Lampoon vs. Crimson since 1901

Hailing the dawn of the Nixon-Agnew-Pusey Adminstration (1968)

College humor magazines and college newspapers were natural enemies back in the day. They still are at Harvard, where the feud between the Lampoon and the Crimson is now in its second century. “Opposition to the Crimson . . . makes Lampy what he is,” the Lampoon said in its Hundredth Anniversary Issue, saluting “The Crime” as “a dependable butt of practical jokes [and] an inexhaustible source of unintentional humor.” For its part, the Crimson has ID’d the Lampoon as “a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine” at every opportunity for the past six decades.

Crimson parodies . . . are occasionally supplied to the student body in deference to the overwhelming demand,” Eric Rayman and Jim Downey wrote in 100 Years of Harvard Lampoon Parodies (1976). “As popular today as they were then, Crimson parodies are governed by just one rule: they may never appear on April First.” No one knows exactly how many times the Lampoon has made fools of the paper on other days, but two things seem beyond dispute: (1) The Lampoon was the first college comic to issue a full-size, full-length fake issue of a college newspaper, and (2) it first did so 120 years ago this spring, on May 30, 1901, Memorial Day.

Back then Memorial Day was always May 30, and in 1901 it fell on a Thursday. Knowing the Crimson would take the day off, the Lampoon assembled a four-page substitute under an ill-gotten Crimson nameplate and left it in the usual locations. Earlier Lampoon press parodies had occupied one or two pages in regular issues; the 1901 “Crimson” not only looked like the real thing, it was understated and strewn with enough half-plausible misinformation to create one of the great college pranks.

The first fully fake college newspaper, May 30, 1901

“The whole Cambridge community was for a time in turmoil,” the Bookman magazine recalled ten years later. “Information that the janitor of one of the college laboratories had upset a jar of microbes and that all those who had been near the lab should report at once to the college doctor . . . was given with the utmost gravity.” Other straight-faced reports said the school had changed its mind about giving President McKinley an honorary degree and that a lit bomb had been found in Memorial Hall. But it was an item about the Crimson itself that raised the biggest ruckus: Because the paper’s prosperity was threatening its non-profit status, it said, all paid-up subscribers who came to the office that afternoon would get half their money back. “A sign hung in the night over the Crimson office reiterating this announcement was another part of the hoax,” said the Bookman. “Its complete success was for long the talk of Cambridge, and the forbidden subject of conversation in the Crimson sanctum.”

The Bookman credited the parody to a “suggestion” by Lampoon writer Richard Washburn Child (1881-1935, class of ’03), who later became U.S. Ambassador to Italy and a leading American cheerleader for Mussolini. That fact likely went unmentioned in 1941, when the Poonsters of ’01 reprinted the parody for their Fortieth and sent a copy to President Roosevelt. FDR, who had been a freshman Crimson editor at the time, recalled it as “the first and only successful attempt on the part of the Lampoon to get really funny at the expense of the Crimson.”

The credulous reception of the first parody suggests such things were new and strange in 1901. Further evidence of priorty comes from all the dogs that didn’t bark. Though other college mags were more than happy to take the Lampoon down a peg or two, not one ever claimed to have beaten it to the idea. The earliest similar item I’m aware of is “The Cornell Deadly Sin,” a 1906 spoof of the Daily Sun by the Cornell Widow.

Crimson parodies from 1926 and 1946
Lampoon vs. Princeton (1926); Harvard vs. football (1946)

Eight years passed before the Lampoon’s next assault: a two-page insert in the real Crimson that was “as convincing if less spectacular than the pseudojournal of 1901,” according to The Harvard Lampoon Centennial Celebration. The pace eventually picked up but remained erratic: The Anniversary Issue counted “nineteen full-length Crimson parodies and three one-page sheets for insertion into legitimate issues” over the previous 75 years. My source in the Castle said a few years ago that the Lampoon “produces a parody of the Crimson (sometimes multiple issues) every January/February,” but isn’t sure when they became annual events.

The most explosive parody was a “Football Extra” handed out during the 1926 Princeton game, where the visiting Tigers blanked Harvard for the third straight year, 12-0. It carried the truthful but premature headline, “Princeton Wins” and a fact-free report that the school’s coach had expired in the game’s final minutes from holding his breath too long. The parody was “the second half of a one-two punch,” the Anniversary Issue recalled: “On the day before the game, one of the most notorious Lampoon issues ever had appeared . . . [portraying Princeton men] as pigs, homosexuals and bond salesmen.” The two Lampoons, plus a snide reference in the real Crimson to Princeton’s “inferiority complex,” so inflamed the school it cancelled all athletic contests with Harvard, a move that made the front page of The New York Times. Relations didn’t resume until 1934, when the Tigers returned for a fourth consecutive shutout, this one 19-0.

The 1926 parody made headlines by being outrageous; the 1933 issue made them by being plausible. On February 22, when the Crimson was off for Washington’s Birthday, a four-page “Extra” reported the Harvard Corporation had chosen Midwestern businessman Henry Eliot Clarke ’04 to succeed retiring President A. Lawrence Lowell. Lampoon editors then took over the Crimson’s empty office and spent the day assuring the Associated Press and other callers the extra was legit. “The story was picked via by the wire services and printed in all parts of the country before a suspicious AP staffer discovered that the Harvard Corporation had not selected a new president, that the Crimson had not published an extra, and that there was no Henry Eliot Clarke,” the Anniversary Issue notes.

The New York Times, February 23, 1933

The Lampoon soon confessed to the hoax, which it claimed was motivated only by a desire to free its “distinguished contemporary” from “the crysalis of drab and schoolboy journalism.” The U.S. Congress responded by passing a law making it a federal crime to knowingly send false information through the news wires. Since then, fallout from fake “Crimsons” has seldom spread beyond Cambridge, though a 1946 report that Harvard would drop football and perhaps all other sports prompted headlines and official denials. Other issues have claimed Memorial Hall would be razed (1939) and Harvard’s president would become Postmaster General in the Nixon Administration (1968).

But the chief target of the Lampoon’s mind games has always been the Crimson itself. The ’01 parody infuriatd the paper’s editors — “Crimeds,” in Lampoon-speak — by reproducing what the Bookman called “certain typographical errors for which the Crimson had become notorious.” In 1966, when Radcliffe junior Linda Mcveigh became the paper’s first female Managing Editor, the Lampoon broke the news a day early in a perfume-scented, pink-tinted extra that misspelled her name in the headline and claimed the entire Board had quit in protest. (The Lampoon, meanwhile, stayed all-male for another six years.) The next parody in September 1967 was “written entirely in sub-par high-school journalese . . . and distributed to freshmen the day before registration” — perfectly timed to blight the annual drive for new staff and subscribers.

Crimson parodies from 1966 and 1973
Making the Crimson see red in 1966 and 1973

On the eve of the Crimson’s elaborate centennial celebration in 1973, the parody uncovered an issue from 1872 that proved the party was a year late. “Crimson  editors, who the night before had unsuccessfully attempted to sabotage the prank by hijacking the issue from the Lampoon’s printer, were not amused,” the mag recalled in its own 100th birthday number; “some even talked of going to court to prevent future parodies of their newspaper.”

Lampoon, March 1958; “Lampoo” cover and poem, November 1958

Such talk came to nothing, and the two sides resumed swapping insults and abducting each others heirlooms and editors. Only once did the Crimson respond to a parody in kind: In November 1958, when the Lampoon was at its most exclusive and its sales had hit a postwar low, the paper came out with a 16-page magazine insert called “The Harvard Lampoo” (no “n”) that was snobbish, unfunny and even a bit smutty. John Berendt, chief Lampoon versifier and future author of Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, disputed the last point in a poem-to-the-editor that ended:

Your parody’s often obscene;
Now really, that’s being quite mean.
The
Lampoon is cruelish;
It’s morbid and ghoulish
But one thing it’s always — is clean.

Crimson parody from 1972
The first 1972 “Crimson” on the front page of the second.

Fearing readers were catching on, the Lampoon in 1963 put out Crimson parodies on consecutive days: The first, on November 10, reported that female guests would no longer be allowed in student housing; the second “humorlessly dismiss[ed] the fake of the day before and darkly warn[ed] of repercussions,”according to prank historian Neil Steinberg.

The same trick worked even better in 1972, during President Nixon’s historic visit to China. On Sunday, February 20, an unimpressive one-page “Extra” appeared claiming the trip had been cancelled. The next day — another Crime-less Washington’s Birthday — a very convincing six-page issue reported that the Lampoon’s prank had so offended the Chinese they’d cancelled the trip for real. “Even Crimson editors, who the day before had sniffed at the Lampoon extra, were forced to admit that the Monday edition was a success,” says the Anniversary Issue; “the kicker above the Crimson logo on Tuesday’s issue assured readers, ‘This really is … the Harvard Crimson.'”

