Cover gag for Mad #85 (March 1964).

Norman Mingo was a U.S. commercial artist, who illustrated various advertisements, paperbacks and magazine covers, including for American Weekly, Pictorial Review, Ladies' Home Journal and The New York Times, before he eventually became acquainted with the publication he's nowadays most famous for: Mad Magazine. He not only illustrated many classic covers, but in 1956 made the definitive design of their mascot Alfred E. Neuman, which all other artists of the "usual gang of idiots" have copied since. Although Mingo made no actual comic strips, he did frequently use sequential illustrations. 

Early life and career
Norman Mingo was born in 1896 in Chicago, Illinois. As a child, his drawing talent already helped him win contests. One of the prizes was a correspondence course. He received instructions on how to draw by mail and feedback afterwards. By the time he was in his early teens, Mingo already earned his bread as a professional artist, making it unneccesary to finish high school. During the First World War, he served in the U.S Army. After returning to civilian life, he was mostly active as a commercial painter in the style of Norman Rockwell. Rockwell founded his own advertising art studio in Chicago, employing future talents like C.C. Beck. He also painted official portraits, including one of U.S. general George Patton. Unfortunately his studio was forced to close down during the Great Depression. Throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Mingo was active as a freelance illustrator. He provided illustrations to magazines like The American Weekly, Ladies' Home Journal and Pictorial Review. He was especially popular as a pin-up artist and paperback illustrator for Pocket Books. Mingo also designed paper dolls based on Hollywood actresses and created film posters. 

Mad Magazine: Alfred E. Neuman
In 1956 Mingo applied for a newspaper ad in The New York Times, because of its intriguing request: "National magazine wants portrait artist for special project." When the sixty-year old artist heard he had to work for Mad Magazine, he initially refused to have anything to do with them. A children's comic magazine was not what he was looking for. Chief editor Al Feldstein managed to convince him otherwise. For the past few issues, Mad had used a freckled, gap-toothed and jug-eared boy as a running gag. Feldstein wanted Mingo to redesign this character, so he could be used as the magazine's mascot. They gave him a name, Alfred E. Neuman, and a catchphrase, "What, me worry?", which perfectly encapsulated Mad's subversive streak and jolly way of putting anything serious into perspective. Yet Neuman's face wasn't an original creation. Prototypes had appeared as early as the late 1890s in advertisements and were possibly even older. Already in 1893, F.M. Howarth created a one-shot text comic 'A Joke That Went Too Far', which starred a young boy whose face bares a canny resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman. Even Richard F. Outcault's character 'The Yellow Kid' (1895-1896) has a similar look. The closest prototype was a 1930s postcard for auto parts of the James Evans Parts Company, which even sports the slogan "Me Worry?".

First Alfred E. Neuman cover by Norman Mingo for Mad #30, 1956.

Mingo kept Neuman's caricatural features, but otherwise painted his face as realistically as possible, to resemble the kind of art work featured in serious magazines. The new design first sported the cover of Mad's 30th issue (December 1956). It was the first time that Neuman's face covered an entire magazine cover, rather than being just a tiny detail of a larger drawing. The issue was also significant for another reason. Mad's earlier chief editors, Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder, had left and were succeeded by Al Feldstein and William M. Gaines, marking a new era in the magazine's history. Alfred now became Mad's offical mascot and sported nearly every cover. Mingo paved the road for all other artists who used the character and many of his covers have been become classics.

Cover illustrations by Norman Mingo for Mad issue #121 (September 1968) and issue #126 (April 1969). 

Mingo pioneered the notion of letting Alfred E. Neuman do something absurd by changing a situation on its head. Typical examples are the cover of issue #31 (February 1957), where he paints the road around the center line, instead of the other way around. Or the cover of issue #113 (September 1967), where his ugly face scares a jack-in-the-box. Mingo's cover of Mad issue #161 (September 1973), where Neuman lies in the ocean with his feet upside down in a lifebuoy, while in the background the ship from the disaster movie 'The Poseidon Adventure' (1972) is sinking upside down, would be re-used two and a half decades later by Mick McGinty in Mad issue #369 (May 1998), only to spoof the movie 'Titanic'. When a reader in issue #373 (September 1998) pointed out this unoriginality, Mad announced that they would instantly "sue themselves." Mingo was also the first to let Alfred dress up like a celebrity or a pop culture character. For instance, being worshipped as a guru by both Mia Farrow, The Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (issue #121, Sept 1968). Or, acting as Uncle Sam, mimicking James Montgomery Flagg's recruitment poster 'Uncle Sam Wants You' as 'Who Needs You?' (issue #126, April 1969).

Between 1956 and 1957 and 1962-1979, Mingo made up to 97 covers for Mad. This record remained unsurpassed until Mark Frederickson broke it in 2016. From the 174th issue (April 1975) on, Mingo signed an ichtys symbol next to his name, because he had become a born-again Christian. He also designed covers for Mad's paperbacks, reprint specials and posters and did so until his death in 1980. Apart from front covers, he occasionally designed back covers too, including the one for issue #210 (October 1979), which satirized his own creation and shocked many longtime readers. It features Alfred E. Neuman, pale and frightened, standing next to a nuclear power plant and saying: "Yes... me worry!". The cartoon in question referred to the narrowly avoided disaster at the power plant of Three Mile Island, earlier that year.

