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Alfred E. Neuman to visit the Berkshires: MAD Magazine exhibit opening at Norman Rockwell Museum

The Norman Rockwell Museum's exhibit “What, Me Worry? The Art and Humor of MAD Magazine” will celebrate the magazine's heyday, along with its artists and contributors.

Stockbridge — Starting in 1952 as a comic book, MAD Magazine published cutting edge satire and humor for decades. The magazine was co-founded by EC Comics publisher William Gaines and cartoonist and editor Harvey Kurtzman.

After working at MAD for four years, Kurtzman would leave to work at other magazines, including Playboy. Despite this, and despite Gaines having to switch MAD from a comic book to a magazine in order to escape scrutiny from the Comics Code Authority established in 1954, MAD would continue on publishing. The magazine continued on until December 2019, and while it is still being published today, “new” issues of MAD consist mostly of reprints from previous issues.

Alfred E. Neuman as drawn by Norman Mingo for the cover of MAD #33 in 1957. This is a sample of some of the original artwork that will be featured in the “What, Me Worry? The Art and Humor of MAD Magazine” exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Artwork courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum. MAD and all related elements ™ & © E.C. Publications. Courtesy of DC. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
A MAD fold-in written and drawn by Al Jaffee, who would create the feature for the magazine from 1964 until 2019. This fold-in is from MAD #172, published in 1979. Artwork courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum. MAD and all related elements ™ & © E.C. Publications. Courtesy of DC. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

The Norman Rockwell Museum’s exhibit “What, Me Worry? The Art and Humor of MAD Magazine” will celebrate the magazine’s heyday, along with its artists and contributors. The exhibit opens on Saturday, June 8, and will run until October 27. The exhibit will include original artwork, artifacts, photos, published ephemera, and video content that will explain MAD’s influence and history. The exhibit will also include 150 original illustrations and cartoons from artists.

Another long-running MAD feature is “Spy vs. Spy.” Here is a sketch created by Peter Kruper for a “Spy vs. Spy” feature that was published in 2007. Artwork courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum. MAD and all related elements ™ & © E.C. Publications. Courtesy of DC. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

“I think the fact that MAD was such a cultural phenomenon in many ways, but it was illustrated by some of the top visual humorists of its time, made it an important aspect of the publishing world that we wanted to explore,” Norman Rockwell Museum Chief Curator Stephanie Plunkett told The Berkshire Edge. “Our museum is dedicated to the art of illustration. Back in the 1950s when MAD first started, the concept of creating a satirical publication that pushed back against all of the institutions and news outlets and basically said to its reading public, ‘You really shouldn’t believe everything you hear,’ was quite unusual. Many of the artists, editors, and readers who became familiar with MAD really felt as though it was their first look into the concept of questioning anything.”

Plunkett said that MAD’s cultural and satirical influence would continue on for decades, influencing other creations including
“Saturday Night Live,” National Lampoon, “The Simpsons,” and The Onion. “MAD even influenced late-night comedy shows,” Plunkett said. “A lot of the creators really all grew up with MAD, and it had a very unique impact on all of them.”

Artists with work on display in the exhibition include Sergio Aragonés, David Berg, Paul Coker, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Will Elder, Duck Edwing, Frank Frazetta, Kelly Freas, Al Jaffee, Harvey Kurtzman, Don Martin, Norman Mingo, Harry North, Antonio Prohías, Irving Schild, John Severin, Angelo Torres, Wally Wood, and George Woodbridge.

Spoofs of pop culture, including music, movies, and television, were all hallmarks of MAD. For MAD #155 published in 1972, Mort Drucker created “The Oddfather,” which is a satire of the movie “The Godfather.” Artwork courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum. MAD and all related elements ™ & © E.C. Publications. Courtesy of DC. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

Plunkett said that, while Norman Rockwell never created anything for MAD, a search in the museum’s archives revealed that MAD did try to recruit Rockwell. “In 1964, Rockwell received a letter from [MAD Art Director and Designer] John Putnam,” Plunkett said. “Putnam had family roots in Stockbridge. Rockwell also received a follow up letter from [MAD Editor] Al Feldstein. They both asked Rockwell to produce what they wanted to be ‘the quintessential’ Alfred E. Neuman.” The fictitious Alfred E. Neuman, MAD’s mascot, was first in the magazine in 1954, and his face has been used for over 550 MAD covers.

“Rockwell pretty quickly came back with a response that said that, after speaking about it with his wife, who had a lot more common sense than he did, he decided it would just all get in a mess, so he declined,” Plunkett said. “He never did anything for MAD, but the letters will be a part of the exhibition.”

While Norman Rockwell never contributed his art to MAD, other famous artists and writers did, including Charles Schulz, who parodied “Peanuts,” his own comic strip, in MAD #89 published in 1964. Artwork courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum. MAD and all related elements ™ & © E.C. Publications. Courtesy of DC. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

When asked what she would like visitors of the exhibit to get out of it, Plunkett said, “I would love to see people laugh.”

“MAD has affected the way that we view the world today, and it also has impacted what we see and read,” Plunkett said. “It has impacted popular culture, in general. MAD obviously has always been viewed as a light-hearted humor magazine, but it has had much more impact than people actually realize.

For more information about the exhibit, visit the museum’s website.

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