“What, me worry?” Alfred E. Neuman
After 67 years of poking fun at popular culture, politics, the entertainment industry, and just about anyone and anything that managed to get in their crosshairs, MAD magazine is being thrown under the bus.
Begun by EC Comics as a comic book in 1952, MAD was transitioned to a magazine format with issue #24 in 1955. While the move was an effort to retain original editor Harvey Kurtzman, it also served to remove the publication from the restraints of the Comics Code Authority, allowing the creative talents at MAD free reign to their satirical bents.
Kurtzman’s decision to leave the following year led to the hiring of Al Feldstein, under whose auspices MAD gradually increased circulation from under 750,000 for his first issue (#29) in 1956, to an average of 2.1 million in 1974. Feldstein’s success has been attributed to the pool of cartoonists and writers – Don Martin, Al Jaffee (the MAD Fold-in), and Antonio Prohías (Spy vs. Spy) are just three – that he hired.
By the time of Feldstein’s retirement in 1984, circulation had begun to decline, like most print publications, and MAD had already become part of the Time Warner (now WarnerMedia) corporate empire that also included DC Comics.
The publication of issue #550 at the end of 2017 represented the end of an era. MAD was moved from Manhattan to DC Entertainment in Burbank, California; the magazine was reset to issue #1; and an entirely new senior staff was put in charge. In June of 2018, WarnerMedia was acquired by AT&T, and on July 4, 2019, DC confirmed that MAD issue #10 released last month (August) would be the last containing new content, with the exception of end-of-year and special issues. All other issues would be comprised of “recycled” content with new covers and would be available only at comic book shops or by subscription.
The internet? Number-crunchers at corporate? Political correctness? We may never know precisely what caused the demise of MAD magazine, but what the heck, we’re here to talk about collectibles, so,…
MAD early on did not indulge in mass merchandising. There were a few promotional items like pendants, a T-shirt designed like a straitjacket, and a small ceramic bust of Alfred E. Neuman, but they were not issued in great numbers. In fact the straitjacket T-shirt is considered the “holy grail” of MAD collectibles. Just 1500 were reportedly sold between 1959 and 1960, and one showed up at auction in 2014. It sold for $2213.75.
More recent online auctions have included a 1960s pendant depicting Alfred E. Neuman riding on a bomb inscribed with “What, me worry?” that fetched $392, and a One Trillion Dollar coin bearing Alfred E. Neuman’s likeness that sold for $40. (How’s that for runaway inflation?)
Though most issues of the magazine sell for no more than a few dollars at most, the early comic book editions attract the most attention. A MAD #2 recently sold online for $625, while a MAD #1 garnered a bid of $632.99. Both specimens appeared to be in very good condition, but were ungraded. Another MAD #1, with a CGC grade of 4.5, spurred bidding to a final $1576.
Interested in learning more about MAD? Check out the resources listed below, and
MAD Magazine Sales Figures (Comichron) – Great resource for numbers crunchers. Includes Comics FAQs, sales charts, more.
The Dr. Gary L. Kritzberg Collection (Madtrash.com) – Impressive collection includes a number of pre-MAD Neuman-like-character advertising pieces.
Last Laugh: Mad Magazine Will Soon Disappear from Newsstands (Smithsonian Magazine)
Mad Magazine’s Demise Is Part of the Ending of a World (The Washington Post) – There’s more than one way to look at the news. Here’s one.
Mad Magazine to Cease Publication After 67 Years (Rolling Stone)
The MAD Museum (TheMadMuseum.com) – Site includes magazines, apparel, pathtags, more.