Alfred E. Neuman is one of the most recognized pop culture icons in the world. Go figure, but it’s true. MAD didn’t invent him, he’s actually been around since the 1800’s, appearing in ads for children’s dentistry and other products. Maria Reidelbach‘s book “Completely MAD: A History of the Comic Book and Magazine” has a whole chapter on the origin of Alfred, but the bottom line is that nobody really knows for certain when the grinning gap-toothed idiot really first appeared in pop culture.
As the story goes, original MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman had seen images of the “What- Me Worry? kid” from old ads here and there and was always intrigued by it. One day he was in a book editor’s office when he saw the grinning kid on an old postcard tacked on his wall. Thinking it was the original image, he was given it by his colleague and the kid first appeared associated with MAD on the cover of “The MAD Reader“, the first reprint anthology. He then made the magazine as part of an illustrated clip art fake mail order piece in MAD #21. Later he was incorporated into the illustrated border of MAD’s covers. In issue #27 they reproduced the kid on the inside back cover with posters available for fifteen cents (cheap!)… he also was added to the dense crowd scene on the cover of that issue as done by Jack Davis. New(er) editor Al Feldstein and associate editor Nick Meglin by then had recognized that this kid, up until then referred to as either Melvin Coznowski, Mel Haney or the What, Me Worry? kid, was resonating with readers. Feldstein decided to commission an artist to do an original and definitive version of the kid and annoint him MAD mascot. They found longtime advertising illustrator Norman Mingo through a New York Times ad to do the painting, and they dubbed him “Alfred E. Neuman” on the cover of MAD #30. The rest is history.
This month there will be a special exhibit of Alfred E. Neuman art, which will include early Alfred images as well as lot’s of MAD artwork, at the Eastern Michigan University Art Gallery in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The show is from the collection of John Hett. Here’s the news blurb from their myspace site:
January 8 to February 7, 2008 – Alfred, We Hardly Knew Thee (MAD Comic Exhibition)
An instantly recognizable popular icon, Alfred E. Newman was born in the nineteenth century and was used extensively before debuting as the symbol of MAD magazine in 1954. This exhibition, drawn from the collection of John Hett, will illuminate the history of this character. Before being appropriated by MAD, Alfred’s face and slogan, “What Me Worry,” were familiar to American and British audiences as seen in advertising as well as in social commentary on immigrants and working class minorities. The show will consist of early images of Alfred as well as images from the MAD years. “Alfred, We Hardly Knew You” Lecture
Wednesday, Jan. 23, Time TBD
Speaking: John Hett and Al Feldstein
107 Ford Hall
John Hett, collector and editor and publisher of the Journal of Madness, will speak on the history of Alfred E. Newman and the creation of his collection. Al Feldstein, editor of Mad magazine for over thirty years, will discuss the selection and use of this character in MAD.
John is a well respected MAD collector and expert, and hearing Al Feldstein speak would be a real treat.
Alfred is still of course a big part of MAD. He is also something the MAD staff keep close tabs on. When I first started with MAD, I was told in no uncertain terms not to try and do “my interpretation” of Alfred. I am to do the Mingo original if I incorporate Alfred into anything. No profiles, no three quarters, no changing of expressions. Even minute changes in Alfred’s expression or look, or any situation Alfred may be placed in, needs to be approved by the staff. Alfred has a true identity and they do not want to see him “out of character”. Only certain long time MAD artists are allowed to have their own versions of Alfred, and they include Sergio Aragones, Al Jaffee, Mort Drucker, Paul Coker and maybe a few others.
A year or so ago I was a judge in an illustration “contest” exercise through the National Caricaturist Network where participants had to create a MAD cover illustration of “Rocky 6”. A lot of the participants were kind of glossing over Alfred, so I put together the following mini-lesson on drawing Alfred for them. I though it might be of interest:
Originally posted on the NCN forum, November 06:
MAD instructs all it’s artists to copy the Norman Mingo Alfred exactly. Rendering and such is up to some interpretation, expression can be altered to accommodate a gag IF IT”S IMPORTANT, but that requires full editorial approval. Usually the grin and the eye contact with the viewer is not to be changed. Hair, clothes, accessories, etc. are all able to be changed for gag purposes.
However the basic proportions need to be accurate. People seem to be missing this. I’ve seen drawing of Alfred with small cranial mass, big jaws, tiny eyes, huge foreheads… lots of departures from the accurate proportions. If you want to create something that could be a real MAD cover, you have to respect Alfred’s visual look just like Payne, Parada, Fredrickson or any of the recent MAD covers artists are required to do.
Mingo’s original Alfred from MAD #30
To draw Alfred, the best thing to do is just trace or project the basic proportions from the mingo original (at least until you’ve drawn him enough to be able to do it in your sleep). Here they are and the placement of them:
Notice that while he has a straight vertical centerline, his horizontals are tilted lower on the right. The corners of his eyes and mouth are in a line with his neck on the left side (his right), but not on the left. His eyes are famously crooked, with the right lower than the left. the tops of each ear line up with the outside corner of each eye, making them skewed as well. Do not depart from these proportions, or your Alfred will be “off”.
Here’s an “MAD approved” drawing of Alfred:
Take a close look at your drawing of Alfred and study the proportions. Really look. Are they accurate? They have to be. Trace the whole thing if you must. It’s important that Alfred is “on model”.
Here’s another Alfred I did as an icon for this site:
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