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

Corey Ford’s “Mis-Fortune,” 1934

Corey Ford's Misfortune

Parody Of: Fortune. Title: “Mis-Fortune.” In: Vanity Fair, March 1934, pp. 22-23, 62.
By: “John Riddell” (Corey Ford).  Availability: Findable; usually pricey.

March 1934 Vanity Fair cover

Dwight Macdonald dismissed Corey Ford’s parodies as “mild” and didn’t include him in his magisterial Parodies: An Anthology from Chaucer to Beerbohm – And After (Random House, 1960). I’m hesitant to disagree with Macdonald — his book is merely the best thing ever done on the topic of literary parody — but he was strict grader, and Ford was something of a class clown: Like Mad a generation later, he had no qualms about putting authors in their own universes or breaking the fourth wall for the sake of a joke.

Ford went directly from Columbia University, where he edited the Jester and (therefore?) didn’t graduate, to the pages of Life, Judge and, especially, the old Vanity Fair. From the late ’20s until VF’s demise in 1936, he was in nearly every issue with a feature, profile or “Impossible Interview,” the last illustrated by the great Miguel Covarrubias. Meanwhile, his alter ego “John Riddell” wrote a monthly parody — usually of a recent bestseller, but every now and then of a magazine. Before tackling Fortune, he spoofed Time as “Time-and-a-Half” in March 1933 and George Jean Nathan’s American Spectator (no kin to the current title) as “The American Spectre” two months later. There may be others; I haven’t seen every issue. But I doubt any top “mis-Fortune.”

Last page of "mis-Fortune"

“Mis-Fortune,” continued.

Henry Luce planned Fortune to be a big, beautiful celebration of American capitalism, but it had the ill luck to debut in February 1930, just as the Depression was settling in. It was still big, beautiful and resolutely pro-Free Enterprise (and expensive, going for $1.00 a copy when Time was 15 cents and the SatEvePost a nickel), but in the ’30s it spent as much time diagnosing Big Business’s problems as cheering its success. The early Fortune’s specialty was exhaustively researched, multi-part dissections of publicity-shy corporations and complex business arrangements. Many of them were written by bright, young Ivy Leaguers (all male, of course) with a leftish outlook, including Archibald MacLeish, James Agee and future anthologist Macdonald. “There are men who can write poetry, and there are men who can read balance sheets,” Luce once said. “We made the discovery that it was easier to turn poets into business journalists than to turn bookkeepers into writers.”

Page from the real Fortune in 1934

The real Fortune, August 1934

Depression-era readers were hungry for facts, and Fortune supplied them, sometimes in a breathless gush out of scale with the info’s importance. “Mis-Fortune’s” opening riff on “an ordinary paper-clip, magnified to one thousand times its natural size,” is absurd but not unjustified. For comparison, here’s a snippet from the real Fortune for August 1934: “The average Greyhound [bus] is a body job thirty-three feet long, and reaches the average legal width of ninety-six inches (the average Buick is seventy-two inches wide). When loaded to its capacity of thirty-three passengers, it weighs – nickelwork, insignia, pretty curtains, and all – eleven tons. If you as a private citizen should be so rash as to offer to buy it, it would cost you $13,500….” And so on for several hundred more words.

Ford is particularly good on Fortune’s bombastic/omniscient house style: For maximum impact, imagine “mis-Fortune” being read by a 1930s newsreel narrator. Like all Ford’s VF parodies, “mis-Fortune” is brief — too brief to duplicate the lushness of Fortune’s art and photo spreads — but it makes the most of its two facing, almost Fortune-size pages. Its three photos of regimented pencil sharpeners, typewriter keys, and workmen not only mock Fortune’s taste for heroic industrial photography, they make a sharper point about the Big-Business Mentality than anything in the text. As a parodist, Ford was too fond of his subject’s foibles to savage them, but he was delighted to point them out. Class clowns usually are. —VCR

Online: National Lampoon’s “Mad,” 1971

Mad parody cover and contents page

Parody OfMadTitle: “Mad.” Parody In: National Lampoon.
Date: October 1971. Length: 15 pages. Contributors: John Boni, Sean Kelly, Henry Beard (writers); John Romita, Joe Orlando, Ernie Colon, Al Weiss, Babi Jeri, John Lewis, Stuart Schwartzberg, Ralph Reese. Availability: Online here. Reprinted in National Lampoon Comics (1974) and National Lampoon’s Magazine Rack (2006).