Poonies pranking potential POTUS, 2015

In recent decades, the parodies have largely traded hoaxes for hilarity. Reactions only get heated when the jokes misfire — as happened in 1990, when back-to-back issues “designed to startle Harvard out of its complacency about a few persistent social problems” were accused of exhibiting the same homophobia, sexism and anti-Semitism they claimed to ridicule. The last time Poonies made headlines impersonating the Crimson — in 2015, when they fooled Donald Trump into accepting a fake endorsement — they did so in person and spread the news on a parody website. Current fake “Crimsons,” like real ones, appear simultaneously in ink and pixels.

Three-day bender: “Crimsons” from Jan. 20-22, 2018

In 2018, the Lampoon set a new record by issuing full-length “Crimsons” three days in a row and vowing to maintain the pace for an entire year. The ongoing lead story was more bizarre than clever — something about a freak mutation of actors Paul Rudd and Mila Kunis — and on Day 3 the staff admitted defeat in a report headlined “Harvard Lampoon Can’t Do This Shit Anymore.” “A recent Crimson survey revealed that zero people on campus have ever expressed interest in reading a parody version of the Crimson,” the story claimed, but the 2019 edition came out right on schedule. It’s the most recent edition on the Lampoon website, but parodies will surely return as the pandemic recedes. Just don’t look for them on April 1. — VCR

Crimosn parodies from 2017 and 2019
Crimes and punishments in 2017 and 2019

The Parodies:

This list has many gaps, especially post-1976. I’ll add more info as I find it. Items with asterisks(*) are discussed more fully in the text.

March 30, 1901: First stand-alone Crimson parody; bacteria escape laboratory.*

Spring 1909: First single-sheet insert in real Crimson.

Nov. 6, 1926: Princeton wins but coach dies at game.*

1928: Unknown content; production process recalled in Centennial Celebration (p. 241), which says 1,400 copies were printed.

Feb. 22, 1933: Nonexistent “Henry E. Clarke” named Harvard President.*

Feb. 22, 1939: Memorial Hall to be razed for student housing.

April 26, 1946: Harvard drops football, may drop all sports.*

Spring 1961: Half those accepted into Class of ’65 decide to go elsewhere.

Nov. 10-11, 1963: The first back-to-back parodies. Female guests banned; reactions to previous day’s hoax.

Jan. 16, 1966: Crimson Board quits over female editor.*

Sept. 17, 1967: Very unimpressive Crimson given to incoming freshmen.

Nov. 11, 1968: Harvard President Pusey named Postmaster General.

Feb. 20-21, 1972: Back-to-back parodies. Nixon’s China trip cancelled; China trip really cancelled.*

Jan. 23, 1973: Crimson misses its own centennial.*

Feb. 1975: Boston doctor Kenneth Edelin vows to “appeal his conviction in a widely-publicized abortion trial on grounds of self-defense.” (Hundredth Anniversary Issue)

Spring 1978: Unknown content; the Crimson later contrasts it with a “notably more witty, insightful, professional, informative, innovative, colorful, intelligible, and legible” Crimson parody done at Dartmouth.

Early summer 1979: Unknown content; the Crimson later calls it “one of their best efforts.”

April 23-24, 1990: Back-to-back parodies, the second attacked as offensive.*

Jan. 21, 2000: The fate of the Crimson president’s chair, which Poonies had stolen.

Feb. 2011: All classes cancelled when building keys lost.

Feb. 4, 2015: First parody to appear in print and on fake Crimson website (link now defunct).

Jan. 30, 2016: First inclusion of Crimson blog Flyby in the website parody. Flyby’s verdict: “Nice Try, Lampoon.”

Jan. 2017: “Most Interesting Seniors” feared missing. This and later parodies dated by month only.

Jan. 2018: Three Crimson parodies in as many days, all covering Paul Rudd-Mila Kunis mashup.*

Jan. 2019: Harvey Weinstein defends dean’s decision to defend Weinstein.

Punch Parodies 1: 1954-1956

Highlights: Punch versions of Reader’s Digest (1956) and The New Yorker (1954)

Punch (1841-1992) loved parody from birth, but it waited over a century to do a full-scale takeoff of another publication. The main holdup was its mid-Victorian layout, which left targets from The Yellow Book to yellow journalism looking very much like Punch. Big change only came in 1949, when art editor Kenneth Bird (a.k.a. the cartoonist “Fougasse”) became the first visual thinker to get the top job. He introduced modern design and typography but left the editorial mix mostly intact. Circulation, which had peaked around 175,000 in 1947, was 130,000 when he stepped down at the end of 1952.

3 early Punch parodies
Punch on The Yellow Book (Feb. 2, 1895), The New Age (May 4, 1910) and picture weeklies (April 13, 1910)

To replace Bird, owner/printers Bradbury & Agnew named Malcolm Muggeridge, the 49-year-old Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph. He was an unlikely choice. The typical Punch editor had been a long-time staffer who had mastered the mag’s clubby ways and shared its Tory politics. Muggeridge was a self-described “incurable journalist” who had never written for Punch and claimed not to read it. Though born into the Labour Party — his father was briefly an M.P. — he became a fervent anti-Communist and Christian apologist after covering Moscow in the 1930s, yet he never lost his innate contempt for wealth, power and conventional opinion, right or left. Mainly he liked to stir things up, first in print and later on TV talk shows. With his sardonic eyebrows and lipless grin, he even looked like Mr. Punch, although he claimed to have no sense of humor — or need one: His job, he said, was to “throw a firecracker into a mausoleum.”

MM, 1953

Muggeridge lasted only five years at Punch — the length of his starting contract, which neither side felt like renewing — but he made a century’s worth of changes. Out went whimsical anecdotes, flower-bordered poems and Richard Doyle’s 1847 cover; in came biting political cartoons, topical satire and celebrity bylines. Not everything worked, but the shake-up got Punch talked about and boosted sales, though readers eventually tired of the constant jeering. (Published numbers for Punch circulation are few and suspiciously round: Muggeridge told The New York Times in early 1956 it was “150,000 and still rising.” When he left at the end of 1957 it was “around 100,000 and decreasing at the rate of 2,000 a week,” according to industry journal Smith’s Trade News.)

Caricature of Churchill in Punch
WSC, 1954

“Of all Muggeridge’s devices for increasing interest . . . two stood out,” R.G.G. Price says in his History of Punch: “the Press parodies, with their typographical gaiety and literary quality, and his calculated exhibitions of what die-hard readers considered bad taste and potential readers considered a sign that Punch was not dead after all.” The bad taste was most potent in the political cartoons; Leslie Illingworth’s 1954 drawing an listless, post-stroke Winston Churchill produced a flurry of cancellations. The parodies, Price says, sprang from Muggeridge’s “childlike love and wonder for the Press” and his habit of seeing parody as “a form of invective rather than of criticism” — though they seem subtle by current standards.

Junior editions from 1954
Juvenile versions of the Evening Standard and Daily Mirror (1954)

Whatever his motives, Muggeridge ran six feature-length press parodies and a handful of one-pagers. Though uncredited, most were written by J.B. Boothroyd and Richard Mallett, with art by Norman Mansbridge and Russell Brockbank. Of the longer parodies, four appeared between Spring 1954 and Spring 1955 in the oversize seasonal numbers; the later two ran in issues built around a single theme.

The Parodies:

  • April 7, 1954: The New Yorker (“The N*w Y*rk*r”), 8 pages.
  • Sept. 1, 1954: Daily Express (“Junior Express”), 1.
  • Sept. 1, 1954: Daily Mirror (“Junior Mirror”), 1.
  • Sept. 15, 1954: The Tatler & Bystander (“The T*tl*r & Byst*nd*r”), 4 no cover.
  • Sept. 29, 1954: Radio Times (“R*d*o T*m*s”), 1, no cover.
  • Oct. 13, 1954: Time (article: “Miscellany”), 0.33 [1 column], no cover.
  • Dec. 15, 1954: Genre: women’s (“Her”), 6.
  • April 6, 1955: Krokodil, 4.
  • Aug. 24, 1955:  Radio Times (“Tradio Times”), 6.
  • Nov. 7, 1956: Reader’s Digest (“Redigested Digest”), 7 on 4.
Pages of Punch New Yorker
“S.J. P-r-l-m-n” and “Edm-nd W-ls-n” in the 1954 “N*w Y*rk*r”

The biggest and most famous was the first — an eight-page takeoff of The New Yorker in the 1954 Spring Number. Printed on slick paper with full-color front and back covers, “The N*w Y*rk*r” was delayed payback for its target’s 1934 “Paunch” (previous post) and proved just as popular on newsstands: The issue disappeared so fast Punch had to buy copies back from readers for its own files (or so I was told when I stopped by the office 20 years later). Price calls Mallett’s spoof of S.J. Perelman “the high-water mark” of Punch parodies, and it’s one of the few anywhere that rivals the original for linguistic pyrotechnics. I’m partial to the brief duet between Ogden Nash and Phyllis McGinley, and Boothroyd’s takedown of Edmund Wilson at his most Anglophobic.

