Alfred E. Neuman: the smart side. Artist: Norman Mingo.


Original Medium: Comic books? Magazines? Postcards? Other?
Published by: EC Comics? Various newspapers? No publisher at all?
First Appeared: mid-1950s? Turn of the Century? Earlier yet?
Creator: Harvey Kurtzman? Al Feldstein? Norman Mingo? Humanity's Collective Unconscious?
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The name was in use long before Mad magazine came out — on Henry Morgan's old radio show, for one thing; and for another, it was the name of a real-life …

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… classical music conductor. The face goes back even farther. It appears on patent medicine labels, signs for roadside eateries, political propaganda etc. (often including his famous slogan, "What, me worry?", or a recognizable variant) going back to the beginning of the 20th century. A little more, in fact, considering the character's more-than-passing resemblance to comics' first superstar, The Yellow Kid. And when Mad did start using both the name and the face, at first it didn't even link them to the same character.

And yet, Alfred E. Neuman has become so closely associated with Mad that by 1963, a letter mailed from Auckland, New Zealand, with no address other than his picture, managed to find its way to the magazine's editorial office in New York City.

So prolific were pre-Mad uses of the face, that when the magazine was sued for copyright infringement (twice, once based on a 1914 copyright and the other on a 1936 one), its major defense was to show the court that the plaintiffs had copied it from even earlier sources. Cartoonists who used it include George McManus (creator of Bringing Up Father), Frederick Burr Opper (creator of Happy Hooligan), Eugene "Zim" Zimmerman (with credits at Puck, Judge, Life and elsewhere), and a host of toon practitioners who neglected to sign their names. Actual human beings said to resemble Alfred E. Neuman include Prince Charles, Ted Koppel, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.

How did The "What, Me Worry?" Kid wind up at Mad?

Mad's first use of the face was on the cover of its first reprint volume, The Mad Reader, published in November, 1954. In the comic book itself, he first turned up on the cover of #21 (January, 1955). Four months later, when the publication was reformatted as a magazine, he again appeared on the cover, in addition to playing cameo roles in several interior items, and he's been the magazine's official mascot ever since. He's been depicted on the Mad cover as Santa Claus, George Washington, Superman, Darth Vader, Uncle Sam and many other familiar personages. His apparent occupations include, but are far from limited to, high-wire performer, big-game hunter, teenage mutant ninja turtle, doctor, lawyer and Indian guru. He's even been a presidential candidate (just like Magilla Gorilla, Zippy the Pinhead and a host of other toons), using the slogan, "You could do worse — and always have."

Meanwhile, the character's name had been dropped here and there in Mad and other EC publications, as a running gag, for years. Another prominent candidate from their pool of gag names was Melvin Coznowski (spelling varies). It was in #29 (May, 1956) that the face was first joined with the Neuman name, and they've been together ever since.

At first, the drawing most often used as the face's model came from a postcard unearthed by Mad's founding editor, Harvey Kurtzman, who had become intrigued by the variety of places in which he saw it, and thought (erroneously) with this discovery, he'd tracked it to its ultimate source. When, in 1956, the Madmen decided to make him their permanent mascot, Al Feldstein, who had just taken over as editor, commissioned portrait artist Norman Mingo to render the face as a fully-realized, three-dimensional character — up until then, it had only appeared as simple line drawings. Mingo's painting became the basis for all subsequent renditions — and by the time Mingo died, in 1980, his fame for creating the definitive rendition of Alfred E. Neuman had eclipsed all his previous work.

Alfred E. Neuman has appeared on every Mad cover for more than half a century. He's been depicted by Dave Berg, Jack Davis, Frank Kelly Freas, and practically every other artist who's worked there. Tho the character wasn't precisely created for the magazine, Mad's association with him has been unchallenged since the 1960s — and as the decades roll by, it only becomes firmer.


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Text ©2001-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © EC Comics.