Alfred E. Neuman, the grinning face with the flapping ears, has gazed out from the covers of MAD magazine for half a century — becoming such a familiar presence that Charles, Prince of Wales, may have felt it necessary to deny that he looked like him.
The heir to the British throne, then 9 years old, apparently sent a letter to that effect in 1958. On Buckingham Palace stationery and mailed from a nearby post office, it was published in MAD’s letters column.
Pretty tough to deny the resemblance, though. Witness a last batch of original drawings of Alfred and other early works being put up for auction by the magazine, which since 1952 has kept legions of American youths reading under the covers with flashlights.
The sale is scheduled for Nov. 14 at the Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas and online. A preview exhibition of the 36 items to be sold will be held at New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art on Oct. 29.
MAD, founded by William Gaines and Harvey Kurzman, became widely popular for its mix of zany, absurdist and irreverent humor — especially its devastating parodies of Hollywood films and satirical commentaries on pompous politicians and self-important celebrities.
MAD’s current editor, John Ficarra, said the 36 original works had been held out of previous sales of the magazine’s archives at Heritage, Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
“We wanted to hold onto them for as long as possible,” he said. “Not as much as a tribute to the early history of MAD ... but because these paintings were covering up quite a few holes in the walls. This auction leaves us no choice. Now we have to patch and paint.
“We have waited until all the rest of the great artwork of MAD was sold to offer this final collection. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
The collection is mostly made up of Alfred E. Neuman covers, including the first one drawn by the late Norman Mingo for MAD’s issue No. 30 of December 1956. It shows the gap-toothed icon as a “write-in candidate for president,” saying “What — me worry?” as an elephant and donkey glare angrily at each other in the background.
That line has been the slogan for scores of Alfred E. Neuman covers over the next 52 years.
A 1957 cover shows the mascot in triplicate, substituting for the three “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys. Unlike the familiar chimps, Neuman has eyes, ears and mouth uncovered.
A third cover from 1969 has Neuman dressed like Uncle Sam in the famous James Montgomery Flagg recruiting poster of World War I. But instead of “Uncle Sam wants you,” the Neuman figure is asking, “Who needs you?” a comment tailored for the Vietnam War then going on. The drawing is signed, “James Montgomery Mingo.”
Others show Neuman as George Washington, a Rolls Royce hood ornament and carved on Mount Rushmore. A 1974 cover, by Mingo, substitutes President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew for Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “The Sting.”