Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Selling a soul

What's the price of a soul nowadays? Even one sold at auction? Anyone put their soul up for sale to see what it'd fetch in today's market?

The folks at MAD are selling their souls...cover paintings they have referred to over the years as "The Soul of MAD" are going up for sale by Heritage Auctions on November 13.

When I was young, looking at these covers over and over, studying every detail of Norman Mingo's fine work, and especially the one Kelly Freas example of the Alfred E. Neuman scarecrow, which I could look at until Mom yelled to turn out the light and go to bed, they were certainly the soul of MAD to me. Even nowadays, looking at all of the great MAD covers, both in the comic books and magazine, these few would be some of my all-time favorites.

The Norman Mingo cover to MAD #30, above, is the original painted image of Alfred, done in 1956. Over the years it's become a symbol, a cultural icon. This is the the one that defined the line drawings of the "idiot," taken from old advertisements and jokes; by Mingo's artistry turned into the portrait of a living, breathing person.

According to MAD editor John Ficarra, when these paintings are gone that's it, the vault will be empty. The soul will be sold, and we'll find out what a soul is worth.

Copyright © 2008 E. C. Publications, Inc.


pspector said...

Excellent post. IMO, content-wise, MAD lost it's heart years ago. Now here goes the soul.

Slightly OT: In general, although artwork such as this belongs to the publishers/studio, I always thought it'd be a nice gesture to return it to the family of the artist(s). I guess that's too altruistic a thought.

Harry Lee Green said...

Bill Gaines was generous with his artists except when it came to giving the artwork back. He was an old fashioned publisher: he bought it, he owned it, he kept it. Do the modern publishers give the MAD artwork back to the artists?

It'd be nice if after being paid the modern MAD publishers would cut checks to the families of Norman Mingo, Kelly Freas, and to the other artists whose work is being sold.

pspector said...

I didn't know that about Gaines. During the period that the artwork in this post was created, who knew knew what the market would be like a few decades later? I have no idea what modern publishers do now.

The Herald-Tribune always gave my father (and other strip creators) back his/their original strips -- pencils/inks of course, nothing colored -- but these MADS are gorgeous finished pieces. Not sure if that makes any difference.

His comic book work he never got back, nor do I think that made a difference to him, and probably not much to most comic creators of that generation either (late 40s-50s.) From what I've read, much of it just sat around in bins for awhile and was eventually tossed.

joe bloke said...

have they said why they were selling them? it can't be just for the money, can it? it's not like Warner are strapped for cash, at least certainly not so strapped that they're forced to start divvying out the family silver. it seems such a shame that the very last of what made Mad such a great comic should just be flogged off.

norm said...

You called it, my friend. It's been years since Mad was even a shadow of what it used to be. Ironic, because the magazine was best when EC was fighting to survive. Now, they could afford the best talent in the world and don't bother.

I think the simple truth is that nobody cares or understands the posiion that Mad once held in American pop culture. Feldstein was the real engine behind the magazine and he's been gone 25 years. Things were never really cohesive after he left. The covers lost their consistent, trademark look after the death of Norman Mingo.

Indeed, looking back, each time someone important left, notably Kurtzman, Elder, Wood and Freas, the magazine was permanently altered, usually losing something. None f these men was ever really replaced. The magazine went on, still doing some great stuff, but the tone shifted with each departure. Finally, there just wasn't enough talent on board to sail the ship.

It's really significant that, even after filling the book with ads, the company has still found it necessary to reduce their frequency of publication.

Finally, in defense of Gaines' policy regarding art, it was absolutely the best thing that could have been done, long term. Under no other conditions would we have had the sumptuous reprints we've enjoyed over the past decades. Moreover, I understand that Gaines was not only very generous with his artists, but that when the work was auctioned, the artists and their families did indeed receive a cut of the proceeds. Bravo.