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Comic Book Legends Revealed #347

Welcome to the three hundredth and forty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week is a special all-Mad edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed! Learn about Alfred E. Neuman’s strange origins! Discover if Mad Magazine actually used to sell straightjackets! And find out the mystery of “Mad Mind”!

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and forty-six.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Alfred E. Neuman existed well before Mad Magazine ever came about.

STATUS: True Enough for a True.

Alfred E. Neuman is the poster boy of Mad Magazine.

However, the character had appeared in various forms for decades before Mad Magazine ever existed!

No one is totally sure how the character became so popular, but this depiction of a stereotypical idiot popped up all over the place in the late 19th century and early 20th Century.

Here he is on a cover of Puck from 1890…

I’ll be honest – the 19th century versions vary a lot in appearance and a lot of them might be a bit of a stretch to say that they are definitively intended to be the same basic character. For instance, caricatures of Irish people around the 1870s tended to BASICALLY look like Alfred E. Neuman. Heck, the Yellow Kid BASICALLY looks like Alfred E. Neuman.

It is during the 20th century, though, that the character really took the form that he would stick with ever since.

Here he is from a poster in 1914…

Here he is from an anti-FDR voting postcard from 1940…

So by the time he finally appeared on the cover of an issue of Mad after first appearing on the cover of one of the first collection of Mad stories, The Mad Reader

),

the “What Me Worry?” kid was already quite the phenomenen…

(The above issue is #21).

Harvey Kurtzman was not the only one fascinated with this character, though, as fans were quickly enamored with him (I guess there’s just something about the look that people just dig).

The name Alfred E. Neuman (a name based on a character from Henry Morgan’s radio show) first appeared in #29…

In fact, the popularity of the character over the years led to an interesting defense when Mad was sued for copyright infringement during the 1960s…

Tom Richmond has the details here (in an excellent and more elaborate discussion of Alfred’s history):

Helen Pratt Stuff sued MAD for the use of the boy’s image, claiming her late husband had created and copyrighted the image in 1914 as part of a postcard not seen in print since 1920. Stuff had renewed the copyright in 1941, and she had successfully sued several other people who she claimed infringed on the work. MAD was able to prove in Federal Appellate Court that Stuff had both failed to protect the copyright by not contesting every known use of the image, and that the image had been in use by others prior to the filing of the copyright in 1914. All previous copyrights were invalidated by the courts. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling. Alfred remained the face of MAD.

Fascinating! Thanks for the info, Tom!

COMIC LEGEND: Mad Magazine used to sell actual straight jackets!

STATUS: Basically True

Reader Kitefox asked me awhile back:

I remember something about how Mad magazine, during its comic book days or shortly after, offered straight jackets for sale, I guess as a mail-in premium or something like that. Any truth to that?

There is some truth to it. They DID sell straight jackets…kind of.

They sold NOVELTY straight jackets (complete with an actual lock!).

Here is a picture of the straight jacket…

And here is an ad for the jacket, from Mad #46…

Thanks to the Mad Trash for the picture of the jacket! And thanks to Kitefox for the question!

COMIC LEGEND: Every Mad cover has an easter egg of the letters “ind” to form Mad Mind.

STATUS: Essentially False

Recently, commenter Matt Bird asked:

What does the “ind” mean between the M and the A in the Mad logo? Is it a reference to something, or a legal thing, or some sort of continuation of the title, turning it into “Mad Mind”? I’ve always wondered this.

Matt is far from the only person who has wondered about this, as it has shown up numerous times over the years on various lists of “hidden in-jokes.” The idea being that it is surreptitiously saying, as Matt mentioned, “Mad Mind” or as others suggest, perhaps “Mind Ad.”

The truth is less cool.

IND simply stands for Independent News Distributors, who distributes Mad.

That is not to say that they did not place the IND at that precise spot for a DOUBLE meaning, but the main meaning is fairly straightforward.

Thanks to Matt for asking the question and thanks to commenter jjc who answered Matt before I could.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

Follow Comics Should Be Good on Twitter and on Facebook (also, feel free to share Comic Book Legends Revealed on our Facebook page!). If we hit 3,000 likes on Facebook you’ll get a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends the week after we hit 3,000 likes! So go like us on Facebook to get that extra Comic Book Legends Revealed! Not only will you get updates when new blog posts show up on both Twitter and Facebook, but you’ll get original content from me, as well!

Also, be sure to check out my website, Legends Revealed, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can find here, at legendsrevealed.com.

Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).

The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you all next year!

26 Comments

Maria Reidelbach’s book Completely MAD features a thorough history of Alfred E. Neuman. It includes dozens of examples of ads, postcards, photos and other miscellany dating back to 1895 featuring everyone’s favorite MADman.

This thread from the MAD Mumblings website gives a detailed look at the recently unearthed origins of the image. No pictures, unfortunately, but the info is fascinating. Alfred’s roots date back 200 years! http://www.madmumblings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3592

Thanks, Michael, good links!

Huh. I always assumed it was “Mind Ad”. The truth is less fun.

Seems like the word “copyright” should be replaced with “trademark” throughout that quoted passage. Copyrights don’t have to be defended aggressively, and while a specific image of Alfred could be copyrighted, his general design would be subject to trademark rather than copyright.

Or possibly copyright law has changed since the suit.

It was a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Here’s the case summary for the case (which was Helen Pratt Stuff, Plaintiff-appellant, v. E.c. Publications, Inc., William M. Gaines, Independent Newsco., Crownpublishers, Inc., Ballantine Books,inc., Defendants-appellees):

Appellant, a holder of a United States copyright on a caricature of a grinning boy, sued defendants, publishers of ‘Mad’ magazine for copyright infringement

I remember MAD addressing the MIND AD question once in the Letters and Tomatoes department. Wish I could track it down, but someone out there must have the scan!

