Parodies of Life, Part 1: 1937-1945

Fake Life Begins: Early parodies from Penn State (top), Missouri (below) and Penn (right)

(Date – Parody By: “Parody Title,” Length.)

  • January 1937 – Penn State Froth: “Froth,” 1 page + front cover.
  • January 1937 – USC Wampus: “How to Reduce” (article from “Strife”), USC Wampus, 2p.
  • February 1937 – Missouri Showme: “Strife,” 24p + 4c.
  • April 23, 1937 – Pennsylvania Punch Bowl: “Punch Bowl’s Life,” 56p + 4c.
  • April 23, 1938 – The New Yorker: “The Birth of an Adult” (article), 2p.
  • January 1939 – Penn State Froth: “Life Goes to a Froth Party” (article), 1p.
  • November 1939 – Wisconsin Octopus: “Life Discloses The Happy Weekend of a Wisconsin Coed” (article), 1p.
  • December 13, 1940 – U.S. Naval Academy Log: “Log,” 64p + 4c.
  • March 5, 1941 – Ohio State Sundial: “Life Comes to Ohio State” (article), 2p.
  • May 5, 1941 – Michigan Gargoyle: “Garg,” 52p.
  • October 25, 1941 – The New Yorker: “Life Goes to the Collapse of Western Civilization” (article), 3p.
  • January 1942 – Stanford Chaparral: “…How to Tell an L.Y.B. from a Chinese” (article), 0.67p.
  • May 20, 1942 – Yale Record: “The Record Goes to Wartime Yale” (article), 5p.
  • October 1942 – Penn State Froth: “Life Goes to Penn State” (article), 2p.
  • May 1943 – Stanford Chaparral: “Like,” 32p + 4c.
  • September 30, 1943 – Merced Army Air Field Flight Lines: “MAAF,” 44p + 4c.
  • Fall 1943 — German Ministry of Propaganda, “Life/Life?” (leaflet/poster), 8p on 2.
  • February 25, 1944 – U.S. Naval Academy Log: “Log,” 56p + 4c.
  • Fall 1944 — German Ministry of Propaganda, “Life/Death” (leaflet), 2p.
  • February 23, 1945 – U.S. Naval Academy Log: “Log,” 44p + 4c.
Luce by Will Cotton,
The New Yorker, 1936

The most famous parody Life inspired wasn’t a parody of Life. The first issue of Time Inc.’s picture weekly was still on the stands in 1936 when The New Yorker published Wolcott Gibbs’s Profile of publisher Henry R. Luce. Written entirely in backward-running, multi-adjectived early Timestyle, “Time … Fortune … Life … Luce” exposed the inner workings of man and mags in intimate detail, memorably ending, “Where it all will end, knows God!” Luce suspected the story might be payback for a similar vivisection of The New Yorker in Fortune two years earlier, but he cooperated to promote Life. He was furious when New Yorker editor Harold Ross showed him an advance copy, and when Luce was furious, he stuttered.

“Goddamn it, Ross, this whole goddamned piece is ma-ma-malicious, and you know it!” he said when the two sides met at Ross’s apartment just before publication.

“You’ve put your finger on it, Luce,” Ross replied; “I believe in malice.”

Luce could have spared himself the heartburn. With or without The New Yorker’s blessing, Life was going to be a hit. The development of sharper, smaller cameras in the early ’30s had sparked a boom in candid news photos and inspired successful large-format weeklies in Europe. For Time Inc., which was already exploring photojournalism in Fortune and The March of Time, it was a natural next step.

Early on, in-house experts projected Life might sell 250,000 copies a week, total; it reached 235,000 in advance subscriptions alone. When the first issue went on sale on November 19, 1936, the Thursday before the cover date, all 200,000 newsstand copies disappeared that day. “The demand for Life is completely without precedent in publishing history,” circulation manager Pierre Prentice wrote, “There is no way we could anticipate a bigger newsstand business in the first month than magazines like Collier’s and Satevepost have built up in thirty years.” By the end of its first year, Life’s circulation was 1.5 million; six months later it passed 2 million. 

Success spawned imitators and parodists. The commercial ripoffs favored cheap paper and punchy titles like Click, Pic, Spot and Dash. Most were “edited with the viewpoint of a circus sideshow – heavy on cheesecake and the freakish,” Robert Elson wrote in Time Inc.’s official history. (Only Gardner Cowles’s Look lasted, and it was in the works before Life debuted.) Life-like photo spreads began to appear in annual reports and house organs, and picture magazines sprang up on campuses from UCLA to Dartmouth. College humor mags added photo pages; at least one, the M.I.T. Voo Doo, changed its whole personality: “It is no longer primarily a humor magazine, . . . because college humor magazines in general are a mistake,” school paper The Tech sniffed in May 1939. “The substitute . . . bears a resemblance to the magazine, Life, but it is a well done resemblance, and does the resembler credit.” Fortunately, the comic spirit proved unkillable, and Voo Doo was soon its discreditable old self.

