The 30 Nerdiest Mad Magazine Covers

By Chris Cummins in Daily Lists, Miscellaneous
Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 8:01 am
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The reason that Mad has endured since its 1952 debut is simple; people love seeing pop culture's sacred cows getting slaughtered. For the past 60 years the magazine has been a funhouse mirror reflection of what is popular, making entertainment for the masses even more skewed and amusing. For 515 issues (so far), the publication has taken aim at politicians, celebrities, movies, TV shows, sports and other shared cultural experiences. The cover of the magazine - usually featuring the wiseass smirk of Mad mascot Alfred E. Neuman - is what draws readers in. Realizing that the old cliché about the importance of making a good first impression is true, original editor William Gaines and his successors employed an array of gifted illustrators to ensure that the publication's covers always catch the eye of the consumers. As you are probably aware from the stacks of musty old issues cluttering up your basement, many times these covers featured imagery spoofing your favorite geeky objects of desire. So for today's supersized Daily List, Topless Robot will be looking at the 30 nerdiest Mad covers from the past six decades. Before we begin I would like to acknowledge Mad Trash and Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site. These sites are an invaluable resource for Mad obsessives and novices alike, and their cover galleries offer up visual pleasures only hinted at by this article. With that bit of fawning out of the way, let the Mad-fueled nerdery commence.

30) Pokémon
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Hate Pikachu and everything that he stands for? If so, this cover from October of 1999 is pure wish fulfillment. If only the Grim Reaper would choose him.

29) The Walking Dead
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Featuring terrific art from Mark Fredrickson, this cover from last December has Alfred E. Neuman paying homage to The Walking Dead. The best part about this? It's all of the zombie fun from the series without any of Lori's awfulness.

28) A Clockwork Orange
Harkening back to an edgier period in Mad's history (a.k.a. the 1970s) this one brings a bit of the old ultraviolence to readers. If you ask me, Alfred here is way more terrifying than Alex and his droogs. But maybe that's just because I have a paralyzing fear of anyone who is gap-toothed.

27) Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
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When Episode I was released in May of 1999, everyone wanted a piece of the Star Wars action. Thus, the pop culture landscape became littered with all manners of tie-ins ranging from toys to tacos. The magazine industry took notice too, which resulted in Phantom Menace-themed covers a plenty. While most of these periodicals seemed like cash grabs (Popular Mechanics, anyone?), for Mad it was an obvious choice given the magazine's prior skewering of the saga. As the variant covers featured above illustrate, Mad was looking to make bank from Star Wars mania just as much as the next guy in the summer of '99. Sure, it was shameless too, but at least Mad had a history of riding George Lucas' coattails to up their profit margins.

26) Super Mario Bros.
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Mad commented on the popularity of the NES with this fun cover from January of 1990. Don't judge them too harshly on failing to realize that the Super Mario Brothers were two separate individuals. After all, the editorial staff does refer to themselves as "the usual gang of idiots."

25) Garbage Pail Kids
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With the exception of nine "Garbage Pail Adults" knock-off illustrations featured in elsewhere in this issue, there wasn't any Garbage Pail Kid-related humor to be found here. Bummer. What's truly upsetting is that Mad never got around to doing a takedown of the GPK movie. That would've been something...

24) Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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And you thought Fire in the Sky was terrifying. Yikes.

23) Star Trek IV
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Double dumbass on you if you don't appreciate the brilliance that is Neuman as Spock.

22) Peanuts
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I haven't read this issue, but if it puts Lucy in her place please let me know in the comments so I can buy it on eBay immediately (and yes, I am aware of this).

21) Pac-Man
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Not everybody in 1982 had Pac-Man fever. That's the lesson to be gleaned from this vintage cover that mocks Time's annual "Person of the Year" issue (a gag that Mad recycled for this 1987 Max Headroom issue). By giving Pac-Man a sinister stare and jagged teeth, the illustrator here transforms the quarter muncher into something evil... and deliciously irreverent. In other words, it's perfectly Mad. Trivia: This cover is noteworthy for being one of a handful that doesn't feature Alfred E. Neuman.

20) King Kong
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So far there have been three covers inspired by King Kong throughout the history of Mad. What you see above is the first (and the best). There are simply few things in life that are as entertaining as apes in biplanes.

19) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
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To my knowledge, neither Star Trek: The Next Generation nor Star Trek: Voyager was honored with Mad covers. (Enterprise clearly wasn't). Advantage: DS9!

18) Harry Potter
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In March of 2000, Mad released their first Harry Potter-themed cover. Spoofing Mary GrandPré's cover illustration for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, this is a brilliant idea that was perfectly executed, and a throwback to Mad's golden era. Now debate amongst yourself in the comments what Hogwarts House Neuman would be in.

17) The X-Files
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Note to self: pitch Rob a list of the 10 Greatest "American Gothic" spoofs in nerd culture.

16) The Empire Strikes Back
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The above illustrative mash-up (or, if you prefer, bastardization) is the work of Jack Rickard, one of Mad's most talented and prolific illustrators. So does this mean when Alfred E. Yoda speaks he says "worry, what me?"

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