Interestingly enough, I just finished reading the SPY vs SPY omnibus which collected all the Spy vs Spy strips for the 50 years that Prohias has done. Plus extras.

Has there ever been an Comic Book Legend done on this? I’d imagine it’d be worth looking into this.

A Comic Book Legend about whether or not Tom Fitzpatrick read the SPY vs SPY omnibus which collected all the Spy vs Spy strips for the 50 years that Prohias has done. Plus extras? I say the legend is TRUE!

(Saving you time, Brian.)

Yeah, Thad is right, though. Copyrights don’t have to be defended in order to maintain protection, that’s trademarks. The courts simply got that decision wrong. By now, it’s kind of moot, because more than likely it’s public domain depending on the date of death of her husband.

And, if 1914 is the earliest known date of the image, then there are no “late 19th Century” occurrences of the image.

I think it’s a little silly to say that the Supreme Court “simply got the decision wrong” after reading a paragraph summary of the case.

The comments about trademark and copy protection defense are true under current law, but a copyright case in the 60s would have operated under a different statute. Copyright law now derives from the 1976 Federal Statute.

I don’t know enough about pre 76 trademark vs copyright distinctions to speak on the issue.

I’ve read a few places that the Alfred E. Numan pre-Mad days was initially used in propaganda posters against Irish immigrants. Like here.

http://www.cracked.com/article_19119_7-memes-that-went-viral-before-internet-existed.html

Actually, a copyright claim can be negated if there’s evidence that the copyright was not enforced. It’s not the same legal principle as the “genericized trademark,” but the effect is the same.

Years ago, I read Good Days And Mad by Dick DeBartolow (I think), and I seem to recall it had an old advertisement– I thought it was from the 1890s– that showed Alfred’s picture, and said ‘What? Me Worry? I go to Alfred E Neumann, painless dentist’.

I’m famous! Thanks for clearing that up.

Mad was one of the sources for my love of satire and my abilty to understand things that were way ahead of my age level.I could understand that Stan Freburg style of humour and it was why I loved Rocky and Bullwinkle so much.Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones were of that school also.Thanks for great stuff Brian…. Happy New Year to all comics lengend lovers.

Two advertising textbooks I bought in college contain reproductions of the goofy-faced Alfred E. Neuman image which date back to the late 1800’s. One showed that moronic face on a postcard. The name was not attached to these early images. But it’s clearly the same moron.

When George Dubya Bush ran for president, I was hoping Mad Magazine would sue him for wearing their Alfred E. Neuman face.

I remember a story from supermans girlfriend, Lois Lane ( yes I am that old ) where superman wore a Alfred E. Neuman mask. I can’t remember the reason why now, maybe someone can look it up.

So, do MAD now have the copyright (or trademark? The comments have confused me slightly!) to Alfred E. Neuman? Or has it reverted to them like squatters rights for intelectual property?

What happened was that the judge ruled that NO one had the copyright, since it had existed for so long (without anyone actually copyrighting it). As for trademark, I imagine that Mad has a trademark on the name Alfred E. Neuman, yes.

Simpson, you’re thinking of “The Two Faces of Superman” from Superman #126 (January 1959). Lois makes herself look as disheveled as possible to scare off a blind date so she can go out with Superman. Our hero sees this and decides to teach her a lesson. He “reveals” that his actual face is not the handsome, chiseled face that everyone knows, but a face that looks like Alfred E. Neuman with crooked teeth instead of a gap tooth. It was reprinted in Superman Annual #3 with the Alfred/Superman face on the cover. I guess it was DC’s way of getting back at MAD for “Superduperman”, etc.

It’s like the original meme.

I love Mad.

Here’s a link from the Cracked article showing some pictures from the “Alfred, We Hardly Knew Thee” exhibit that depict the proto-Alfred as an Irish stereotype.

http://artoftheprank.com/2008/01/22/alfred-we-hardly-knew-thee/

"O" the Humanatee!

January 1, 2012 at 8:44 am

Pedantry warning: The correct spelling is “straitjacket” not “straight jacket.” It’s more or less the same meaning as in Straits of Gibraltar or Bering Strait (narrow or tight bodies of water) or living in straitened (“tight”) circumstances. So a straitjacket is one that holds you tightly, not one that holds you straight or upright. Sorry, but it’s a pet spelling peeve of mine.

Of course, if you’d written that “Mad Magazine used to sell actual straitjackets!” that legend would be False, since Mad’s own ad says they were selling “straight jackets.” I’d like to think that the Mad folks knew the right spelling but used the incorrect one deliberately, perhaps because they were only selling “simulated” straitjackets or even because there might have been legal restrictions on selling true restraint devices (or they might have been concerned that there might have been such restrictions). But they probably just got it wrong.

[…] Check it out here! They even linked back to one of my posts here on The MAD Blog concerning legend number one (Thanks, CBR!), but they also debunk my explanation of the “ind” legend… you decide which explanation is true. Be Sociable, Share! Tweet(function() {var s = document.createElement('SCRIPT'), s1 = document.getElementsByTagName('SCRIPT')[0];s.type = 'text/javascript';s.async = true;s.src = 'http://widgets.digg.com/buttons.js';s1.parentNode.insertBefore(s, s1);})(); […]

Tell me that 2011 American Idol winner, Scotty McCreery, isn’t infringing on the good old looks of Alfred E. Neuman: http://www.mysanantonio.com/sacultura/conexion/article/scotty-2203825.php#photo-1643102

LOVE that Don Martin art. That guy was wonderfully demented from the word “jump.”

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