Real Tatler and Punch parody
Punch ignored Tatler’s traditional all-ads front cover to spoof the opening-page portrait.

Punch reached Peak Parody in September-October 1954, beginning with contrasting kiddie versions of the staunchly conservative Daily Express, then a relatively serious broadsheet, and the pro-Labour Daily Mirror, which favored crime stories and cheesecake. “The T*tl*r & Byst*nd*r” in the 1954 Fall Number took on the leading chronicler of high society, which started as The Tatler in 1901, merged with rival Bystander in 1940 and was Tina Brown’s lauchpad to Condé Nast in the 1980s. Norman Mansbridge’s mock-photo illustrations here show a comic craftsmanship equal to anything Harvey Kurtzman’s gang was doing in Mad and Trump. It was followed by brief spoofs of esoteric BBC Radio listings and Time’s offbeat “Miscellany” column (both sitting ducks).

Her and four real women's magazines
“Her,” three 1950s targets and near-namesake She

“Her” in the 1954 Christmas issue parodied weekly magazines for housewives, as they were then called. Bearing such titles as Woman’s Weekly (launched 1911), Women & Home (1926), Women’s Own (1932) and just plain Woman (1937), they were a notch or two above supermarket tabloids and several notches below slick U.S. monthlies like McCall’s. Confusingly, three months after Punch’s parody appeared, the National Magazine Company launched a new title aimed at “young, gay, elegant” postwar women who wanted more from life than the domestic pieties satirized in “Her.” Its name: She. Coincidence or Fleet Street in-joke?

Du Maurier Punch (1888), Mansbridge in Punch’s “Krokodil” (1955)

The parody of Russian humor weekly Krokodil in the 1955 Spring Number flayed two of Muggeridge’s favorite targets: Soviet Communism and Punch itself (which he more than once called “an allegedly humorous publication”). While the written pieces play up the iron teeth behind Krokodil’s state-sanctioned grin, the cartoons transfer some of Punch’s most famous gags from the 19th Century to contemporary Russia but leave them otherwise un-updated. Trust Muggeridge to display the family heirlooms in a deliberately unflattering setting.

Punch's Krokodil and Radio Times parodies
MId-50s issues of Krokodil and Radio Times, flanked by Punch’s version (both 1955)

The coming of commercial television inspired a second takeoff of the BBC’s program guide, Radio Times (founded 1923 as Radio Times and never retitled). The page of fake radio listings the year before had been an almost affectionate sendup of the wireless division’s fondness for the obscure and undramatic. “Tradio Times” — as in, “being in trade” (sniff) — is an all-out and rather snobbish attack on the threat to public taste and intelligence posed by for-profit TV, which debuted in London the week the parody appeared. The authors try to imagine the worst in their “journal of the I.T.A.” — the Independent Television Authority — but reality has long since outrun satire: “Tradio’s” tropes include kids’ shows that are basically one long commercial, programs entirely about shopping, “film sequences of kittens at play” and, most popular of all, a reality series about a clan of shallow materialists called “The Trump Family.” I didn’t make that up.

Tradio Times listings
Premonitions and product placement in “Tradio Times” (1955)

More than a year went by before “Redigested Digest” appeared in November 1956, and there were no press parodies at all in 1957, Muggeridge’s last year. At least the series ended on high note. For my money, “Redigested Digest” is Punch’s best press parody ever, and the best anywhere at catching the contradictory soul of Reader’s Digest: its All-American universalism, its fondness for “characters” and even greater fondness for conformity, its fascination with new inventions and suspicion of new ideas. Punch’s “Digest” is as artfully crafted as “The N*w Y*rk*er” and much more incisive, though not nearly as famous. To help remedy that, I’ve posted all six (on three) pages here.

Redigested Digest, part 1
Alarm and affirmation: “Digest,” part 1

The “Digest’s” only flaw was bad timing: It was the centerpiece of a long-planned issue about the United States scheduled to coincide with the 1956 Presidential election. Eisenhower’s easy win turned out to be the third-biggest story that week, however, after the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the climax of the Suez Canal crisis. The issue hit the stands just days after the U.S. forced the U.K., France and Israel to end their attack on Egypt, which demolished Britain’s remaining claims to be a Great Power and caused a brief but steep drop in Anglo-American amity. Not the best time to market 30 pages of mostly good-natured kidding about Uncle Sam’s worldwide reach.

Redigested Digest, part 2
Quiz and gee-whiz: “Digest,” part 2

None of the standard sources explain why Punch basically abandoned press parodies after the mid-50s, but the drought continued under Bernard Hollowood, editor from 1958 to 1968. It only ended in 1971, when Hollowood’s successor William Davis devoted most of an issue to parodying Playboy. Like “The N*w Y*rk*r” before it, “Punch Goes Playboy” sold out and inspired a run of similar features. But that’s a subject for another post. — VCR.

Redigested Digest, part 3
Catastrophe and condensation: “Digest,” part 3

The New Yorker’s “Paunch,” 1934

Punch and Paunch covers

The covers of Punch for August 30, 1933, and The New Yorker’s 1934 parody.

Parody Of: Punch. Title: “Paunch.” In: The New Yorker, January 13, 1934, pp. 17-24. By: Thurber, Benchley, White, Irvin, etc. Availability: Sometimes findable on eBay, Abebooks, etc.; archived online at newyorker.com (subscription required).

January 13, 1934, New Yorker cover

TNY, 1/13/34

“By humorous [art] we do not mean comic stuff, captioned by a wisecrack, no custard-pie slapstick stuff,” Harold Ross wrote potential contributors to the brand new New Yorker in 1925. “We want our things to be humorous from a sophisticated viewpoint. . . . We want to record the situations of everyday life among intelligent and substantial people as do the English magazines, notably Punch, except that our bent is more satirical, sharper.” How much sharper can be seen in the January 13, 1934, issue, which devoted eight pages to “Paunch,” The New Yorker’s longest and most elaborate parody of another publication.

And about the only. E.B. White created a double-page spoof of Manhattan newspaper features for the November 17, 1928, issue that looks like a collage of clippings from the originals. Just weeks before Pearl Harbor, Russell Maloney and Rea Irvin linked two of Time Inc.’s favorite subjects — cheesecake and catastrophe — in a black-humored, three-page “photo” essay called “Life Goes To The Collapse of Western Civilization” (Oct. 25, 1941). Otherwise, The New Yorker’s parodies — even Wolcott Gibbs’s famous Profile of Henry Luce in Time-style (“Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce,” Nov. 28, 1936) — look like pages of The New Yorker.

Three other New Yorker parodies

First pages of The New Yorker’s spoofs of newspaper features (1928), Time (1936) and Life (1941).

“Paunch” appeared when the real Punch was at low ebb, a plight most critics blamed on Sir Owen Seaman, its editor from 1906 to 1932. Seaman’s morale-boosting during the First World War burnished Punch’s image, but he was a Victorian by temperament and no fan of the slangy, quick-witted, disrespectful and often absurd humor of the Roaring Twenties. “He did not see Punch as an organism or plan ahead, looking to see the way humor was changing, learning from successes and failures in the past,” R.G.G. Price says in A History of Punch (Collins, 1957). “He saw Punch as a National Institution and about as liable to change as the Nelson column. Its function was to act as a fixed point for a bemused public until a normal condition of stasis was resumed.” In practice, this meant freezing Punch’s cover in 1847, its layout in the 1860s and its prejudices in 1897 (the year Seaman joined the staff). Price, a longtime Punch insider, tries to accentuate the positive in his semi-official history, but his account of Seaman’s last decade is damning:

It is difficult now [1957] to realize the hysteria with which Punch was reviled in this period and beyond. . . . It was not even wholeheartedly on the side of reaction. It was tolerant, avuncular and patronizing. Criticism came from Right and Left, though every attack on class changes, Americanization of English speech, modern art or the modern girl was received with clucks of approval in hunting lodge and rectory and in the sad sitting rooms where daughters of military men gave music lessons. . . .

