Welcome to the three hundredth and forty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week is a special all-Mad edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed! Learn about Alfred E. Neuman’s strange origins! Discover if Mad Magazine actually used to sell straightjackets! And find out the mystery of “Mad Mind”!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and forty-six.
COMIC LEGEND: Alfred E. Neuman existed well before Mad Magazine ever came about.
STATUS: True Enough for a True.
Alfred E. Neuman is the poster boy of Mad Magazine.
However, the character had appeared in various forms for decades before Mad Magazine ever existed!
No one is totally sure how the character became so popular, but this depiction of a stereotypical idiot popped up all over the place in the late 19th century and early 20th Century.
Here he is on a cover of Puck from 1890…
I’ll be honest – the 19th century versions vary a lot in appearance and a lot of them might be a bit of a stretch to say that they are definitively intended to be the same basic character. For instance, caricatures of Irish people around the 1870s tended to BASICALLY look like Alfred E. Neuman. Heck, the Yellow Kid BASICALLY looks like Alfred E. Neuman.
It is during the 20th century, though, that the character really took the form that he would stick with ever since.
Here he is from a poster in 1914…
Here he is from an anti-FDR voting postcard from 1940…
So by the time he finally appeared on the cover of an issue of Mad after first appearing on the cover of one of the first collection of Mad stories, The Mad Reader
the “What Me Worry?” kid was already quite the phenomenen…
(The above issue is #21).
Harvey Kurtzman was not the only one fascinated with this character, though, as fans were quickly enamored with him (I guess there’s just something about the look that people just dig).
The name Alfred E. Neuman (a name based on a character from Henry Morgan’s radio show) first appeared in #29…
In fact, the popularity of the character over the years led to an interesting defense when Mad was sued for copyright infringement during the 1960s…
Tom Richmond has the details here (in an excellent and more elaborate discussion of Alfred’s history):
Helen Pratt Stuff sued MAD for the use of the boy’s image, claiming her late husband had created and copyrighted the image in 1914 as part of a postcard not seen in print since 1920. Stuff had renewed the copyright in 1941, and she had successfully sued several other people who she claimed infringed on the work. MAD was able to prove in Federal Appellate Court that Stuff had both failed to protect the copyright by not contesting every known use of the image, and that the image had been in use by others prior to the filing of the copyright in 1914. All previous copyrights were invalidated by the courts. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling. Alfred remained the face of MAD.
Fascinating! Thanks for the info, Tom!
COMIC LEGEND: Mad Magazine used to sell actual straight jackets!
STATUS: Basically True
Reader Kitefox asked me awhile back:
I remember something about how Mad magazine, during its comic book days or shortly after, offered straight jackets for sale, I guess as a mail-in premium or something like that. Any truth to that?
There is some truth to it. They DID sell straight jackets…kind of.
They sold NOVELTY straight jackets (complete with an actual lock!).
Here is a picture of the straight jacket…
And here is an ad for the jacket, from Mad #46…
Thanks to the Mad Trash for the picture of the jacket! And thanks to Kitefox for the question!
COMIC LEGEND: Every Mad cover has an easter egg of the letters “ind” to form Mad Mind.
STATUS: Essentially False
Recently, commenter Matt Bird asked:
What does the “ind” mean between the M and the A in the Mad logo? Is it a reference to something, or a legal thing, or some sort of continuation of the title, turning it into “Mad Mind”? I’ve always wondered this.
Matt is far from the only person who has wondered about this, as it has shown up numerous times over the years on various lists of “hidden in-jokes.” The idea being that it is surreptitiously saying, as Matt mentioned, “Mad Mind” or as others suggest, perhaps “Mind Ad.”
The truth is less cool.
IND simply stands for Independent News Distributors, who distributes Mad.
That is not to say that they did not place the IND at that precise spot for a DOUBLE meaning, but the main meaning is fairly straightforward.
Thanks to Matt for asking the question and thanks to commenter jjc who answered Matt before I could.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!
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Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).
The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you all next year!