“Soul of MAD” For Sale

September 30th, 2008 | Posted in MAD Magazine

In the 80’s MAD publisher William M. Gaines and the editorial staff cited twelve pieces of cover artwork from the magazine that they considered the epitome of what MAD was all about.. it’s “heart and soul”. They represented the essential philosophy, type of humor and satirical outlook that MAD had established as it thumbed it’s nose at the world and all those who took it, and themselves, too seriously. He called these classic pieces of art the “Soul of MAD“. Over the years there have been several MAD art auctions by Christie’s and Sothebys that featured a lot of classic MAD art, but the “Soul of MAD” pieces where never among them.

I’ve visited the MAD offices a number of times over the years, often bringing people along that we meet up with in NYC to get the “MAD tour”. They recently were moved down a floor in the DC Comics offices and into much smaller office space, but it’s still cool to see all the stuff they have on the walls and in display cases… especially the original artwork. Most of the “Soul of MAD” hangs there, including the first Alfred E. Neuman cover from MAD #30 by Norman Mingo… arguably one of the principal images of American pop culture in the last 60 years. The other 11 are the covers of¬¨‚Ć issues 31, 32, 36, 38, 43, 96, 126, 153,154 and 171.

On my last visit this summer, I was shocked and saddened to be told that all this wonderful and historic artwork was gong to be auctioned off in the near future. In deed 36 total pieces that MAD held on to and refused to include in other art auctions are going on the block. I’ve been sitting on that information for several months, but now that the auction has been officially announced as happening November 13th on the Heritage Auction website, I guess I can go ahead and announce it here on The MAD Blog.

I cannot tell you how sad this makes me. I can understand that these paintings are very valuable… some experts I’ve heard from say they expect many to go for $20,000 or more each, and the MAD #30 cover likely more than $50,000. I also understand they aren’t exactly hanging in the Louvre, but in cheap frames on the walls of the shrinking MAD offices where they basically collect dust and are seem by only a handful of people a year. Still, it’s always depressing when something like this happens. Gaines and the crew weren’t joking when they said those paintings were the “Soul of MAD“… they represent and embody not just the history of magazine and it’s importance in American culture, but the very spirit MAD and it’s contributors poured into it’s pages since 1952. The really sad thing is that once they are gone they will never be able to be retrieved. They have them now, and all they’ll have when they are gone is a little more money, no doubt quickly spent. I will say that I am pretty sure this decision came from somewhere on high and is not something the editors are doing or likely happy about. It’s a pretty sad thing all in all.

The next time I visit the MAD offices it will be a far diminished space.

So, if any of you readers have an extra $50,000 burning a hole in your pocket, here’s your chance to get some comic art history. I sincerely hope this artwork ends up in good hands.

Comments

  1. meredithd says:

    Were these pieces done as “work for hire” or are the artists receiving any compensation from the auction?

  2. Tom says:

    All artwork for MAD is work for hire, and always has been. Up until the mid eighties or so MAD kept all the originals, hence the several large MAD art auctions. I do not know if the artists got any compensation from any of those sales, but legally the owners of MAD did not have to compensate them.

    Likewise I do not know if any of the artists who did this work will see any compensation. My guess is no, but that’s just a guess. Norman Mingo and Kelly Freas are both dead, so that would mean an estate payment.

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