October 1971 National Lampoon cover“Mad” is one of National Lampoon’s best and best remembered parodies. Like Mad itself, it goes after its target with very little subtlety and a great deal of skill, piling up visual and verbal gags to drive home the message that even iconoclasts can have clay feet. You’ll find the whole thing on John Glenn Taylor’s blog “Easily Mused.” where it’s been sitting since 2009. I only discovered it the other day, by way of an essay by Matt Keeley at Kittysneezes.com.

Keeley’s “What, Me Funny?” is such a thorough, page-by-page examination of “Mad” that there’s little to add, but I want to echo his observation that it “seems to come from a place of love.” Disappointed love, of course. NatLamp’s fiercest parodies were of magazines its writers’ younger selves had considered the height of sophistication and then outgrown, or at least come to see as formulaic: Playboy, Esquire, The New Yorker. Mad was the NatLamp gang’s first crush and first disillusionment, and the combination of hurt feelings and intimate knowledge in articles like “Citizen Gaines” and “You Know You’ve Really Outgrown Mad When…” is so intense it’s almost painful. Too many magazine parodies aren’t actually about the publications they resemble; they’re just random jokes stuffed into a conveniently familiar format. “Mad” is about Mad and nothing but Mad, and its narrow focus is what gives it such a sharp point.  — VCR

Excerpt from the Mad parody

Jack Rickard aped by John Lewis.

Parodists and Copycats

Covers of Time and Cavalier

Time and its U.K. wannabe Cavalcade in 1937.

When is a parody not a parody? When it’s a straight-faced, money-grubbing imitation, according to the courts. Lawsuits over parodies of copyrighted works are rare and their outcomes unpredictable, but two things any accused parodist better be able to show are (1) that no reasonable person could mistake the parody for the Real Thing, and (2) that the parody hasn’t cut into the Real Thing’s sales. The easiest way to avoid this fix is to make the parody as unlike its target as possible, but that rather defeats the purpose. So parodists find themselves sweating to duplicate the look and tone and subject matter of a particular publication, while at the same time making clear to the even densest readers that what they’re holding isn’t that publication. It’s a rare and delicate art, and it’s how parodists justify their massive paychecks (joke).

Playboy and Gallery covers

May 1972 Playboy and the November 1972 debut issue of Gallery.

Occasionally, however, some enterprising pirate cuts through the niceties and kidnaps a format in broad daylight, strictly for profit. In 1972, a businessman named Ronald Fenton launched a men’s magazine called Gallery, with lawyer F. Lee Bailey as figurehead publisher. “Fenton not only copied the Playboy formula — he copied the magazine line for line, picture for picture, party joke for party joke,” Aaron Latham wrote in New York soon after the first issue appeared. “The only thing he changed was the name” — and even there he made sure to imitate Playboy’s distinctive logo. Time cracked that Gallery was “perhaps meant to be mistaken for [Playboy] on newsstands by the nearsighted,” and said Hugh Hefner’s lawyers were inspecting the first issue for possible copyright infringement; even Bailey thought the mag was too obviously a Playboy clone. “Gallery’s next issue is to be partly redesigned,” Time noted, “but Fenton is unworried. ‘All magazines,’ he says blandly, ‘have similarities.'”

Covers of Reader's Digest and Conservative Digest

The Digest and its “pure chance” lookalike (from Tom Crawford’s  Legal Guide for the Visual Artist).

Hefner chose to ignore Gallery, which soon shed its Playboyish pretensions and became just another skin mag. Giant Reader’s Digest (circulation 17 million) wasn’t so sanguine in 1985, when a small Colorado-based monthly named Conservative Digest (circulation 15,000) shrank its page size and began printing its table of contents on the cover. Though the contents were back inside after two issues, Reader’s Digest sued for copyright and trademark infringement anyway and asked for $1.2 million. In June 1986 U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell found that Conservative Digest had “copied Reader’s Digest’s trade dress in a manner which created a likelihood of confusion,” but awarded the larger magazine only $500 for trademark infringement and nothing for actual damages. Gesell reproved the big Digest for “relentlessly” pursuing the small one, but he saved his sharpest zinger for Conservative Digest editor Scott Stanley Jr.: “Mr. Stanley … testified that he did not copy Reader’s Digest‘s front cover but by chance happened to achieve complete identity while casually developing his own ideas for a new cover using a design computer,” the judge wrote in a footnote. “This testimony, reminiscent of Greek mythology recording the birth of Athena who sprang full-grown from the head of Zeus, is not worthy of belief and is rejected.”