[Seaman’s] Punch has an air, at times, of providing jokes for those who found joking difficult. . . . The more one thinks about this policy the odder it seems. For a humorous periodical to be aimed at the unhumorous was as absurd as for a musical periodical to be aimed at the tone-deaf, but it is quite clear, by the tone of the correspondence from some of the older readers. . . that Seaman’s Punch did arouse a frenzied and deadly loyalty among bores, the naive and the prematurely old. [A History of Punch, p. 225-9]

Seaman reluctantly handed the editorship over to E.V. Lucas at the end of 1932, but “Evoi,” as he signed his Punch work, was no revolutionary. The Punch mocked in “Paunch” was essentially Seaman’s, and it showed all of its 93 years.

"Two pages from "Paunch"

“Paunch” teased Punch’s obesessions with Hollywood films and gangland Chicago in “Charivaria;” James Thurber’s “Beast” and Franklin P. Adams’s “Caterpillar” mocked its prose and verse.

The New Yorker, on the other hand, was at the top of its game in 1934. Its circulation was around 125,000 and climbing, and in the six months from January through June it ran more ad pages than the Saturday Evening Post, which had led the field for decades. Its original rivals, Judge and the pre-Time Inc. Life, were dying, and Norman Anthony’s lowbrow Ballyhoo wasn’t in the same class. The New Yorker’s masthead featured — or would have featured, if it existed — James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Franklin P. Adams and Ring Lardner in addition to White, Gibbs and Irvin. All contributed to “Paunch,” infusing it with more A-list comic talent per square inch than any other parody in history. (Citation needed.)

Belcher cartoon and parody

Cartoonist George Belcher in Punch (left) and in Rea Irvin’s parody.

The New Yorker didn’t trumpet “Paunch’s” authors at the time, but its online index says Thurber wrote “The Happier Beast,” a sendup of the cozy woolgathering that subbed for wit in too many “light” essays. Benchley downshifted his usual befuddled persona into complete ninnyhood for a featherweight dialogue called “Hyacinths for Pamela.” Gibbs, The New Yorker’s film critic, aped English insularity in “Mr. Paunch’s Cinema Review.” “The Mall,” by White, and “The Intent Caterpillar,” by Adams, nailed two of Punch’s favorite forms of bad verse: the sticky-sentimental and the mechanically clever. Uncredited newsbreaks and fake ads sent up Punch’s long-winded quips, its fixations on Chicago gangsters and Hollywood films, and — most hilariously — its tin-eared attempts at American slang. Though “Paunch” wasn’t promoted on the cover, the issue it ran in became the first in The New Yorker’s nine-year history to sell out on newsstands. (The second sellout contained Gibbs’s Time parody, which suggests a demand for such things.)

Two images from "Paunch"

Thurber’s “Laocoon;” Yanks imitating Brits imitating Yanks in a fake ad.

Irvin did most of the drawings, moving from elaborate crowquill to charcoal in the styles of Bernard Partridge, E.H. Shepard, George Belcher and others. The ringer is Thurber’s “Laocoon,” a spoof of Punch’s fondness for allegorical political cartoons based on classical myths. Nothing like Thurber’s doughy men and garden-hose snake would have appeared in the real Punch of the time, which may be the point: It’s a deliberate wrong note played outside Punch’s narrow range of “good” cartooning.

Punch's 1954 New Yorker parody

Revenge, served cold

“Perhaps because of its nearness to the original, this parody was not received with much merriment in the Punch office,” R.E. Williams understates in A Century of Punch Cartoons (Simon & Schuster, 1954), “but when the magazine wholesalers phoned in to ask if they would be sued for libel if they handled the issue, the answer was a dignified negative.” Revenge came years later in the form of another parody, also eight pages, in the April 7, 1954, issue of Punch, called “The N*w Y*rk*r.” It sold out, too. — VCR

NatLamp’s “Why Leave This Room?” 1982

Why Leave This Room cover

Parody Of: Local entertainment guides. Title: “Why Leave This Room?”
In: National Lampoon, August 1982, pp 51-55. By: Michael Reiss, Al Jean “and Staff”
Availability: Right here; issue common on eBay.

NL cover, August 1982

NL, Aug. ’82

There’s a whole subset of parodies that claim to bring news from the future, usually bad. The grandaddy of them all, “The New Times” of 1794, showed Britain in 1800 reduced to starvation and civil war by French-inspired radicals. In 1884, the Boston Globe ran a four-page “Women’s Daily Globe” from a time when “women have taken over … and have left the beaten-down and defeated male to tend the home fires” (periodyssey.com); its date: 2002. Esquire’s fake “New York Times” in 1969 foresaw a narrowly divided Supreme Court voting along partisan lines to settle a disputed presidential election — though the year it gave was 1976 and the winner Spiro Agnew. The “Post New York Post” in 1984 ran nuclear war through the tabloid news grinder (“Michael Jackson, 80 Million Others Dead”). Others have set World War III in motion and Donald Trump in the White House.

Not one, however, has said anything about pandemics, viral or otherwise, which leaves this outlet with nothing to say about You Know What. (Except wash your hands, especially before handling old magazines.)



So instead of dwelling on disasters real or parodic, here’s some first aid for folks suffering from cabin fever. National Lampoon’s “Why Leave This Room?” purports to be “A Complimentary Guide to Local Places, Events, and Happenings” courtesy of “New Western Motels,” though exactly which locality is unstated. Like many early-’80s NL spoofs, it’s funny but one-note: Every “attraction” in the surrounding hellscape is either mind-numbingly generic or flat-out deranged — a sure cure for wanderlust. So if the itch to go out is rising, read these five pages. Pretend they describe the world outside your current bunker. Then ask yourself, “Why Leave This Room?” — VCR

Why Leave This Room pages 54-55

An Overlooked NatLamp Spoof, 1977

National Lampoon subscription renewal packet

Did anyone else save this?

The first issue of National Lampoon, dated April, hit newsstands on March 19, 1970. It did not hit my P.O. box in Davidson, North Carolina, however, despite the Occupant being a charter subscriber at the bullseye of the target demo: White, Male, Twentyish, Collegiate, Too Old for Mad but still reading it. Thwarted by mail, I bummed a ride to the nearest newsstand in Charlotte and bought what turned out to be a famously underwhelming debut.

April 1970 Nation Lampoon cover

It eventually arrived.

“The April issue seems to be made up almost completely of dull material rejected from the three old [Harvard Lampoon] magazine parodies,” the Crimson wrote, citing “Pl*yb*y” (1966), “Life” (1968) and “Time” (1969). “The National Lampoon will be chalked up as a business failure unless the overall quality of the publication improves soon.” So it seemed: The inaugural “Sexy Cover Issue” sold 225,000 of 500,000 copies printed; the May issue, devoted to “Greed,” sold 120,000.

Both quality and sales picked up fast, but the Circulation Dept. never became a model of efficiency. After years of seeing copies in stores first, I let my subscription lapse and started buying retail. Several addresses later, most likely in the summer of 1977, I received this item in the mail. It’s not quite a magazine parody, but it does make fun of the industry’s most famous marketing gimmick. To my knowledge, it’s never been posted — or even mentioned — online, so as a service to posterity here’s National Lampoon’s “You Should Live So Long” Sweepstakes (fake) and subscription pitch (real).

NL Sweepstakes outer envelope

The outer envelope

It’s modeled on the fat envelopes Publishers Clearing House and others used to send out by tens of millions, promising cash, cars and homes to random lucky-number holders. Finding one’s number and correctly filling out the entry form could involve hours of sticker-peeling, card-scratching and stamp-pasting, all crafted to jolly Occupant or Current Resident into buying short-term magazine subscriptions at steep discounts. Contest rules and federal law might swear no purchase was necessary, but lots of folks were naive or cynical enough to think signing up for six months of Knitting World couldn’t hurt. The final nudge was the separate envelopes for entries with and without orders, the latter often stamped “NO” in huge block letters.

NL Sweepstakes letter

“If your idea of winning a contest is crassly materialistic . . .”

Contestants were right to suspect something fishy: One lawsuit in the 1990s discovered thousands of never-opened “NO” envelopes in an unused office. State attorneys general eventually put most of the sweeps out of business, but it was the magazines that suffered most while they flourished. Back in 1893, publisher Frank Munsey cut the cover price of his self-titled monthly from a quarter to a dime. Sales of Munsey’s went from 40,000 copies to 500,000 in six months and pioneered a new business model: Price the magazine low to draw a mass audience and sell its eyeballs to advertisers at so much per thousand. When TV took off in the ’50s, publishers began hiring outfits like PCH (founded 1953) and American Family Media (1977-1998) to make sure the promised eyeballs were present, even it if meant giving copies away. The salesmen kept most of the money, and the mags got thousands of low-margin, short-term subscribers who seldom renewed. Publishers came to hate this arrangement but couldn’t afford to quit playing the numbers game unilaterally.

