Alfred E. Neuman – you’re a legend.
You have been such a legend in many peoples’ lives for nearly 70 years. But now, the powers that be had decided to pull the plug on your satire and humour that graced the pages of the trees that were cut down and slaughtered in order to made a nerdy kid laugh.
With the news of the D.C. Comics owned cartoon humour magazine receiving the chop recently, many tributes have been published on social media everywhere. The image is clear: the Harvey Kurtzman and William M. Gaines created empire touched everyone at various profiles and ages.
The magazine had many regular contributing artists and features, such as Antonio Prohías‘ Spy vs. Spy, Sergio Aragones‘ A MAD Look At… and the spine doodles, Dave Berg‘s The Lighter Side Of… and Al Jaffee‘s famous Fold-In, which featured at the very back of the magazine and prompted you to physically fold the back page into two parts to see the image, and damage the magazine at the same time.
The official face of MAD was a fictional character named Alfred E. Neuman, who often featured in his generic tooth-gap smile and lopsided face on the front cover, lampooning the main feature of the topic of issue. While MAD was based in the U.S., the Australian edition featured a combination of international and Australian artists, contributing in their own way and form.
I didn’t experience the world of MAD until 1991 when I was roughly 10 years old. I remember sitting in the car with my Mum, waiting in the school parking lot for my brother to return from a week-long school excursion. As he returned to the car, he dropped an issue of of MAD he purchased to read on the bus ride back, and I fell in love with it. I was in primary school at the time, so I took it with me for ‘show and tell’. It wasn’t until then, I discovered a handful of classmates who read MAD – usually their parent’s copy or their older sibling. We would draw the MAD logo constantly in class, and inspired by Aragones’ drawings in the spine, draw sketches in our classwork books. It was MAD that inspired me to be a cartoonist as I grew older.
I was keen as mustard when the Spy vs. Spy game was available to play on my Sega Master System II. I would play the game against my neighbour and I sucked at it.. but still loved it.
I collected the issues on a monthly basis, especially excited when the special / super editions came out every quarter which were thicker and full of more cartoons than the monthly editions. I even remember my Uncle had the MAD board game stored away in his garage, but I could not work out how to play it.
As I reached High School, I discovered the school library had collections of MAD to read during lunch breaks. It was then in one of the 1995 issues that Australian MAD were going to be at a comic book convention called ‘Oz-Con’. I was excited about attending my first one, so I dragged a parent along to the convention to meet my idols.
Unfortunately, my passion for cartooning died when my then Art teacher thought I was ‘a bit shit’, but I still had a sense of humour. In a couple of Australian issues, they started to give away comedy albums – only if you subscribe by cutting out the subscription form directly from the issue, again destroying the magazine. The only way you could get around it is to buy two issues – one to cut and/or fold, and the other to keep in quality condition. I managed to score a copy of Australian MAD’s album Harp On This, as well as the Beatles satirical album title Shabby Road which I still have to this day.
When I noticed that MAD switched to colour printing, at first I thought it was fantastic and would make the imagery stand out more, but as I read my first issue, I realised that the black and white printing helped with your imagination, so I didn’t bother.
My interest peaked again when I found out that in the early 2000s, there was a thing called MADtv – a version of Saturday Night Live / In Living Color. But Channel 9 screened it very late at night and always missed it.
Not to forget years later, after the success of the stop motion animation series Robot Chicken, Warner Bros. took MAD back to the TV screens with an animated series that resembled the original cartoons more.
Over time, I moved on from the magazine, trading in my back issues for some coin at the second hand book store, and it wasn’t until recently that my parents had a clean-out of their garage and found some classic issues, but I stupidly said to donate them to charity. Then again, I forgot they were in storage – so no big loss.
Sadly, after the announcement that MAD was closing all new release printing and concentrate on ‘best ofs’, it made me reflect on the good times I had with MAD growing up, surrounded by the usual gang of idiots.