Cover of Mad Magazine #300. Alfred E. Neuman's face

About the Book

Title: MAD Magazine
Published: 1952

Cover Story: Alfred
Drinking Buddy: The Usual Gang of Idiots
MPAA Rating: Comics Code
Talky Talk: A Short Lived, Satirical Pulp
Bonus Factors: Related Material, Knock Offs
Bromance Status: Veeblefetzer

Cover Story: Alfred

Alfred E. Neuman. The gap-toothed ‘What, me worry?’ kid. He’s graced nearly every MAD cover since the 1950s, though his image dates back to the 19th century. He’s been seen on old postcards, wood carvings, advertisements, and political cartoons. Since his association with MAD, he’s appeared in Looney Tunes cartoons, ‘Peanuts’, The Simpsons, and Ray Stevens albums. Ted Koppel won the Alfred E. Neuman look-alike contest, though that was before George W. Bush swung onto the scene. The widow of the original artist (who drew the boy as a tribute to one’s worry-free childhood) tried to sue the magazine, but the courts ruled that the copyright had fallen into public domain.

Incidentally, there are only three MAD covers that were changed at the last minute, because of unfolding events. A spoof of George Bush was pulled, due to the start of the Gulf War. A send up of Robert Kennedy was changed after his assassination. And the issue that was supposed to come out immediately after 9/11 featured this unfortunately-timed illustration:

Cover from a 2001 issue of MAD Magazine, with Alfred, in marathon gear, breaking through police tape at a murder scene

The Deal:

Founded in 1952 by EC Comics Editor and ‘Tales From the Crypt‘ creator William ‘Bill’ Gaines’, MAD started out as a comic book, but converted to a magazine format in 1955. The magazine has spoofed everything from presidents to pop culture, from celebrities to everyday people. Always willing to push the bounds of bad taste, it featured such memorable columns as Al Jaffe’s ‘Fold Ins,’ Antonio Prohias’s ‘Spy Vs. Spy,’ Dave Berg’s ‘The Lighter Side,’ Sergio Aragones’s marginal comics, and countless TV and movie satires. In fact, a lawsuit against MAD established that the publishing of satire of copyrighted material is legal.

Drinking Buddy: The Usual Gang of Idiots

As a child, I learned more about world events from the pages of MAD than the pages of my history books. Foreign policy, domestic politics, social movements, what ‘herpes’ is…I learned it all from this magazine.

Brian's 1998 letter to MAD Magazine

Written by a nerdy 13-year-old.

Brian's 2000 letter to MAD Magazine

Written by a really nerdy 24-year-old.

Young Brian at a the MAD HQ

Holy Pilgrimage, 1995.

MAD Magazine rejection letter

My first letter of rejection.

MPAA Rating: Comics Code

Publisher Gaines was called before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954. He quit the comics business in 1956 after a conflict with the Comic Code authorities over including (gasp!) a black man in a science fiction comic.

Meanwhile, MAD has had its series of opponents, including song publishers, politicians, and the Ku Klux Klan. While the magazine’s tone never changed, society did, and the once edgy articles aren’t as shocking as they were during the Eisenhower administration. Except for the stuff by Tom Bunk and Al Jaffee; they always go to 11. But honestly, MAD has always been famous for its subtle, dry humor.

Cover of MAD 166, a huge middle finger

Talky Talk: A Short Lived, Satirical Pulp

That’s a 1952 review from ‘Time Magazine,’ which MAD is fond of reprinting.

Unfortunately, MAD moved their offices from New York City to Los Angeles in 2018. In 2019, the magazine began rerunning mostly old material. They’ve been doing that for decades with their ‘Super Specials,’ but now it’s happening to the regular issues. That’s fine if you don’t have every single article committed to memory, but unfortunately I do. The magazine has gone into syndication, and the laughs have ended.

But I still renewed my subscription.

Bonus Factor: Related Material

Movie Poster of Up the Academy

A friend of mine asked why MAD never produced a movie like ‘The National Lampoon’ or ‘The Onion’. Actually MAD did. It was called Up the Academy. It starred Ralph Macchio, came out in 1980, and was such a critical and commercial failure that the magazine disowned it, with Gaines eventually paying $30,000 to have MAD’s name removed for TV screenings.

Other MAD merch includes the famous board game, a Spy Vs. Spy video game, a musical CD, and a straitjacket (really).

Bonus Factor: Knock Offs

Cover of Cracked 200

Due to MAD’s popularity, dozens of rip off magazines were spawned: ‘Nuts!’, ‘Whack’, ‘Eh’, ‘Riot’, ‘Glad Magazine’ (A Christian satire publication, which was surprisingly funny), ‘The Congressional Review’, etc. The most long-lived, however, was ‘Cracked Magazine.’

‘Cracked’ was such a blatant copy of MAD: Movie and TV satires, a moronic mascot (Sylvester P. Smythe), and over-the-top humor. ‘Shut Ups’ instead of ‘Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.’ Marginal comics. Two jailbirds instead of ‘Spy Vs. Spy.’ When longtime contributor Don Martin quit MAD, he was poached by ‘Cracked’.

The magazine folded in 2007, but lives on as a very funny website.

Bromance Status: Veeblefetzer

Thanks for the 40-year love affair, Alfred. We’ll always have 43-Man Squamish

FTC Full Disclosure: Like MAD, we accept no kickbacks or advertising (well, not until 2001, at any rate).


Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.