NL Sweepstakes brochure

The brochure, with clips from 1970-76

National Lampoon mocked the sweepstakes ballyhoo mainly by being honest about the odds: ‘You May Already Be The Grand Prize Winner, Worth Up To $1,000,000! BUT DON’T BET ON IT!” warns one side of the outer envelope; “No Win Necessary To Purchase,” says the other. The mailing isn’t postmarked, but internal evidence sets it between the 1976 Montreal Olympics and the September 1, 1977, “entry” deadline. There’s no direct evidence it was written by the NL’s editors — who in 1977 included Tony Hendra, Sean Kelly, P.J. O’Rourke and Gerald Sussman — but it’s hard to believe the marketing department made the decision to list “Negroes In the U.S.: Have They Outworn Their Welcome?” among the mag’s “fast-breaking stories.” (The same crack was used on the front of the Sunday Newspaper Parody in 1978, though no such story appeared inside.)

The line between editorial and merchandising was blurry from the start at NatLamp: The Harvard founders appeared in subscription ads (“Little Doug Kenney Will Go to Bed Hungry Tonight”), as did later editor P.J. O’Rourke and publisher Matty Simmons, whose “Authorized Signature” is the only name attached. The one trustworthy statement anywhere appears on the back of the return envelope: “Have you enclosed your check and subscription blank?”

NL Sweepstakes poster

Double-page ad from the mag adapted into a poster.

Publishers Clearing House is still around, mostly online; it’s better known today for its Prize Patrol ads at Superbowl time than for its mailings, and magazines are just one product among many. Especially since 9/11, publishers have shifted more of the real cost of their wares onto readers: In 2019, the average subscriber to People paid over $90 for a year (54 issues), or about $1.70 a copy. Still better than the $5.99 cover price, but a long way from four easy monthly payments of $1.79. — VCR

NL Sweepstakes entry form

$31 “Grand Prize” = three-year-subscription discount

 

 

Portfolio: 10 Parodies from the 1920s

In an effort to pick up the posting pace just a bit, I’m introducing a new category called “Portfolio,” which will offer many pictures and few words. Today being palindromic 02/02/2020, it seems appropriate to begin with twenty magazine covers from the previous ‘2os: ten of them real, ten from parodies they inspired:

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1921; Harvard Lampoon, October 1921. (Above) The Journal was one of the first magazines to focus on connecting with readers, and the first to reach one million circulation.

New Republic and Advocate Parody

The New Republic, March 16, 1927 (and every week); Harvard Advocate, April 1, 1924. Between 1906 and 1937, the Advocate also parodied the Lampoon, The Atlantic Monthly, The Dial, Time and Saturday Review.

SatEvePost and Judge parody

The Saturday Evening Post, July 31, 1920; Judge, May 8, 1926: The first of a series of parodies published by Judge under editor Norman Anthony. The list of “contributors” at the bottom is a nod to the Post’s overwhelming lead in ad pages.

Vanity Fair, September 1926; Judge, October 23, 1926: A year earlier, Judge’s cover artist Rea Irvin had created the iconic first cover of The New Yorker.

Film Fun and Yale parody

Film Fun, November 1927; Yale Record, April 20, 1927: Film Fun mixed pinups, risque jokes and movieland gossip; future Record editor Dwight Macdonald helped spoof it his junior year.

The American Mercury, February 1925 (and every month); Northwestern Purple Parrot, March 1928.

The New Yorker, March 10, 1928; Harvard Lampoon, April 19, 1928.

Child Life and Purple Parrot parody

Child Life, October 1924; Northwestern Purple Parrot, April 1929.

The Sportsman, February 1929; Harvard Lampoon, April 18, 1929.

True Story, May 1929; Judge, Nov. 23, 1929.

— VCR

Wisconsin Octopus Parodies, 1920-1959

Six Octopus parodies.

The Magazine

Before The Onion, the most famous humor magazine to come out of Madison was the University of Wisconsin Octopus, b. November 1919, d. 1959, after UW officials found the May issue so offensive they extinguished the title. The editors did ask for it: On one page they reproduced an official warning to quit printing smut like the previous issue; on the others they parodied Playboy. The cover of “Blayboy” — a takeoff on Playboy’s for the same month — showed the mag’s eight-handed mascot joining three startled young ladies in a bubble bath. Bye bye, Octy.

Covers of Playboy and parody

Though they shared a cover date, Playboy’s May issue came out several weeks before Octy’s “Blayboy.” Right: Official displeasure

Sixty years on, Wisconsin seems willing to forgive and remember: There are now 281 Octopus issues in the UW Digital Collection, where they can be read by just anybody. “Blayboy” is represented only by a cover and its smutty predecessor is missing entirely, but most of the rest are on hand. Rather than link to individual issues, here’s the whole set.

First Octopus cover

Vol. 1, no. 1

Octy was UW’s third humor magazine, following the Sphinx (1899-1913) — also online, though I haven’t found any parody issues — and the short-lived Awk (1915-1917). It was started privately by three students who turned it over to the school after two profitable issues. The U. mostly left it alone, though a “risque cartoon” in 1928 “led for a time to a closer review of all material by the faculty majority on the Octy board of directors,” says UW’s official history. Despite vowing in its first editorial to make “no attempt to issue numbers regularly,” Octy appeared eight to ten times a year for 23 years before pausing for World War II. Its return in 1946 was misnumbered Vol. 25, an error never corrected.

1939's one-page Life spoof

Spoofing Life, 1939

Octy flourished in the ’20s. The history tells of “glossy, quarto-sized issues running as many as sixty-four pages, colored covers, clever cartoons and graphics by student artists, and humorous prose and poetry.” At the depth of the Depression issues shrank to sixteen pages and the price fell from a quarter to a dime, but for most of the ’30s Octy was “a handsome, professional-looking magazine, better in design that most of its peers, and nearly as attractive as Vanity Fair or [The] New Yorker, on both of whom it had a noticable crush,” according to uwalumni.com. It ranked high in college humor polls and sometimes addressed serious subjects: A 1938 story by future New York Times reporter Leonard Silk exposed the Fascist leanings of a new Wisconsin-based third party called the National Progressives, and in 1939 the mag ridiculed the DAR for not allowing Marian Anderson to sing at Independence Hall.

The first sign of postwar trouble was a nearly year-long gap after the December 1951 issue. When the mag reappeared in November 1952 it was briefly called The New Octopus, though editor Ken Eichenbaum joked(?) that it looked “so damn much like the old one that six of us have decided to hang it up and transfer to Marquette.” He didn’t even mention the long hiatus. Octy retrenched to six issues a year, briefly tried a “more mature” policy and hit the financial rocks in 1955-56. “Too many students are READING the Octy without BUYING it,” grumbled an ad in the May 1956 issue, which begged for a thousand students to pledge — “NOW!” — to subscribe next fall. They didn’t, and Octy vanished for three semesters, reappearing with three issues in spring 1958 and three more in ’58-59. The last twitch was an undated reprint collection the next year that failed to spark a fourth revival. Three decades would pass before UW produced another nationally known humor rag.

1951 DailyCardinal parody

Cover and three inside pages from Octy’s 1953 “Daily Cardinal” issue

II: The Parodies

Octy's 1920 "Vie Parisienne" cover.

May 1920

Though it modeled a cover on France’s racy La Vie Parisienne its first year, Octy produced few parodies before the 1930s and only about two dozen total. Nearly half were of the student newspaper, always impersonated under its real name: the Daily Cardinal. Most Cardinal parodies appeared as magazine pages on authentic (and cheaper) newsprint, though in 1953 a tabloid was printed separately and folded into the March number. (Such inserts tend to stray; the UWDC has the mag but no paper.) Octy’s “Cardinals” were dryer and funnier than most such efforts and not afraid to razz local heavyweights, including Wisconsin’s junior U.S. Senator from 1947 to 1957, Joe McCarthy.

Covers of Chicago Tribune and Time parodies

The Tribune was Octy’s only off-campus newspaper target, Time the only magazine hit twice.

Octy’s first big parodee was the Police Gazette, traditional reading matter of barber shops and saloons. It was a relic of grandpa’s day even in 1929, but the Bootleg Era saw the 1890s the way later generations saw the ’20s: as the last time people knew how to have fun. This foolery was followed by a jaundiced look at Hearst’s jingoistic Sunday magazine The American Weekly in 1935 and an even sharper mauling of the arch-Republican Chicago Tribune in ’38, cowritten by Leonard Silk. Octy didn’t attempt a cover-to-cover parody until 1949, when it put Republican Gov. Oscar Rennebohm, a very dark horse in the 1952 presidential stakes, inside the red borders of “Timf.” After that, parodies came out almost annually.

