Alfred E. Neuman

what me worry

Alfred E. Neuman is the fictional mascot and iconic cover boy of Mad magazine. The face had drifted through American pictography for decades before being claimed and named by Mad editor Harvey Kurtzman. Since his debut in Mad, Neuman’s likeness, distinguished by jug ears, a missing front tooth, and one eye lower than the other has graced the cover of all but a handful of the magazine’s 500 issues. His face is rarely seen in profile; he has virtually always been shown in full frontal view, directly from behind, or in silhouette.

Harvey Kurtzman first spotted the image on a postcard pinned to the office bulletin board of Ballantine Books editor Bernard Shir-Cliff. ‘It was a face that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief,’ recalled Kurtzman.

In November 1954, Neuman made his Mad debut on the front cover of Ballantine’s ‘The Mad Reader,’ a paperback collection of reprints from the first two years of Mad. The character’s first appearance in the comic book was on the cover of Mad 21 (March 1955), as a tiny image as part of a mock ad. A rubber mask bearing his likeness with ‘idiot’ written underneath was offered for $1.29.

Neuman’s third appearance was in the illustrated border of the first magazine version of Mad #24 (July 1955) with his now-familiar signature phrase ‘What, me worry?’ written underneath.

The character was also briefly known as Mel Haney, but in late 1956, Neuman’s identity became fixed, when he appeared on the cover of Mad #30 as a supposed write-in candidate for the Presidency. His features, which had first been rendered in black-and-white by Will Elder, were fine-tuned and recreated in color by Norman Mingo. It was this image which became the character’s defining portrait. In 2008, Mingo’s original cover art featuring the first ‘official’ portrait of Neuman sold at auction for $203,150.

A female version of Alfred, named Moxie Cowznofski and occasionally described in editorial text as Alfred’s ‘girlfriend,’ appeared briefly during the late 1950s. Alfred and Moxie were sometimes depicted side-by-side, defeating any speculation that Moxie was possibly Alfred in female guise. Her name was inspired by Moxie, a soft drink manufactured in Portland, Maine, which was sold nationwide in the 1950s and whose logo appeared in many early issues of Mad.

Since his initial unsuccessful run in 1956, he has periodically been re-offered as a candidate for President with the slogan, ‘You could do worse… and always have!’

Neuman’s precise origin is shrouded in mystery and may never be fully known. Printed likenesses can be traced back to the 19th century, such as The Yellow Kid, the 1890s character from Richard F. Outcault’s strip, ‘Hogan’s Alley.’

Nineteenth-century publications such as ‘Punch and Puck’ featured illustrated caricatures which were based on pseudo-scientific physiognomy of the time, and which depicted the typical Irish immigrant as a bomb-throwing cretin barely distinguishable from the adult ape. Bigoted and humorous, these drawings soon supplanted the previous pictoral stereotype of the Irish bumpkin, and share similarities with the Neuman face. Prominent illustrators such as Joseph Keppler and Frederick Opper developed a carefree Irish couple who lived in squalor, yet were oblivious and content. These less threatening caricatures were soon adopted by advertisers to promote a variety of products.

Versions of the face were used as medical pictures of people with deficiency diseases or hormone imbalances; the faces of patients with Williams syndrome have been compared to Neuman.

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