'Obituaries for Traditions, Pastimes and Other Dying-Out Landmarks of the American Way of Life' (Mad #136, 1970).

Norman Mingo continued working for Mad for many years. Throughout his entire career he only illustrated one interior article, namely Frank Jacobs' article 'Obituaries for Traditions, Pastimes and Other Dying-Out Landmarks of the American Way of Life' in the 136th issue (July 1970). Yet, some of the artwork on his covers does make use of narrative sequences. The cover of the 80th issue (July 1963), for instance, shows Alfred lighting a fire cracker in three sequences, only to explode himself in the final panel. On the cover of Mad #85 (March 1964) Alfred again appears in a three-sequential scene where he throws a snowball at a man in a high hat who turns out to be President Abraham Lincoln. Two-panel comics appear on four covers. The first (issue #88, July 1964) has Alfred ignite a rocket and blast himself into the air. Another two-sequence gag is featured on the cover of issue #162 (October 1973), where the tide washes Alfred away, but leaves his sand castle intact. On the cover of issue #172 (January 1975), Alfred inflates a Christmas tree, while he paints the king of hearts on the cover of issue #211 (December 1979).

Death, legacy and influence
Norman Mingo passed away in 1980. In November 2008 his original cover art for Mad's 30th issue was auctioned for $203,150. Even after his death, Alfred E. Neuman is still a pop culture mainstay. His image has been homaged on other magazine covers, newspaper cartoons, comics, real-life TV shows and animated cartoons, including Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts', Mort Walker's 'Beetle Bailey' and Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons'. In 1957 Chris Marker made a documentary, 'Letter From Siberia', which included Neuman in a montage. During a 1958 TV special, legendary tap dancer Fred Astaire danced while wearing a rubber Alfred E. Neuman mask. On a 1962 episode of the 'Bob Hope Buick Show' Hope joked that he was the "next-to-the-dumbest cadet in the Air Force", whereupon a man with a Neuman mask walks on stage. Andy Warhol once said that Alfred E. Neuman gave him a love for people with big ears.

The careless attitude of Mad's mascot partially inspired Nikita Mandryka's character Le Concombre Masqué (1965), while S. Clay Wilson borrowed Alfred's gap-toothed grin for his anti-hero 'The Checkered Demon' (1968). In 1974 Rick Griffin designed the album cover of 'Slow Motion' (1974) by the band Man, parodying the font of Mad's logo by designing and writing the band's name in the same way. The cover also showed Alfred E. Neuman holding a fish, but due to copyright issues the illustration had to be cropped, showing only two hands holding the fish. The Mad mascot also appeared briefly in Jimmy Picker's Oscar-winning clay-animated short 'Sundae in New York' (1983). That same year, on 1 June 1983, the newspaper The Grand Rapids Press reported that a masked robber tried to hold up a gas station wearing an Alfred E. Neuman mask. The crime apparently failed because nobody could take him seriously and thus he instantly ran away. 

Celebrity lookalikes of Alfred E. Neuman
Some real-life celebrities have occasionally been declared lookalikes of Alfred E. Neuman. Among them Prince Charles (later Charles III), journalist Ted Koppel, TV host David Letterman, U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle and U.S. President George Bush, Jr.  On the cover of Mad issue #322 (October 1993), the "usual gang of idiots" actually held a readers' contest to let their audience decide whether Prince Charles, Ted Koppel or David Letterman was the "best" Alfred lookalike. During the 2000 U.S. presidential elections, people unaffiliated with Mad sold T-shirts with George W. Bush Jr.'s face transformed into Alfred's, combined with the slogan "What, Me Worry?" On 12 July 2005, politician Hillary Clinton joked about Bush: "It sometimes seems as if Alfred E. Neuman is in charge in the White House: "What, me worry?"." Interestingly enough, Bush himself has sometimes joked about the resemblance. In 2000 AP Photo photographed him holding up an Alfred E. Neuman statue with a George W. Bush mask. During a ceremony on 3 December 2015, paying tribute to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush was given a bust in his likeness, sculpted by William Behrends, which the former President felt "looked like Alfred E. Neuman".

Over the decades, many satirists and newspaper cartoonists have frequently portrayed presidents, Prime Ministers, politicians and other high-rank officials as Alfred, often in combination with his catchphrase "What, me worry?" and some huge crisis they fail to take seriously. Mad itself has often made posters and bumper stickers, which read "Alfred E. Neuman for President!" and some people have actually filled in his name during real-life elections. Various U.S. politicians have namedropped Neuman during interviews and public speeches. On 24 January 2000 the U.S. News & World Report stated that during a New Hampshire rally politician John McCain noticed a man in a Mad shirt and said: "As you know, my dear friends, Alfred E. Neuman is a national hero." On 16 October 2008 Barack Obama held a dinner in New York City, where he joked that he "shared the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Neuman." On 11 May 2019 President Donald Trump compared politician Pete Buttigieg with Alfred E. Neuman. Buttigieg, being a few generations younger, didn't understand the reference and actually had to look it up. Even then he found the comparison funny rather than insulting. 

Cover gag for Mad #80 (July 1963).

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