Mad Magazine — A brief history

What is Mad Magazine?

Mad Magazine was first published in 1952 as a comic book written almost solely by it’s editor Harvey Kurtzman. The concept was outlandish and unheard of at the time, re-defining ‘Anti-establishment humour’. The platform immediately developed into more than a collection of comics, and began to stir up publicity though mocking the mainstream political, commercial and advertisement cultures in numerous ways. Mad magazine and Kurtzman had an initial pursuit to mock the popular comic book industry during the 1950’s by ironically producing comics of their own with ‘knock off’ characters. Following a lukewarm reception from the first three issues, Kurtzman decided to target comics through their most popular cultural figure — Superman. The parody entitled ‘Superduperman’ had a significant impact both for the direction of Mad magazine, as well as it’s position in pioneering anti-establishment humour. Mocking DC’s largest hero created stir amongst readers, as well as prompting legal letters demanding Mad to stop…something Kurtzman ignored and used as more publicity!

The Counter Culture philosophy 

Following the response to ‘Superduperman’, the philosophy for Mad magazine had been born. It would antagonise mainstream industries and provoke them into responses used to spread publicity. Irony was it’s chosen weapon. With momentum generated by these events, the circulation of Mad grew to 750,000 copies per issue. However, reforms within the Comic Book Code Authority were introduced as a means to restrict content and reduce controversial issues following congressional hearings on the “dangers” of comic books. Kurtzman refused to comply. In 1955, Mad consequently became an independent magazine. 

Alfred E Nueman 

In a 1975 interview with the New York Times, Kurtzman spoke of an illustration of a grinning boy he’d spotted on a postcard in the early fifties. This boy was a “bumpkin portrait,” “part leering wiseacre, part happy-go-lucky kid.” The caption was “What, Me Worry?” 

It was this bumpkin that later became Alfred E. Neuman — Mad’s infamous mascot. Neuman’s origins are rather illusive and have been the subject of repeated law suits claiming the design. However, this mystery has turned more into a trump card for Mad with Neuman truly becoming synonymous with the image of the brand and the very concept of the ‘anti-mainstream’ culture. Neuman became a symbol that was used to provoke various political and advertisement platforms — a face that represented the mockery of various mainstream attributes of society, as well as a loveable, familiar, character at the heart of the Mad culture.

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