“How to Reduce,” from “Strife,” USC Wampus, 1937

The Southern Cal Wampus and Penn State Froth pounced on Life at once, getting brief spoofs into parody issues already scheduled for January 1937. Froth was first to run a fake Life cover, but the first issue-length takeoffs were the Missouri Showme’s “Strife” in February and “Punch Bowl’s Life” at Penn in April. Their haphazard layouts and tiny photos look crude now — they looked crude then — but they’re only slightly worse than some of the real thing’s early pages.

Suggestive cover hides solid reporting in the Michigan Gargoyle’s “Garg,” 1941.

Like Punch Bowl’s, most college “Lifes” were less parodies than small-scale emulations, set in a world that ended at the campus gates. Some had so much fun pretending to be Life they neglected to make fun of it: “Strife’s” headline calling nearby Stephens College for women “A Shining Pearl in U.S. Educational Diadem” isn’t sarcasm but the intro to a five-page puff-piece. The Michigan  Gargoyle’s “Garg” raised eyebrows in 1941 with its open-throated cover girl, but the lead story on a campus antiwar rally is straight reporting, as is most of what follows. Other emulations mixed factual local features with spoofs of the outside world. A few dispensed with jokes entirely — an understandable decision for the Naval Academy Log in 1944 and ’45, if not for a civilian comic in peacetime.

Three Life-like Navy Logs
The Annapolis Log as Life in 1940, ’44 and ’45

Students who had seen the story-making machinery up close were less respectful. After visits from Life crews in 1939-42, the humor mags at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Yale all mocked them for missing the dullness and/or debauchery behind the ivy-covered facades. The Yale Record was confident enough to send its five-page spoof to press weeks before “Yale at War” appeared in Life’s June 6, 1942, issue: The creators badly overestimated the number of swimsuits the real story would display. But such cynics were exceptions: Life wanted be liked, and in the ’30s and ’40s it was often copied but seldom mocked.

The Yale Record’s preview of Life’s view of Yale; right: Life’s “Yale at War”

Except at The New Yorker. Relations had started badly in 1925, when two-year-old Time panned The New Yorker’s first issue. They grew worse after Ross’s right-hand man Ralph Ingersoll defected to Luce and aired Eustice Tilley’s underthings in Fortune. (The story ran without a byline, but all concerned knew.) History aside, the understated, unflappable New Yorker and bubbly cheerleader Life were never going to be besties. In 1938, when Life made headlines and risked bans with four pages of stills from an educational film on childbirth, The New Yorker’s E.B. White and Carl Rose responded with “The Birth of an Adult.” One key to maturity, they insisted, was giving up pablum like Life. An early-’40s Garrett Price cartoon was more succinct: “Is it okay, Joe,” one ad copywriter asks another under a wall of Life covers, “to refer to our subscribers as readers?”

From “The Birth of a Adult,” The New Yorker, 1938

The harshest blow was “Life Goes to the Collapse of Western Civilization,” by Russell Maloney and Rea Irwin. Published shortly before Pearl Harbor, the three-page pictorial leeringly followed two attractive models around Manhattan as New York fell to Axis invaders. “Harold Ross, always glad to tweak what he considered the pomposity of Luce and his magazines, took note of Life’s simultaneous fascination with ‘pretty women’ and its doomsday fantasies as it attempted to prepare its readers for war,” Alan Brinkley wrote in his biography of Luce. “Luce had reacted to The New Yorker’s satirical 1936 profile of him with almost violent fury. But by 1941 he was so deeply immersed in the cause of the Allies that he gave The New Yorker, and his other critics, virtually no notice at all.” 

“Life” during wartime: The New Yorker, 1941

Life’s first issue after the U.S. entered World War II contained one its most embarrassing editorial missteps: a two-page primer on (literal) racial discrimination called “How to Tell Japs From the Chinese” (Dec. 22, 1941). The Stanford Chaparral responded in January 1942, pushing Life’s loaded adjectives and wispy distinctions to absurdity in “How To Tell an L.Y.B. From a Chinese.” Its casual use of racist language to express anti-racist sentiments wouldn’t fly today, but it’s a time capsule of Stanford’s mood in the months between Pearl Harbor and the internment orders, when a thirst for vengeance against Japan mixed with concern for the feelings and safety of Japanese-American fellow students (of whom there were around 30 at Stanford in 1941-42). Significantly, though the issue is called the “L.Y.B. Number,” the phrase “little yellow bastards” never appears, and the writing steers away from the kind of vituperation mocked in “How To Tell… .” (The cartoons are a different story, as usual.)