Dingbats from Time and Cavalcade

Dueling dingbats, Time’s on top.

For truly blatant appropriation, it’s best to be outside U.S. jurisdiction altogether. Every newsmagazine since 1923 has lifted its basic format from Time, but Britain’s Cavalcade took everything else, too — from the cheeky tone and convoluted syntax to the shape of the dingbats separating short news items. Cavalcade would have been the first British newsmagazine, but editor Alan Campbell’s former employer got wind of his plans and beat him to press in early 1936 with a rival called News Review.

Inside pages of Time and Cavalcade

“Frankly plagiarizing”: March 1, 1937, Time and May 15, 1937, Cavalcade.

Time didn’t lose much sleep over either imitator, though it did call them “frankly plagiarizing” in a story on their launch. It was especially cutting about Cavalcade’s “casual way of commenting on the parallel” in its first issue: The only mention of Time was a footnote blandly calling it “a news-magazine published in the United States.'” As a news-magazine published in Great Britain, Cavalcade lasted about two years, then became a newsprint tabloid. News Review also grew less like Time over the years and ran out of the same in 1950.

Publications that wouldn’t hesitate to sic the law on imitators tend to tolerate parodists because it makes them seem good sports, because parodists aren’t rich, and because parodies usually have the word PARODY printed on them in great big type. Unlike copycats, parodists want buyers to know they’re getting a spoof — especially if the spoof costs more than the real thing. (In 1982, some newsstands mistakenly sold the $2.00 “Off The Wall Street Journal” as the real Journal, price 50 cents.) Most importantly, parodies are one-shots, usually gone by the time the Real Thing’s next issue hits the stands. But when they’re done right, one is enough. — VCR

Esquire’s “Ladies Whom BeCause,” 1962.

Ladies Whom BeCause cover

Parody Of: McCall’s / Ladies’ Home JournalTitle: “Ladies Whom BeCause.”
Parody In: Esquire.  Date: July 1962. Pages: 7. Contributors: Howard Zieff (photos), John McCray (art); no writer credits. Availability: Not hard to find.

Esquire cover, July 1962.

Esquire, July 1962.

Every so often, a magazine develops an unexpected craving for parodies, features them for a few years, then moves on. Take Esquire: Starting with “BeCause” in 1962, over the next 12 years it parodied Mad, Scientific American, The Saturday Evening Post, Ms. and People. It also imagined some unlikely newstand nuptials (“I, Playboy, take thee, Reader’s Digest…,” August 1965) and swiped Playboy’s “Interview” format for a chat with Hugh Hefner (December 1970). The most elaborate take-off ran in the December 1969 issue: an eight-page preview of The New York Times for November 8, 1976. One prescient feature caught up with former President Nixon, who had resigned halfway through his second term.

Esquire's full-page boiling water photo.

Fun with water in “BeCause.”

Esquire’s editor for most of this period was Harold Hayes, who had edited the student magazine at Wake Forest in the late ’40s, but the uncredited brains behind “Ladies Whom BeCause” were most likely David Newman and Robert Benton, two young editors who worked well as a team and had similar senses of humor. (They later went to Hollywood and grabbed the brass ring on their first try with the screenplay for Bonnie and Clyde.) Newman cut his editorial teeth at the Michigan Gargoyle in the mid-’50s, and Benton was a veteran of the Texas Ranger. They handled Esquire’s annual college issue and came up with a number of college-mag-like features, including the Dubious Achievement Awards and the March 1967 parody, “Sceintific [sic] American.”

