Three very popular (and some would argue, similar) humor magazines were found on magazine racks in 1961. Even the publishers of SICK and CRACKED magazines would have privately admitted that they never stood much of a chance against MAD Magazine in terms of sales but the market was large enough to support all three magazines for at least the next twenty years. Because of MAD‘s sales success and endurance, the magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Newman has secured an iconic place in American popular culture. His counterparts at SICK (The Little Physician) and CRACKED (Sylvester P. Smythe) haven’t fared as well.
Despite his carefree demeanor, Alfred E. Newman had to persevere to secure his permanent place on the cover of MAD magazine. His first cover appearance didn’t occur until issue 21, and then as just a tiny part of a mock ad. A rubber mask bearing his likeness with “idiot” written underneath was on sale for $1.29. His next appearance was three issues later when the magazine briefly adopted a complex border of images which included Alfred and his trademark tagline, “What? Me Worry?” Finally, with issue 30, Alfred appeared on the cover as a write-in candidate for president and has appeared on nearly every MAD cover since.
Unlike his counterpart at MAD, CRACKED magazine’s Sylvester P. Smythe was born at the same time as the magazine he appears on. CRACKED‘s little janitor has no tagline, in fact, as far as anybody can tell he is mute. He often appeared inside the magazine but never played any role more important than cleaning up somebody’s mess. Despite his relative industriousness, he never achieved the fame of the lay-about Newman and has even been proclaimed the least appealing character in comicdom by cartoonist Dan Clowes. Although I, like most everyone else, considered CRACKED to be what you read when MAD was sold out, I’ve always been able to relate better to the dim Sylvester than to the smartass Newman.
If you think Sylvester P. Smythe didn’t get any respect, consider the first mascot for Joe Simon’s SICK magazine. Known only as The Little Physician, this round-headed, four-eyed goofball with three tufts of curly hair would survive a mere twenty issues before being replaced by an Alfred E. Newman knockoff called Huckleberry Fink. Although he was only depicted as a doctor on a handful of covers, his occupation, at least, tied in with the magazine title. Besides delivering baby New Year from an egg with a rip saw, other covers show him performing surgery on a Thanksgiving turkey and assisting Ben Casey by handing him a monkey wrench to work on Frankenstein’s monster. Perhaps his most memorable cover appearance was on the cover of SICK #6 where he portrays every person in a busy city scene save one: