March 19, 2002 -- MAD magazine's gap-toothed icon, Alfred E. Neuman, is still smiling as the parody-prone publication celebrates its 50th year in print.
The popular magazine started out as a 10-cent comic in 1952, proudly describing itself as a "rite of passage for teen boys … just like acne and getting rejected by girls!"
Two special collector's editions — The MAD Reader and MAD Strikes Back were released this week to mark MAD's golden anniversary.
Three years after MAD's debut, comic books came under criticism as a potentially corrupting influence on the minds of children and a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigated the role they might play in inspiring juvenile delinquency.
In response to such criticism, the comic industry developed a self-regulating code known as the Comics Code Authority. But instead of signing on to the new code, MAD transformed itself from a comic book into a magazine.
Alfred E. Neuman made his cover debut in 1956. The magazine's freckle-faced "What? Me Worry?" mascot soon became an icon of teen rebellion.But that was just the outside of the magazine.
"On the inside were the picture-perfect parodies that created the MAD sensibility, and, in their own insidious way, changed the world," said Good Morning America's Joel Siegel. "If not the world we live in, certainly the world we laugh at."
Parents may have hated MAD's irreverent humor, but young readers ate up the magazine's satirical, anti-authoritarian tone and its parodies of pop culture with characters like "Howdy Dooit" and "Superduperman" and regular features such as "Spy vs. Spy."
Irony Up, Circulation Down
But the magazine's circulation — which reached a peak of 2.8 million in 1973 — has dwindled to 250,000 in an era where it competes with video games, television talk shows, and the satirical bite of other publications like The Onion and TV shows like The Simpsons.
MAD, which is owned by DC Comics, a unit of AOL Time Warner, can be hard to find on magazine racks today and distributors in some states do not carry it.
The latest issue of MAD, which now sells for $2.99 a copy, serves up typically irreverent fare: One spread offers the names of children's book titles that could cash in on the demand for books about the Taliban. One suggested title: "Are You There Allah? It's Me, Osama." Another says, "If You Give A Mullah a Fatwa."
MAD was also featured in a recent episode of The Simpsons, in which a deranged music producer destroys the MAD offices in New York after the magazine publishes a satire on his boy band, the Party Posse.
In other Simpsons episodes, perennial bad-boy Bart is shown to be a huge fan of MAD. Proving, once again, that is indeed a MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD world.