Life’s 1941 how-to and the Chaparral’s rejoinder; 1943’s “Japanazi”

Chappie’s “Like” in May 1943 also wobbled between crudity and restraint. The face on the cover is the standard buck-toothed, four-eyed stereotype (though in a German helmet), but the story inside says nothing about the physical appearance or innate viciousness of the enemy “Japanazis.” The battle to oust them from a bridge in nearby Vallejo is a bloodless romp that only ensures “a quarter million free Luckies . . . reached our Boys overseas.” Other stories put comic spins on favorite Life subjects — the brilliant thinker who sounds like an idiot, the apple-cheeked teenager dating a drag racer — all of them located in and around Palo Alto.

The longest passage in “Like” that sounds even half sincere is an editorial regretting the “brilliant” idea of creating it in the first place: “This required changing our usual page sizes and make-up and produced general chaos and upheaval . . . . Not the least of our worries was the taking of the numerous pictures . . . [which] requires more time than filling a space of equal size with type.” The Chaparral wasn’t alone in finding Life hard to copy: Only the most meticulous editors had the time or skill to match its trademark squared-off text blocks and photo captions, which always ended with a full line of type.

Future pilots in the Merced Army Air Field Flight Lines’s “MAAF,” 1943

Life’s war coverage pushed its circulation past 5 million and made it a worldwide symbol of U.S. power and influence. The staff of Flight Lines magazine at the Merced Army Air Field in California borrowed some of that glamor for its September 1943 cadet class book, using Life’s format to show that pilot trainees “do occasionally leave their work . . . to eat, to talk . . . to keep up on the events of the world and the war . . . or just to relax.” Opposite a fake ad inviting graduates to “See Scenic Germany — While It’s Still There,” the editors ran a letter from the real Life giving permission for the parody, as long as it didn’t have “a very close imitation of Life’s cover … [or] the word Life in a box as we use it … so there is no possibility of confusion.”

1943 Life (to scale) with Axis poster (folded and unfolded) and two “Life/Death” cards

The memo didn’t reach German propagandists who dropped an eight-page leaflet/poster on U.S. air bases in East Anglia that same fall. “The front page was an actual reproduction of [the cover of] the true Life issue for July 26, 1943, with pictures of 8th Air Force crews,” R.G. Auckland and Kenneth B. Moore wrote in Messages from the Sky over Britain (London: Psywar Society, 1998), “but the remaining seven pages showed gruesome and horrifying pictures of aircrews who had been killed over Germany, together with many speeches, reports and quotations on the subject of the air bombing of the Third Reich. . . . No mention of the incident appeared in the contemporary national press.” (The whole gory thing can be seen at imgur.com/a/Y2w6u.) A few months after D-Day, postcard-size “Life” covers dated October and November 1944 cropped up in Italy: One one side, a nude woman posed under the familiar logo; on the other, a skull in an army helmet hovered between the red-boxed word “Death” and the date “Doomsday 1944.” At least six different photos were used on the nude side, while the skull alternated between British and American headgear.

“Though we did not plan Life as a war magazine, it turned out that way,” Luce once said. But while the World War II years were Life’s greatest era, the late ’40s and ’50s were its grandest. It was then that parodists outside The New Yorker turned their sights on Life itself, mocking not just the things it covered but the way it covered them. They’ll be the subjects of my next post. — VCR

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 of a 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), Woman and Home (1926), Woman’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 U.S. scheduled to coincide with the 1956 Presidential election, but Eisenhower’s easy win ended up being overshadowed by 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

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

Bicentennial Burlesques, 1975-76 (and 2008)

Louis Glanzman’s portraits of Jefferson and Washington on Time‘s 1975-76 specials.

In addition to bringing tall ships and fireworks, the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 provided a perfect excuse to swell the nation’s small stock of 18th-century magazines. Time‘s special issues were the most impressive, representing two years work by 26 researchers and writers. “Independence,” dated July 4, 1776, came out in May 1975 with a vulpine Thomas Jefferson on the cover; it was sent to 4.7 million subscribers and sold 1.3 million copies on the stands. “The New Nation” did nearly as well a year later. Dated Sept. 26, 1789, it led with the start of George Washington’s administration and the passage of the Bill of Rights. Names making news in other sections include Adam Smith, Voltaire and Captain Bligh of H.M.S. Bounty. Though too straight-faced and factual to qualify as self-parodies, the past Times can’t help resembling souvenirs from an elaborate masquerade party.

National Lampoon‘s Hamilton had no use for “radical nonfenfe.”

The 199th Birthday Book (1975), a National Lampoon newsstand special edited by Tony Hendra, is not as overwhelming as NL‘s high-school yearbook and Sunday newspaper parodies, but it takes the same care with details and leaves few patriotic icons ungored. Its bogus artifacts include an 1876 Electoral College humor magazine, “The Spittoon,” and three pages of Kiplinger-style investment tips from a hard-nosed Alexander Hamilton unlikely to inspire any musicals.

Mock-colonial scenes by Norman Mingo and George Woodbridge in Madde (1976),

“Madde,” a 24-page, comic-book-size “Centennial Year [sic] Collectors’ Item” in Mad Special #19 (Fall 1976) subjects the whole Revolutionary era to the Usual Gang’s usual treatment. (I’m still not sure Dave Berg was entirely in on the joke when he did “The Lighter Side of Valley Forge.”) The Onion, founded twelve years after the Big Whoop, did its bit in 2008 with a 225-year old, eight-page issue dated October 6, 1783, early in the nation’s first post-war era. “40,000 Pounds of Slave Have Been Lost at Sea,” one headline announces — a bit of deadpan brutality worthy of the 1794 “New Times.” —VCR

The 1783 Onion (2008), with Ben’s latest brainstorms.

Online: “The Washington Post,” 2019

Top of fake Post front page.

Very early edition of the May 1 “Washington Post,” on stands January 16, 2019.

Parody OfThe Washington PostTitle: “The Washington Post”
Parody By: Jacques Servin, L.A. Kauffman, Onnesha Roychoudhuri.
Date: May 1, 2019 (distributed Jan. 16, 2019). Format: Eight-page broadsheet.
Contributors: L.A. Kauffman, Onnesha Roychoudhuri, Jacques Servin, etc.
Availability: Online as a PDF here at my-washingtonpost.com.

How did I miss this? Back in January, protesters marked the second anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration by handing out 25,000 copies of an eight-page fake Washington Post at the White House and D.C.’s Union Station. Dated May 1 of this year, the ersatz “Post” foresees The Donald being driven from office by a wave of women-led demonstrations to the sound of worldwide rejoicing. There are a handful of copies on eBay, but you can read and download the whole thing at this link.

The stunt was conceived last summer by Jacques Servin, half of the anti-corporate performance duo known as The Yes Men, as a way to rally support for Trump’s impeachment. Other organizers included longtime activist L.A. Kauffman and Brooklyn writer Onnesha Roychoudhuri, who helped shift the focus toward mass action with a 16-page insert called “Bye-Bye: A Guide to Bringing Him Down.” Masha Gessen of newyorker.com calls it “maybe the best primer now available on understanding protest.”

Parodies of the New York Times, New York Post and Boston Globe.

The Yes Men’s “Times” (2008) and “New York Post” (2009), the Globe’s 2016 mock front.

The Yes Men did something similar right after Barack Obama’s election in 2008, distributing 80,000 copies of a fourteen-page “New York Times” dated July 4, 2009, seven months in the future. It proclaimed “Iraq War Ends” and basked in the dawn of a New Progressive Era. (It’s online here, see also Steve Lambert’s link-filled post.) The “Times” was followed in September 2009 by a less sanguine “New York Post” that gave climate change 32 pages of classic tabloid scare treatment (“We’re Screwed: What You’re Not Being Told”). The mock WaPo isn’t quite as breathless, but it does assume the Current Predicament can be popped like a soap bubble and leave no mess behind.

"Trump Time" cover, 2016This latest “Post” is the third recent parody set in a Trumpian near-future, after the Boston Globe‘s fake front page in April 2016 headlined “Deportations to Begin” (online here) and Hachette’s supposedly post-election “Trump Time” two months later. “Trump Time” authors Tom Connor and Jim Downey, best known for “Is Martha Stuart Living?,” state right off that their fake newsmag is “not intended to be anything but funny,” but that very shallowness makes it the scariest to reread. The whole joke in “Trump Time” is that “Donald K. [sic]  Trump” in the White House would be the same rudderless dirigible as ever and laughably miscast: Imagine a President putting grifters in the Cabinet! Stoking ethnic tensions! Bashing “Loser Countries I Can Bomb the S#!t Out Of!!” Gotta be a joke, right?  —VCR