Pages from Octy's Life parody

Collegiate whimsey meets Korea and custom cars in Octy’s “Liff,” 1953

The 1949 Badger yearbook called “Timf” the magazine’s “best post-war issue” and claimed it outsold the Daily Cardinal. The 1950 edition called “The Old Yorker” “the editorial and financial high point of the year.” My choice for best mock Oc is 1953’s “Liff.” Too many college parodists were content to focus Life’s wide-ranging lens on their own anthills and play the findings relatively straight; Octy highjacked the format to satirize Hollywood movies, Congressional hearings, cheesecake photos and Life itsef: “We do not believe in slanting words or pictures,” the lead editorial declared. “People look too thin that way.” Even the Korean stalemate was played for laughs in the “war memoirs” of a male-turned-female photographer named after Marguerite Higgins but inspired by Christine (née George) Jorgensen, who in early 1953 was as famous as Mamie Eisenhower.

Real 1950 Flair cover

Flair, Feb. 1950

Octy’s oddest parody was “Flare,” a sendup of Flair. The brainchild of Fleur Cowles, wife of Look publisher Garnder Cowles, Flair was a lavish monthly blend of heavyweight bylines, trendy arts coverage and innovative graphic design, featuring pekaboo covers, half-size and translucent pages, bound-in booklets and accordion foldouts. It appeared for exactly one year starting February 1950 and was four months dead when “Flare” appeared in May 1951. Two years later, a parody of campus mag The Wisconsin Idea coincided with the real thing’s last issue. Thereafter Octy picked sturdier targets: Life, Mademoiselle, Time again (with Athletic Director Ivan B. Williamson on the cover) and, fatally, Playboy.

Octopus Parodies of the Wisconsin Daily Cardinal, 1932-1958:

(Issues are listed by volume and number in the Digital Collection, so I’ve included that.)

  • The Daily Cardinal, Vol. 13, no. 6, Feb. 1932 (16 pages + 1 cover)
  • —–, Vol. 15, no. 6, Feb. 1934  (18, some with real ads)
  • —–, Vol. 18, no. 6, Feb. 1937  (13, inc. 3-page “Collegiate Digest” photo section)
  • —–, Vol. 20, no. 8, April 1939 (4)
  • —–, Vol. 22, no. 3, Nov. 1941 (4)
  • —–, Vol. 25, no.6, Feb. 1947 (4)
  • —–, Vol. 26, no. 6, Feb. 1948 (8 + 1c)
  • —–, Vol. 27, no.7, March 1949 (8 + 1c)
  • —–, Vol. 28, no. 3, Nov. 1949 (8 + 1c)
  • —–, Vol. 29, no. 5, Feb.-March 1951 (8, called “1950 [1951]” online)
  • —–, Vol. 31, no. 4, March 1953 (insert, not online)
  • —–, (“Tri-Weakly Cardinal”), Vol. 32, no. 5, March 1954 (8)
  • —–, Summer 1958 (4, tabloid)

Other Octopus Parodies, 1920-1959:

  • La Vie Parisienne (“La Vie Wisconsienne”), Vol. 1, no. 5, May 1920 (cover only)
  • Police Gazette, Vol. 11, no. 1, September 25, 1929 (16 + 1c)
  • American Weekly (“American Weakly”), Vol. 17, no. 4, Dec. 1935 (10) (called “Vol. 15 [17]” online)
  • Chicago Daily Tribune, Vol. 20. no. 4, December 1938 (4)
  • Life (article: “Life Discloses the Happy Weekend of a Wisconsin Coed”), Vol. 21, no. 3, Nov. 1939 (1)
  • Time (“Timf”), Vol. 27, no. 5, Jan. 18, 1949 (44 + 4c)
  • The New Yorker (“The Old Yorker”), Vol. 28, no. 8, April 1950 (40 + 4c)
  • Flair (“Flare”), Vol. 29, no. 7, May 1951 (36 + 4c)
  • The Wisconsin Idea (“The Wisconsin Idear”), Vol. 31, no. 4, March 1953 (10)
  • Life (“Liff”), Vol. 31, no. 5, April 1953 (40 + 4c)
  • Mademoiselle (“Madmoiselle … and the Arts”), Vol. 33, no. 2, Dec. 1954, (28 + 4c)
  • Time (“Tum”), Vol. 34, no. 4, Feb. 1956 (28 + 4c)
  • Playboy (“Blayboy”), May 1959 (not online)

Sources:

E. David Cronon and John W. Jenkins. The University of Wisconsin: A History: Volume III: Politics, Depression, and War, 1925-1945 (U. of Wisconsin Press, 1994), pp 626-629.

Matt Rogge. “Through the Eyes of the Octopus,” uwalumni.com, posted July 12, 2017.

— VCR

Parodies of Mad, 1954-2019

Covers of 8 Mad parodies

Top: Crazy (1959), National Lampoon (1971), Bijou Funnies (1973), Hans Gamber (1986); bottom: West Point Pointer (1983), Simpsons Comics (2013), Syracuse Syracusan (1957), Esquire (1964)

Some folks can’t handle success. Last year, Mad (b. 1952) passed Judge (1881-1947) to become the longest-lived U.S. humor magazine, newsstand division. This summer, it announced its October 2019 issue — number 9 of the current series — would be the last to run all-new material. Number 10 has since emerged looking just as new, so the obits need updating, but number 9 is still a keeper for its clever recreation of Mad’s mid-’60s heyday.

Cover and 2 pages of Mad Tarantino issue

Tom Richmond channels Jack Davis (left) and Mort Drucker (right) in Mad # 9 (Oct. 2019).

TV Guide and Mad parodies from the film

Leo-as-Rick by Tom-as-Jack; cover of the DVD bonus.

The “Special Taratino Time Warp Issue” — actually, the first twelve pages plus covers — began as a prop in Quentin T.’s latest film, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood!, set in 1969. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a fading TV star whose one hit was an early-’60’s oater called Bounty Law. Tarantino commissioned Mad’s Tom Richmond to forge Jack Davis-style covers of Leo-as-Rick for Mad and TV Guide. The job grew to include a five-page Bounty Law spoof, “Lousy Law,” written by Andrew Secundo and drawn by Richmond in a fine pastiche of Mort Drucker’s early duoshade work. (They also did a second, digest-size parody for the film’s high-priced deluxe home edition.) “I was totally blown away by how much screen time [the art got] and how big it was displayed,” Richmond told the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna.

“Lousy Law” is the heart of the “Time Warp,” which also recycles Harvey Kurtzman’s nymphs-and-satyrs nameplate, an early Al Jaffee Fold-In, and real and fake ads. Peter Kuper apes Antonio Prohias’s “Spy vs. Spy” look, and Jon Adams approximates Dave Berg in a “Lighter Side” that links then to now and ushers in the rest of the issue. It’s a good-looking piece of self-kidding nostalgia and a convenient excuse to run this semi-comprehensive list of parodies of Mad. (For parodies in Mad, see here.)

Cover-only parodies not discussed here.

Not present: Cover-only parodies like these from Mod (1981), NatLamp (Aug. 1971), Wax Paper (Oct. 1978), Esquire and Texas Monthly (both June 1992), Weird Fiction Review #3 (2012), and Der Spiegel (July 20, 2019) are discussed nowhere in the text.

The list doesn’t include the dozens of wannabes examined in two excellent books: John Benson’s The Sincerest Form of Parody (2012) and Craig Yoe and Ger Apeldoorn’s Behaving Madly (2017). Nor does it note every publication that morphed a cover subject into Alfred or faked a Fold-In. The following vary in length and quality, but all have some heft: Most run three-plus pages and parody several articles; the handful that don’t have a mock cover are so noted.

Panel from "The Seventh Schlemiel"

J.S. Martin in “MADvocate” (1980)

The cover, “Spy vs. Spy,” Fold-In, Don Martin and “Lighter Side” are the most copied features, by my count. Only the bravest parodists attempt Drucker-style movie satires: The most successful before “Lousy Law” are Ernie Colon’s “Citizen Gaines” in National Lampoon and Jeff S. Martin’s “Seventh Schlmiel” in the Harvard Lampoon’s “MADvocate,” which is by far the best student spoof. Also the briefest.

Parodists have viewed Mad with feeling ranging from adoration to contempt, but their laughter is mostly affectionate. I’ve sorted them into four groups based on attitude and affiliation: the Usual Gang itself,  rivals and critics, college humorists, and miscellanous fans.

Parodies of Mad, 1954-2019, . . .

. . . by Mad Itself:

  • “Julius Caesar,” Mad #17, Nov. 1954, 7 pp., no cover.
  • “How to Put Out an Imitation of Mad,” Mad #41, Sept. 1958, 2 pp., no cover.
  • “Some Mad Articles You Never Got to See,” Mad #120, July 1968, 8 pp., no cover.
  • “Madde,” bonus in Mad Super Special #19, Fall 1976, 24 pp.
  • “The Book of Mad,” Mad #243, Dec. 1983, 5 pp.
  • “Mad: Tarantino Time Warp Edition,” Mad #9 (new series), Oct. 2019, 12 pp + 4c.
  • “Mad: No. 98, Oct. ’65,” bonus in Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood! 4K Ultra HD Collector’s Edition, Dec. 2019, 24 pp.

Mad could kid its own formulas but had no desire to share them. In the comic, Kurtzman and Wallace Wood namecheck eleven rivals, including EC stablemate Panic, then break the fourth wall to “point out the various routines” in “a typical-type lampoon” of the 1953 film Julius Caesar. The assumption that Mad pioneered those routines hovers unspoken. By contrast, “How to . . .” openly and sourly attacks Mad-the-mag’s copycats, some of whom sassed back. It’s less a parody than a humor-mag parts catalogue, but it reveals the professional pride behind the what-me-worry facade.

Panels from Mad self-parodies,

Clockwise from left: “How to Put out an Imitation of Mad” (1958) and “Julius Caesar” (1954), George Woodbridge in “Madde”(1976), a Berg’s-Eye View “You Never Got to See” (1968)

Later self-parodies are less meta. “Some Mad Articles You Never Got to See,” by Frank Jacobs, presents a dozen that supposedly “ended up dull” or otherwise misfired. Most are bland except “The Lighter Side of Death,” a cringe-worthy takeoff of Dave Berg drawn by Berg himself. In “Madde,” the Gang travel back to the Revolutionary Era for some Bicentennial satire. Lou Silverstone does the same for Biblical times in “The Book of Mad,” cramming a Noah’s Ark cover and seven story ideas into five pages.

. . . by Rivals & Critics:

  • “How To Put Out An Imitation of ‘Angry’,” Thimk #4, Dec. 1958, 1 p., no cover.
  • “How To Put Out An Imitation of Frantic,” Frantic #2, Dec. 1958, 2 pp., no cover.
  • “Bad,” Crazy, Charlton Publications, March 1959, 6 pp.
  • “Special Sophistication Issue: Bad,” Esquire, Aug. 1964, 5 pp.
  • “Mad,” National Lampoon, Oct. 1971, 15 pp.
  • “You Know You’re Grown Up When . . .” (article), National Lampoon, Sept. 1977, 2 pp., no cover.
  • “Mud,” in Trash, Trash Publishing Inc., March 1978, 10 pp.
  • “Müd,” ed. by Hans Gamber, Maya Verlag, Munich, Germany, 1986, 36 pp.
  • “Mad” [with “a” inverted], Barf #1, Revolutionary Comics, April 1990, 2 pp + 2c.

Pages from Crazy and Trash magazines.

Mocking Mad merch in Crazy’s “Bad” (1959) and Trash’s “Mud” (1978)

“How To Put Out an Imitation of Mad” didn’t go unanswered. Loco ran “How to Be A Copy-Cat” in October 1958; the next month Frenzy reprinted bits from Judge, Ballyhoo and the old Life in “How to Take All The Credit For Originating a Humor Magazine.” Thimk and Frantic piled on in December with parodies of the original story. The biggest pushback was “Bad,” a six-page look at “the great humor magazine that invented satire” (sarc.) in This Magazine Is Crazy, by future Mad and television writer Gary Belkin and artist Tony Couch, Jr. It mocks several long-gone features including Bob and Ray’s skits and the t-shirt ad. Trash delivered the most recent assault in its March 1978 debut; “Mud” looks a bit like Mad, but so do the 42 derivative pages around it. Though uncredited, it’s likely the work of  Trash editor Tony Tallarico.

Mad spoofs from Esquire and Barf

Two pages from Esquire’s “Bad” (1964); cover and page of Barf’s “Mad” (1990)

“For some time I too have been intrigued by the idea of doing a takeoff of Mad . . . and I wondered if it could be done,” Mad’s Larry Siegel wrote Esquire after its “Bad” appeared. “Well, I just saw yours, and believe me it hasn’t been done yet.” He went on to call the parody “cruel, vicious” and “more heavy-handed than Mad at its worst,” and ended with: “The guy who did your piece should have studied his subject more. You don’t do a takeoff of Mad simply by filling your article with ‘mainly,’ ‘gang,’ and ‘ecch.'” Siegel was too kind: Mad à la Esquire is an unrecognizable stew of horror comic, gags-and-gals humor and bathroom graffiti. Illustrator Blake Hampton may have glanced at the source material but didn’t bother imitating specific artists.

By contrast, National Lampoon’s John Boni, Sean Kelly and Henry Beard approached the job with the intensity of  ex-lovers. Though uneven, their “Mad” (see also here) comes closest to meeting Siegel’s standards — unlike the two-page filler “You Know You’re a Grown-Up When . . .” six years later. Munich’s Hans Gamber translated these and other NatLamp pieces in his spoof of Mad’s German edition, “Müd” (which, with umlaut, means “Tired”). I believe it’s the only Mad parody published outside the U.S. San Diego comic Barf offered humor in a punk-grunge-anarchist vein from 1990 to slightly later in 1990 (three issues); it gave fuddy-duddy Mad the finger in a few snide pages and is mainly notable for beginning on the back cover.

. . . by College Humor Magazines:

  • “Dam,” Syracuse Syracusan, March 1957, 32 pp.
  • “????,” Michigan Gargoyle, 1957-58, ?? pp.
  • “Mud,” U. of Massachusetts Yahoo, January 1965, 32 pp. + 4 c.
  • “MADvocate,” Harvard Lampoon, April 1980, 5 pp., no cover.
  • “Grad,” West Point Pointer, May 1983, 23 (of 44) pp. + 4 c.

Pages from college Mad parodies

Pages from Syracuse (1957), cover from U. Mass (1965), back cover from West Point (1983)

Mad was required reading for college humorists in the 1950s and ’60s, but most knew they lacked the chops to make a reasonable facsimile. The Syracusan tried anyway in March 1957, when black-and-white Mad was just two years old. “Dam” contains nearly 30 pages of original illustrated stories; many are funny, but they’d never pass for the real thing. Yahoo’s “Mud” and the Pointer’s “Grad” are cruder, though “Mud” found a clever way around Mad’s plug-free purity in “If Comic Strip Characters Patronized Our Advertisers.”

Two pages of the Lampoon's Madvocate

Two-fifths of the Harvard Lampoon’s 1980 Mad-Advocate merger

The Lampoon’s mashup of Mad with the highbrow Harvard Advocate starts with a strong premise and dispatches it in five brisk pages: Contents, Movie, “Don Martin,” Fold-In. Future Simpsons showrunners Mike Reiss and Al Jean, both ’91, contributed. Gargoyle’s parody is the big unknown: The 1958 Michigan yearbook says “this year’s Garg staff . . . satirized Mad,” but the Michigan Daily’s reviews don’t mention it. Anybody got a copy?

. . . by Fans:

  • “73,” 73 magazine, Wayne Green Inc., April 1967, 3 pp. + 1 c.
  • Bijou Funnies #8, Kitchen Sink Press, 1973, 36 pp.
  • Screw #1013, Milky Way Productions, Inc., Aug. 1, 1988, ?? pp.
  • Jab #1, Cummings Design Group, Spring 1993, 24 pp. + 4 c.
  • “Bits and Pieces,” Hustler, Sept. 1995, 13 pp.
  • Chunklet #14, pub. by Henry H. Owings, 1998, 2 pp. + 2 c.
  • The Comics Journal, Fantagraphics, July 2000, 3 pp. + 2c.
  • We’re MAD … about Machine Vision, Cognex Corp., Dec. 31, 2002, 12 pp + 1c.
  • “D’oh,” in Simpsons Comics #203, Bongo Comics Group, June 3, 2013, 7 pp. + 1c.

Pages from 73 and Bijou

Cover and Spies from 73 (1967); opening page from Bijou (1973)

Sometimes, kids who fall in love with Mad grow into adults with access to printing presses; the results can turn up anywhere from porn mags to earnings reports. In 1967, Wayne Pierce drew an Alfred E. Neuman cover and “Ham vs. Ham” for the amateur radio monthly, 73. (The title is short-wave for “Best Regards.”) R. Crumb, Bill Griffith and other heavyweights mocked each other’s creations in the eighth and final issue of Bijou Funnies in the spirit of Mad comics. Editor Jay Lynch wrote an EC-style anti-censorship editorial and parodied Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. The cover was drawn by fabulous though not furry Harvey Kurtzman, who started the whole thing.

