Basil Wolverton described himself as a “Producer of Preposterous Pictures of Peculiar People who Prowl this Perplexing Planet.” In 2009, The New York Times proclaimed him to be “the Michelangelo of MAD magazine.” Best known for his work in MAD and Marvel Comics, Wolverton’s drippy, “spaghetti-and-meatball” drawing style is as grotesque as it is playful. It had a significant influence on notable artists like Robert Crumb and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.
Although Wolverton’s earliest works of note were Powerhouse Pepper and Spacehawk, it was not these accomplishments that brought him into the public eye but rather a comic strip contest. In 1946, Al Capp introduced the now legendary character “Lena the Hyena of Lower Slobbovia” into the world of Li’l Abner. In the strip, Lena the Hyena was so hideous that anyone who looked upon her would immediately go insane; even Capp himself never drew her face. Instead, Capp teased his readers for months, baiting them with the notion that he would eventually show her. Finally, the cartoonist announced a competition for readers to send in their own versions of Lena, the ugliest of which would be selected by Boris Karloff, Frank Sinatra, and Salvador Dali. As legend has it, 500,000 entries were submitted, including one from famous Scrooge McDuck artist Carl Barks. On October 21, 1946, the acclaimed judges delivered both the verdict and Basil Wolverton’s talent to the national public. Wolverton’s caricature of Lena was published in newspapers across the nation, and her face would go on to grace the cover of Mad no. 11, to inspire a character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and to remain a fixture of pop culture imagery.
MAD, No. 11
Jay Lynch Collection