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A Few Facts About MAD Magazine

Let's learn something about MAD magazine, courtesy of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids.

IT’S A MAD, MAD WORLD

From 1952 until 1955, MAD was a full-color comic book called Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad. But in 1954, an inflammatory book titled Seduction of the Innocent, written by anti-comics crusader Dr. Fredric Wertham, hit stores, and public hysteria that comic books might be causing juvenile delinquency rose to a fevered pitch. The result was a congressional investigation and a “voluntary” set of guidelines that the industry adopted to avoid more onerous government regulations. The Comics Code Authority (CCA) contained prohibitions that would’ve made Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad impossible to continue as a comic book. The CCA prohibited not just sex, drugs, crime, depravity, lust, monsters, and vampires, but also anything that might promote “disrespect for established authority,” something that Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad did regularly.

There was a loophole, however: the CCA covered only “comic books.” So Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad decided on a makeover and MAD “magazine” was born.

MAD FACTS

• In 1961 MAD made copyright history when music publishers— representing all-star songwriters like Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and Irving Berlin— sued the magazine. The issue? A songbook of parodies that included words with the instruction that they could be “sung to the tune of” a specific song. The musicians’ claim that only the original authors could legally parody their own songs was dismissed by judges all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

• The magazine’s peak circulation was 2,132,644. This occurred in 1974, despite intense competition from a (slightly) more grownup satirical magazine, the National Lampoon.

• The magazine’s mascot— the round-headed boy with an idiotic grin— went unnamed until a staff member noticed the name of Alfred Newman in the credits of a movie. That Newman was a well-regarded film composer (and, incidentally, the uncle of composer Randy Newman). Hoping to forestall a lawsuit, the staff changed the spelling of Alfred’s last name and added E as a middle initial.

• 485 MADison Avenue was MAD’s headquarters for decades. But in the magazine’s heyday, one envelope that contained a picture of Alfred E. Neuman was successfully delivered to the right address.

• Between 1955 and 2001, MAD ran no real ads. They ran plenty of parody ads, though, viciously mocking nearly every product you could name.

MAD inspired so many imitators that founder/publisher Bill Gaines had a voodoo doll for each competitor labeled with a pin that was removed only when the imitator stopped publishing. Some of mostly short-lived imitators included Cracked, Sick, Nuts!, Crazy, Whack, Riot, Flip, and Madhouse. By the time of Gaines’s death in 1992, only one pin remained, representing Cracked, founded in 1958. It stopped publishing in 2007, but still exists as a popular website.

• Artist Sergio Aragones has contributed more than 12,000 wordless gags running in the margins and other blank spaces of the magazine. Once called “the world’s fastest cartoonist,” Aragones’s art has appeared in every issue since 1963, except one in 1964 when his drawings were lost in the mail.

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The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids. Weighing in at over 400 pages, it's a fact-a-palooza of obscure information.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!


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