Cover of Screw (1988)

Screw (1988)

Screw’s August 1, 1988, front shows owner Al Goldstein grinning gap-toothed beneath the headline “Alfred E. Neuman’s Sex Secrets” as his old pal Bill Gaines vomits in the background. (Don’t ask how Screw treated people Goldstein didn’t like.) Inside are a long interview with Gaines and X-rated spoofs of Berg, Martin and the spies. Those features also turn up in Hustler’s 1995 salute, along with “You Know Your Girlfriend’s a Slut When…” and similar delicacies. It’s one of the longest Mad parodies at thirteen pages and captures Mad’s look and rhythm, but the humor ranges from juvenile to hateful and too many panels are “improved” by ‘shopped-in nudes.

Chunklet was a music and comedy magazine out of Athens, Georgia, known for its putdowns of “overrated” acts (basically all of them) and unhurried schedule (twenty issues in fifteen years, the last in 2008). Issue #14, undated but copyright 1998, says “completely Mad” up front but delivers only a bleakly funny “Pomo Spy vs. Pomo Spy” by Ted Rall and an advertiser’s Fold-In. There are clues that a longer parody was planned and dropped: Chunklet.com calls #14 “The Mad Magazine Issue, a.k.a. The Cease & Desist Issue.” The cover of The Comics Journal #225 was painted by Kelly Freas, Mad’s cover artist from 1958 to 1962; TCJ also imitated Mad’s contents, letters pages and Fold-In to plug interviews with Jaffee, Jack Davis and Al Feldstein.

Pages from Chunklet and Comics Journal

Chunklet’s cover and Ted Rall’s pomo Spies (1993); TCJ’s cover and Fold-In (2000)

Cognex Corp. of Massachusetts makes robotic gadgets that can see defective products on assembly lines. In 2002, founder Robert Shillman got so “MAD about the negative effect of the worldwide economic slowdown” he made it the theme of the company’s annual report. The usual one-pagers are present, all involving gags about machine-vision quality-control systems. Highlights are the uncredited Norman Mingo-style cover and the very idea of doing such a thing. Jab was a humor mag out of Birmingham, Alabama, in the early ’90s that doubled as a sampler for publisher Frank Cumming’s design firm; all four issues contain Mad-like illustrated satires, but only #1 makes the connection explicit.

Mad parodies by Jab, Cognex and Simpsons Comics

Covers from Jab (1993) and Cognex (2002); “Don Martin” by Cognex and Simpsons Comics (2013)

Simpsons Comics #203 may be the most loving tribute: The lead story is about Krusty the Clown’s attempts to profit off Bart’s hand-drawn comic book “Bad” (renamed “D’oh!” because the title was too close to goth monthly “Sad”). The flip-side samples “D’oh” itself, bending the usual Simpsons line just enough to hat-tip Drucker, Martin and Aragones. Bongo Comics shut down last October after Simpsons Comics #245, and Mad is tottering, so I’ll close with the final panel of “The Rise and Fall of D’oh.” —VCR

Simpson's panel of "Doh!" mag's funeral

Online: Collier’s WW3 & Shaft’s “Collera’s,” 1951-52

Collier's cover and Shaft's parody

Collier’s cover, by Richard Deane Taylor (1951), and Shaft’s response (1952).

Parody Of: Collier’s, Oct. 27, 1951. Title:Collera’s,” for Oct. 27, 1951
In: U. of Illinois Shaft, Jan. 1952. Format: 13 b&w pages + 1 cover.

Magazine parodies rarely focus on one particular issue of their subjects, but the “preview” of World War III that filled Collier’s on October 27, 1951, made a big enough splash to earn its own spoof. Printed copies are scarce, but luckily both have been posted online in their entirety. (Links above.) Together they capture the nation’s jittery mood during the coldest years of the Cold War, between the outbreak of fighting in Korea in 1950 and the death of Stalin in 1953.

Mushrooms over Moscow in Collier’s, Oct. 27, 1951.

Collier’s’ what-if was assembled by associate editor Cornelius Ryan, future author of The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, after “study and consultation with top political, military and economic thinkers, including high-level Washington officials and foreign-policy experts.” Supposedly written in 1960, it begins in 1952, when a bungled Soviet attempt to assassinate Yugoslavia’s Marshall Tito sets the tanks rolling. The Good Guys eventually win, but only after millions on both sides die in A-bomb attacks. (Alt-history buffs should read Ron Miller’s detailed play-by-play at GorillaWorldPress.com.) After that bitter pill, a score of writers from Arthur Koestler to Walter Winchell share their visions of the next postwar world, where communism is defunct and Moscow hosts fashion shows.

The assumption there would be a world post-War No. 3 may strike today’s readers as the least likely part of the scenario, especially after they see Chesley Bonestell’s lurid, full-page paintings of the Kremlin, U.S. Capitol and other landmarks melting under nuclear fireballs. But the hydrogen bomb was still under wraps in 1951; A-bombs were relatively small and hard to come by, and the dangers of fallout largely unknown. Within a few years all that changed, opening the gates for apocalypses like On the Beach (1957) and Red Alert (1958), the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Excerpts from Collier's and Shaft

Collier’s (left) and “Collera’s” make their cases.

The sober realists in Collier’s roundup could still picture total war ending in victory — they’d seen it happen, nukes and all, just six years earlier — and the contributors who had dealt with Stalin’s regime weren’t shy about hailing its demise in essays titled “Freedom at Long Last” and “We Worship God Again.” Lest this seem a bit trigger-happy, the editors reminded readers this was a “PREVIEW OF THE WAR WE DO NOT WANT” across dozens of pages in prophylactic capitals. Meanwhile, all the usual features and fillers were either dropped or drafted into service, including the usually featherweight love story and cartoons. Mike Ingram of bookfightpod.com recently called the result “one part anti-communist propaganda and one part teenage war fantasy.” Some early-’50s readers felt a similar disconnect: As the parody put it, “Oh, do we hate war. Ugh! Here’s a whole issue about it.”

Shaft, Jan. 1952

That jibe appeared not in some pinko-pacifist Greenwich Village organ but in Shaft, the off-campus humor magazine at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Set up by returning World War II vets as a for-profit business, Shaft at first pledged “to avoid the pitfalls of smutty material which have wrecked every previous attempt to publish a strictly college humor mag here,” the Daily Illini reported in 1947. In reality, it soon migrated to the gals-‘n’-gags end of the college-humor spectrum, correctly assuming its mostly male readers would overlook primitive design and sloppy paste-up if given enough raunch. Future film critic Gene Shalit and Mad writer Larry Siegel boosted the satire content in early years, while an ambitious young man named Hugh Hefner supplied cartoons.

Shaft was a headache for U. of I. officials from the start, despite never being their baby. The end came when copies of the “lewd” April 1954 issue were sold to high-schoolers in town for their statewide basketball tournament. Offended parents blamed the U., which threatened “disciplinary action” against students aiding and abetting Shaft. The mag cut local ties and moved to Chicago, where it lasted another year.

Covers of Shaft's other parodies.

Shaft also mocked the Post (1950), Esquire (1951) and fan mags (1952), the last featuring MM.

Shaft ran only four magazine parodies in its seven years in Champaign. A 14-page “Saturday Evening Pest” filled the back half of the October 1950 issue, followed by “Esqueer” in the same spot in April 1951. The next school year brought “Collera’s” and a generic movie mag called “Succulent Screen” in January and April 1952. All four reused art and headlines from their targets, which if not cheating is still the laziest way to achieve a likeness. Only “Collera’s” put much satiric spin on its model, reversing WWIII’s outcome and Collier’s’ allegiance to expose the triumphalism behind the caveats and hand-wringing.

Cartoon and Illustration from Collier's

Left: Bill Mauldin’s G.I.s Willie and Joe gave Collier’s war-gaming its most human touch. Right: Predicted Russian editions of Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, Time, Life, Collier’s and SatEvePost.

“Collera’s” main target, though, is not war as much as the kind of thinking that reduces war to a thought experiment with paper casualties. Though G.I.-Bill enrollment was falling fast by 1951-52, roughly a quarter of American college men that year were World War II veterans, and the percentage was higher at tech-focused schools like Purdue. The men who created “Collera’s” had either seen war up close or were steeling themselves to face it in Korea. College mags didn’t debate the draft and foreign policy in 1950-53 with the fervor they showed in 1940-41 before Pearl Harbor, but from Yale to UCLA, old jokes about the consequences of flunking out acquired a sour edge.

Collier's and Shaft inside art.

Armageddon and absurdity in Collier’s and “Collera’s.”

Some pages of “Collera’s” are typical collegiate wackiness (the decisive battle becomes a Russian assault on U.S. canned tuna reserves). Others view official wisdom and motives with a skepticism that seems more late-’60s that early-’50s. And when the parody translates Collier’s’ uncomfortable mix of righteousness and realpolitik into Russian-accented gangster-speak (“This is only what you might be calling a helpful hint — just in case!“), it sounds positively contemporary.   —VCR