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Who Is Alfred E. Neuman? New Details On The Character Trump Compared To Mayor Pete Buttigieg

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Who Is Alfred E. Neuman? New Details On The Character Trump Compared To Mayor Pete Buttigieg

When I was a kid my favorite magazine was Mad. I loved the parodies, I loved the comic Spy Versus Spy. I loved the gross-out articles and the hilarious humor I found on almost every page. I'm certainly not alone. Many writers, comedians and others cite Mad magazine as having a formative influence on them from a very young age. Sadly, there is someone else who loves Mad Magazine, and that person's name is Donald Trump, and, hard though it may be to believe, he is still our president. Rather than addressing the wage gap or a woman's right to choose, Trump made headlines this week for a Mad magazine reference that many people didn't get. Here's what he said, what it meant and what you need to know about Mad! Who is Alfred E. Neuman?

1. The Presidential Diss 

President Trump enjoys a good insult, or at least, that's the impression he gives. The man certainly has no shortage when it comes to blunt and dismissive nicknames and comparisons. The latest person to earn one? Presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the Democrat, Pete Buttigieg. When Politico asked Trump what he thought of Buttigieg, they were doubtlessly surprised when he said: “Alfred E. Neuman cannot become President of the United States." Some of you probably already know this, but Alfred E. Neuman is the "face" of Mad Magazine and has been for years. Buttigieg didn't know who the character was, but that didn't stop him from clapping back: “I’ll be honest, I had to Google that, I guess it’s a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference. It’s kind of funny I guess, but he’s also the President of the United States and I’m surprised he’s not spending more time trying to salvage this deal with China.” Burn! 

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2. MAD Magazine 

The origins of Alfred are murky. In an interview with the New York Times, Mad Magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman said he got the idea for the character after spotting a postcard of a "bumpkin portrait, part leering wiseacre, part happy-go-lucky kid."According to Kurtzman the postcard was captioned, "What, Me Worry?" and both the image and the quote became staples of the magazine. Alfred E. Neuman graced his first cover of Mad in 1956 where the gimmick was that he was the magazine's write-in vote when it came to electing a new president. Norman Mingo, the artist behind over 20 years worth of covers for the mag didn't want him to seem dumb. Instead, he said: “I want him to be lovable and have an intelligence behind his eyes. But I want him to have this devil-may-care attitude, someone who can maintain a sense of humor while the world is collapsing around him.”

3. The Real Inspiration 

The true origins of Alfred have been the subject of heated fan debates almost since he first appeared. Not everyone seems to believe the origin story passed around by the magazine's founder. However, there's more proof that he was telling the magazine the truth. In fact, the widow of an artist named Harry Spencer Stuff SUED Mad claiming they stole the image from her late husband's line of postcards! According to Mrs. Stuff, her husband was actually the artist who created the cartoon postcard which had so "inspired" Mad. She also was able to prove that he had a copyright on the image which was issued in 1914, decades before Mad made it iconic. Sadly, the court did not rule in her favor. 

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4. Older Roots

Some folks who have spent, in my humble estimation, far too much time researching this, believe that Alfred's origins are even older than previously supposed. Lawyer Peter Reitan actually believes that the very first version of Alfred appeared as far back as 1894! That predates Stuff's copyright by a mile and then some. According to his website, the first reference to the character in text was mentioned in the Los Angeles Herald in the late 9th century. The Herald wrote that: "comic red-headed urchin with a joyous grin all over his freckled face, whose phiz [(face)] is the trademark of the comedy, is so expressive of the rollicking and ridiculous that the New York Herald and the Evening Telegram have applied it to political cartoon purposes.” Sounds pretty familiar, no? 

5. The Mag's Decline

Believe it or not in this age of digital media, Mad Magazine is still around and they are still publishing the paper version of their work! The magazine was intensely successful in the 1970s when its circulation went up to 2.7 million, but it was still popular when this old fart (hi!) was reading it in the later 1990s. However, like so many other once prominent and successful publications, Mad's numbers have dwindled dramatically: currently, they are seeing a tenth of what they saw in terms of circulation in their prime. In fact, things got bad enough that they had to shutter the New York office and relocate some staffers to the parent company, DC Entertainment, in California. 

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cats, Batman and Margot. She's an experienced generalist with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, pop culture, and true crime. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr