The 10 Best MAD Magazine Covers Ever
I’m a lifelong fan of MAD Magazine, so when a friend of mine sent me a link to Doug Gilford’s archive of every cover from all 506 issues, my workday productivity was pretty much shot. Fortunately, I work in an industry where this is actually considered research, which is why I’m contractually obligated to bring you my favorites with this list of The Ten Best MAD Covers Ever!
Unlike most MAD covers, this one isn’t an illustration: It’s an actual photograph of a prop made for the magazine that still sits in a display case in the magazine’s offices today. Either way, the idea of a MAD-branded poison bottle is pretty awesome to begin with, and once the Alfred-E.-Neuman-And-Crossbones logo comes into play, it’s one of the greats.#9. June, 1998 by Mark Fredrickson, Duck Edwing and Sergio Aragones
On its own, this cover isn’t all that remarkable, but in context, it’s one of the best long-running gags they’ve done. In 1997, Mad’s covers started running with a yellow border around them illustrated by longtime MAD artist Sergio Aragones — a nod to the similar borders that ran in 1955 when the magazine became a “slick” rather than a comic. A year later, they got rid of them, with their last appearance being on this issue, where they were torn down by the crappy American version of Godzilla, never to be seen again, making this quite possibly the only good thing to come out of that movie.
#8. April, 1969 by Norman Mingo
MAD did a few parodies of the classic Uncle Sam recruitment poster, both of which were illustrated by longtime cover painter and awesome name-haver Norman Mingo, including a great one where Alfred E. Neuman seems absolutely shocked that anyone, even a poster, would claim to want him for any reason. I’m partial to this one, though, as it’s got MAD‘s signature style of being downright confrontational to its readership. I can respect that.
#7. June, 1972 by Norman Mingo
The reason MAD got away with insulting its readers, of course, was that it was equally deprecating to itself. It’s one of the few magazines on the stands that wasn’t afraid to obscure, deface, or otherwise jack up its logo for the sake of a gag, which in this case took on both its own printers and the entirety of American industry. That’s a pretty big target to aim at, and one of the reasons the mag was continually labeled as subversive.
#6. January 1984 by Richard Williams
Speaking of subversive, here’s a cover where NORAD’s annual tradition of tracking Santa Claus’s journey from the North Pole results in the end of the world via nuclear holocaust. Happy Holidays!
#5. September, 1980 by Al Jaffee
MAD ran gags about Alfred E. Neuman running for president in every election year — most of them involving the magazine’s mascot getting brained with campaign propaganda of some kind — but this is far and away the best, for the simple reason that it allows us to imagine a world in which Cookie Monster/Alice Cooper was a viable presidential ticket. The only thing I don’t get is how that would possibly be “worse” than anything.
#4. January, 1961 by Bob Clarke
Speaking of presidential races, despite the months of lead time necessary for production, MAD was able to correctly predict the winner of the 1960 election… sort of. See, this issue actually ran with a flip cover. Here’s the other side:
40 years later, they published a similar gag for George W. Bush and Al Gore, but the original beats it hands down, if only because Alfred’s “I LIKE DICK” button is funny enough to carry the entire magazine by itself.
#3. October, 1954 by Harvey Kurtzman
In the early ’50s, editor/writer/artist Harvey Kurtzman did a string of covers parodying other magazines, with the explanation being that readers who were ashamed of buying MAD could pass them off as something a little more highbrow, like a racing form. The most famous is probably Basil Wolverton’s parody of Life, but my favorite is this one, which sticks it to the folks like Dr. Wertham who were going after indecency in comics, an issue that had a pretty strong impact on MAD‘s publisher, the legendary EC Comics.
#2. September, 1991 by Richard Williams
The best jokes are the ones that are stay relevant, and this one is still sharp today, especially in recent years when you haven’t been able to swing a dead cat without hitting a bootleg sticker of Calvin peeing on a poorly drawn representation of the concept of terrorism.
#1. April, 1974 by Norman Mingo
Not only is this my favorite MAD cover of all time, but it’s also one of the most controversial, for what are probably pretty obvious reasons. Newstands and grocery stores across the country refused to sell it, returning stacks of unsold copies to the magazine, where they were put in storage. So many, in fact, that 30 years later, MAD ran a deal that gave copies out free to readers who signed up for subscriptions.
And really, with that cover, is there any thing else that could possibly be number one?