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 clich? 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.
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
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
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.
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
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
And you thought Fire in the Sky was terrifying. Yikes.
23) Star Trek IV
Double dumbass on you if you don’t appreciate the brilliance that is Neuman as Spock.
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).
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
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
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
In March of 2000, Mad released their first Harry Potter-themed cover. Spoofing Mary GrandPr?’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
Note to self: pitch Rob a list of the 10 Greatest “American Gothic” spoofs in nerd culture.
16) The Empire Strikes Back
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?”
Sure, Neuman’s smiling now, but just wait until he discovers what E.T plans on doing with that finger next.
14) Back to the Future
This cover from the great Jack Davis has Alfred E. Neuman carjacking the Delorean, a plot point that was later used (with Biff instead of our toothy hero obviously) in Back to the Future II. Coincidence? Um yeah, it totally was. Still, I bet Neuman’s version of Biff’s Pleasure Paradise would have been insane.
If this cover depicts what the twist in Prometheus is, I’m going to be way pissed.
12) Space Invaders
Note to readers: Please make this game a reality as soon as humanly possible.
Come to think of it, “hurm” isn’t all that far removed from “what, me worry?” So maybe this cover is on to something.
10) Superman II
Kicking off the top 10 is this cover that has Zod, Non and Ursa laughing their asses off as Supes waits for his dry cleaning to arrive. We all know that Superman is a dick, so it’s nice to see him getting some comeuppance here.
9) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Donatello vomiting pizza is nothing les than a ballet of the grotesque. Bravo to everyone involved here.
And with that Mad figures out how to solve all of Return of the Jedi‘s third act problems.
7) Raiders of the Lost Ark
Having apparently crossed over from a parallel universe in which Clint Howard was cast as Indiana Jones, this cover features a fertility idol with the appearance of Alfred E. Neuman. Hmm, maybe a Children of Men-esque future isn’t so bad after all.
6) Frankenstein’s Monster
Having the distinction of being the oldest entry on this list, this cover from September of 1964 is another example of the masterful artistry of Norman Mingo (the illustration who streamlined the appearance of Alfred E. Neuman into what is still being used today). One of the best Mad covers in its own right, what you see above is also the sort of illustration that gets classic monster aficionados tingling in their nether regions.
Whoa, cute overload. I’d like to be snarky here, but to be honest all I can think about right now is hugging this issue until I get put on psychiatric watch (you can check out an equally adorable cover for the magazine’s Gremlins II spoof here).
4) Star Wars
Another gem by Jack Rickard, this one is highlighted by the best Chewbacca illustration you’ll ever see (seriously, that is one ferocious Wookie painting). As for the parody itself, it remains as edgy — and completely politically incorrect — as when it was initially published. The comedic DNA of pretty much every Star Wars spoof can be directly traced back to this, for better or worse. Bonus points go to writers Larry Siegel and Dick DeBartolo for calling the parody “Star Roars” instead of taking the easy “Star Bores” route.
3) Star Trek/Star Wars Musicals
Technically these should probably count as two entries, but for the purpose of this list they are being paired together into one because they are essentially the same (also, “The 31 Nerdiest Mad Magazine Covers” sounds way awkward). As you can see above, both covers share identical concepts. These similarities also spilled over into the “musicals” they were promoting. Written by Frank Jacobs and illustrated by Mort Drucker, the articles “Keep on Trekkin'” and “The Force and I” feature characters from Star Trek and Star Wars singing comical lyrics about their experiences to melodies ripped from popular songs of the past.
These spoofs are as cheesy as you can imagine, but thanks to the rose-colored wonders of nostalgia they persevere.
This epic cover based on the 1960s Batman TV show by Mingo has the Caped Crusader utterly repulsed by the sight of Alfred E. Neuman in Robin’s tights (thus disproving some of Grant Morrison’s recent conclusions about the character’s sexuality). It’s worth mentioning that DC Direct made a figure of Neuman inspired by this cover a few years back that can be tracked down fairly easily. Your desk will thank you for it.
1) Planet of the Apes
You know how there are companies that make oversized vinyl wall stickers of videogame characters and old trading cards? Well one of these outfits desperately needs to start licensing old Mad covers, starting with the one that you see above. Released in March 1973, this issue featuring an illustration by Norman Mingo – I keep mentioning him, but he is truly the greatest cover artist the magazine ever had — is as funny as it is stunning to look at (subtle touches include how the ape also is gap-toothed and Mingo’s Norman Rockwell-like signature). This is the definitive example of how Mad uses comedy to mirror pop culture. At least that’s what this writer thinks. Feel free to blecch about this in the comments.