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|Born||January 20, 1896|
|Died||May 8, 1980
A prolific magazine illustrator in the Norman Rockwell vein, Mingo resided in the Chicago area for decades before retiring to Tarrytown, New York. In his pre-Mad years, he worked as an illustrator for various advertising agencies and magazines, including American Weekly, Ladies' Home Journal and Pictorial Review. He provided a bikinied pin-up girl for a 1946 Mennen Skin Bracer advert, signed with his distinctive Mingo script. In addition to pin-up art, he also illustrated for paperbacks (Pocket Books) and paper dolls (Deanna Durbin). Mingo also served as a traditional portraitist, having painted such subjects as General George S. Patton Jr.
In 1956 Mingo answered a New York Times ad for an illustrator, and was selected by Mad publisher William M. Gaines and editor Al Feldstein to create a warmer, more polished version of a public domain character the magazine had been using. Previously, the magazine had printed a rougher image and redrawings of the character, which were randomly dubbed "Melvin F. Coznowski" or "Mel Haney" in addition to "Alfred E. Neuman." The pollyannic simpleton had appeared in many guises and variations since the 19th century, including in dental advertisements that assured the public of minimal tooth-pulling pain. Permanently named Alfred E. Neuman, the character became Mad magazine's mascot with issue #30. In November 2008, Mingo's original cover featuring the first "official" portrait of Neuman sold at auction for $203,150.
Norman Mingo crafted several Mad covers in 1956-7 before leaving the magazine. He returned to Mad in 1962 and painted most of its front covers until 1976. His last Mad cover appeared on issue #211 (December 1979). Mingo produced 97 Mad covers in total, and also illustrated dozens of additional cover images for Mad's many reprint Specials and its line of paperbacks.
During Mingo's absence, Frank Kelly Freas rendered Neuman for Mad from 1958 to 1962. Mingo's total surpassed Freas' in 1965, and his leading status endured until 2016, when current contributor Mark Fredrickson became the most prolific Mad cover artist with his 98th cover. Combining the regular issues (including some back covers), the reprint "MAD Specials" and the paperbacks, Mingo produced more than 200 original covers for Mad. Fellow cover artists Jack Rickard and Bob Jones have remarked that Mingo was the only one who could paint the Neuman character perfectly 'on model' every time.
A born again Christian, Mingo began signing his covers (executed in gouache) with the ichthys beneath his name in 1975, beginning with Mad #174. At this time he and his wife Margaret attended the Second Reformed Church in Tarrytown, New York.
Although Mingo has been named as the artist who created the definitive Neuman face, he created a dramatic variation in 1979—after the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. With an exaggerated version of the plant's meltdown in the background, Alfred stands in front of cracking cooling towers, sweating and hair standing on end, and abandons his trademark grin for a grimace as he says, "Yes...me worry!"
Semi-retired when he took his first Mad magazine cover assignment, Norman Mingo was the only veteran of the First World War ever to write or draw for Mad.
An obituary for Mingo appeared in the May 9, 1980 issue of the New York Times. He died on the 8th of May, 1980 after a lengthy illness.
- Cohn, Beverly, "What a Year It Was!-1946", MMS Publishing, Marina del Ray, California, 1995, ISBN 0-922658-04-8, page 154.
- The New York Times, "Norman Mingo, 84, Illustrator Behind 'Alfred E. Neuman,'" May 9, 1980