Thursday, June 25, 2009

What, me worry? Alfred E. Neuman and Mad

In 1956 artist Norman Mingo, recently retired at age 60, answered an ad for an illustrator. It was for Mad Magazine, which wanted to go with painted covers showing some sophistication. They also wanted to spotlight their mascot, Alfred E. Neuman. There's a story behind that.

Alfred E. Neuman had been pictured, in one form or another, since the 19th Century on calendars, in ads for painless dentistry, as someone lacking in iodine, etc. Mad creator, Harvey Kurtzman, used him on the magazine, but called him Melvin Cowsnowski. When the name Alfred E. Neuman was settled on history was made. To go along with the name, Kurtzman's successor on Mad, Albert B. Feldstein, wanted a three dimensional look to Alfred, and Mingo supplied it.

For years you could send Mad 25¢ and get a lithograph like this, with Mingo's name removed.

When Mad used Mingo's Alfred as an advertising icon or on products his name was erased. That's probably so he couldn't sue them and say it was "his" kid they were using.

Mad publisher, William M. Gaines, who died in 1992, was an old-fashioned publisher who owned all the artwork, and used it over and over again. Here's a painting by artist Jack Rickard, showing Alfred morphing into Gaines.

This is a scan of the original art for Mingo's original cover, Mad #30, which first featured Alfred, done during the time of the 1956 Presidential election. It sold at auction last year for $230,000, which is probably more than Mingo earned his entire career painting Alfred.

This is a scan of issue #32, with a clever use of Alfred. It was one of the first issues of Mad I saw, and I remember it vividly. I'd never seen anything like it.

Gaines was sued a couple of times by people claiming they had the copyright to the kid, but every time they produced what they claimed as their picture of the kid, the Mad research people turned up an even earlier version.

So while the kid wasn't copyright and Mad could adopt him as a mascot, don't use Alfred as Mad uses Alfred, because now he's copyright. Mad's lawyers stamp out anyone trying to use the Mad version of the kid, although you'd be safe using the antique images, like I'm showing here.

Mingo did many covers when he was in his seventies, and his Mad work, produced during the time the magazine reached a circulation of millions, got him more recognition than his years as an advertising artist. I guess it was a good thing he answered that classified ad in 1956!

Mingo died in 1980.

Lately Mad is using the Obama image effectively; this cover by Mark Fredrickson cleverly morphs Alfred's face onto Obama's. The poster on the bottom is a satire on the famous Obama poster.


Unknown said...

When I was probably 6-7, ub the early 50's, my uncle took me to Claremore, Oklahoma with him on some errand and we stopped at a garage. While he was talking with someone, I was looking around, and spotted a large calendar with this goofy looking kid's face. As an imaginative kid it made a huge impression on me. I swear, it was what became Alfred E. Newman! Could this be possible?


Kirk said...

Just some things I'd like to add. While Will Elder didn't invent Alfred, he drew the first one for Mad. It didn't appear but on the cover of The Mad Reader, a paperback collection of the comic book stories. Also, when Mad first became a magazine, the name Alfred E. Newman was frequently mentioned, but as a separate character from the gap-toothed boy, who also frequently appeared in the magazine. So I guess you can credit roignal editor Harvey Kurtzman for the creation of Alfred, but not quite in the way we've come to know him. Finally, according to Frank Jacobs, it was assistant editor Nick Meglin who came up with the idea of having of Alfred on the cover of every issue in varying poses.