure, I’m for Roosevelt” and “Sure, I’m for the New Deal.”

Mad, published by EC (Entertaining Comics), debuted in August 1952. The Mad office was initially located in lower Manhattan at 225 Lafayette Street, while in the early 1960s it moved to 485 Madison Avenue, the location listed in the magazine as “485 MADison Avenue.” Initially EC, an American comic book publisher, was owned by Maxwell Gaines and specialized in educational and child-oriented stories. After Max Gaines’ death in a boating accident in 1947, his son William Gaines took over the company and began to print more mature stories, delving into genres of horror, crime, satire, military fiction, dark fantasy, science fiction and others, One such horror title was the popular Tales from the Crypt. Noted for their high quality and shock endings, these comics were also unique in their socially conscious, progressive themes such as racial equality, anti-war advocacy, nuclear disarmament, and environmentalism, which anticipated the Civil Rights Movement and the birth of 1960s counterculture. National censorship pressures resulted in the establishment of the The Comics Code Authority (CCA), formed in 1954 by the Comics Magazine Association of America to allow comic publishers to self-regulate the content of comic books in the United States, as an alternative to government regulation. This shift towards censorship prompted EC to concentrate on Mad, which lead to the company’s greatest and most enduring success. By 1956, the company ceased publishing all of its comic lines except Mad.

Mad‘s editor, Harvey Kurtzman, first claimed the fictitious mascot in 1954, when he spotted the image on a postcard pinned to the bulletin board of the offices of Ballantine Books. “It was a face that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief,” recalls Kurtzman. In November, the now-famous character debuted on the cover of Ballantine’s The Mad Reader, a paperback collection of reprints from the first two years of the magazine. The character made his first comic appearance on the cover of Mad #21 (March 1955) a few months later as a tiny image as part of a mock advertisement (third face from the left, approximately 40% down on the right hand side of the page): A rubber mask bearing his likeness with “idiot” written underneath was offered for $1.29. When Mad switched to a magazine format with Mad #24 (July 1955), the character appeared in the top central position of the illustrated border with the signature phrase, “What? Me worry?” underneath. This border would be used for the covers of the next five issues — through Mad #30 (December 1956), while the phrase would later change to “What, me worry?” The increasingly popular mascot made his first color appearance on Mad #27‘s crowded cover. Since his debut, the character’s likeness has appeared on the cover of all but a handful of the magazine’s more than 550 issues. Neuman has almost always been portrayed in front view, silhouette, or directly from behind, rarely in profile.

Surprisingly, the character went unnamed until sometime in 1956, when Mad‘s second editor, Al Feldstein, christened him Alfred E. Neuman.

“I decided that I wanted to have this visual logo as the image of Mad,” Feldstein recalls, “the same way that corporations had the Jolly Green Giant and the dog barking at the gramophone for RCA. This kid was the perfect example of what I wanted. So I put an ad in The New York Times that said, ‘National magazine wants portrait artist for special project.’ In walked this little old guy in his sixties named Norman Mingo, and he said, ‘What national magazine is this?’ I said ‘Mad,’ and he said, ‘Goodbye.’ I told him to wait, and I dragged out all these examples and postcards of this idiot kid, and I said, ‘I want a definitive portrait of this kid. I don’t want him to look like an idiot—I want him to be loveable and have an intelligence behind his eyes. But I want him to have this devil-may-care attitude, someone who can maintain a sense of humor while the world is collapsing around him.’ I adapted and used that portrait, and that was the beginning.”

Mingo’s defining portrait appeared on the cover of Mad #30 as a fictitious write-in candidate for the U.S. Presidency, cementing his identity and appearance for the public that has been used ever since. In November 2008, Mingo’s original cover art featuring this first official portrait of Neuman sold at auction for $203,150. Mingo painted seven more Neuman covers through 1957, and later returned to become the Mad‘s signature cover artist through the 1960s and 1970s. Mingo produced 97 Mad covers in total, and also illustrated dozens of additional covers for Mad‘s many reprint Specials and line of paperbacks.

Sources: Wikipedia (Alfred E. NeumanMAD MagazineEC Comics & Comics Code Authority)

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