As its name suggests, “Ladies Whom BeCause” is a mash-up of Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s, mostly the latter. Founded in 1873, McCall’s was the oldest of the “seven sisters” women’s magazines* but consistently played second fiddle to the Curtis Publishing Company’s Journal. That changed in the late 1950s, after art director Otto Storch gave McCall’s a major redesign emphasizing full-page illustrations closely integrated with headlines and text. “Mr. Storch used a variety of photographic processes to make type twist, turn and vibrate in the days before computers made such special effects commonplace,” Steven Heller wrote in Storch’s New York Times obituary. The look was widely imitated and proved popular with readers; in 1960, McCall’s passed the Journal in circulation for the first time ever.

John McCray's art for Ladies Whom BeCause

John McCray’s double-page pastiche of illustrator Brian Sanders in “Ladies Whom BeCause.”

Real Brian Sanders art from the '60s

Real Sanders art from the ’60s.

Like its targets, Esquire was Life-sized in the ’60s and had room to mock these innovations in all their wide-screen splendor. An article titled “22 Fun Things to Do With Boiling Water” deploys a few skimpy lines of text on a full-bleed photo in a triumph of presentation over content. That goes double, literally, for John McCray’s two-page illustration for the inevitable boy-meets-girl short story, where the central couple almost disappear in a gray-green subway station painted in the classic ’60s style of Brian Sanders. (Sanders’s art is so closely associated with the era that AMC hired him forty years later to do posters for Mad Men.)

Real McCall's cover for December 1961

Real McCall’s cover, Dec. 1961.

Not all the jokes are visual. “What is your own personal definition of an isosceles triangle?” one reader asks advice columnist “Sen. Mildred H. Pauling,” who gives an equally “personal” reply. A vacuous gossip column by “the Duchess of Mortmain and Avon” kids its targets’ longtime weakness for Big Name contributors with little or nothing to say. Even the hyperventilating cover text echoes that on the real McCall’s cover the previous December, and needs only slight exaggeration to become pure blathering giddiness. (In fairness, McCall’s editors seem to have been having the same kind of fun themselves.)

Parodists, most of them male, have been mocking magazines for women since at least the 1920s, often with a heavy overlay of clueless condescension. “Ladies Whom BeCause” isn’t free of such blemishes, but it partly compensates for them by being impeccably dressed. — VCR

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* The others: Ladies’ Home Journal (1883-2014), Good Housekeeping (1885- ), Redbook (1903- ), Better Homes & Gardens (1922- ), Women’s Day (1931- ), Family Circle (1932- ). McCall’s died in 2002, two years after Rosie O’Donnell was named editorial director and one year after its name was changed to Rosie.

Harvey Kurtzman’s “Sporty Illustrations,” 1957

Will Elder's SI cover in Trump #2, March 1957.

Will Elder’s SI cover in Trump #2, March 1957.

Parody Of: Sports Illustrated. Title: “Sporty Illustrations.” Parody In: Trump magazine. Date: March 1957. Pages: 10. Contributors: Harvey Kurtzman, Bernard Shir-Clif (writers), Will Elder, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee (art). Availability: Reprinted in Trump: The Complete Collection (Fantagraphics, coming August 30, 2016).

1956 Sports Illustrated cover.

Real SI, 1956.

I’ve had my hopes dashed before, but it looks like Harvey Kurtzman’s Trump is finally being reprinted 60 years after its brief run in 1956-57. Trump was the carrot Playboy’s Hugh Hefner used to lure Kurtzman and most of his artists away from Mad. The year before, Kurtzman had convinced Bill Gaines to turn Mad into a 25-cent magazine, but he still wanted more control and a bigger budget. Hefner offered both, but the sudden death of Collier’s in December 1956 spooked his bankers. Despite strong newsstand sales, Trump died after two issues, which quickly became collectors’ items. Thanks to Fantagraphics, new readers can now enjoy Kurtzman’s most elaborate magazine parody, “Sporty Illustrations.”

Launched in August 1954, Sports Illustrated was the first new magazine from Time Inc. since Life, and it took an upper-middle-brow approach to what most publishers considered a low-brow subject. Irreverent Time-Lifers christened the new mag “Muscles.” To erase that image — and the doubts of high-end advertisers — the early SI devoted as much space to yachting, ballooning, dog shows and other snooty pursuits as it did to ball games: In the first year there were two covers on bird-watching.

Two pages of Mad's article on sports magazines.

Mad #32 (April 1957), art by Bob Clarke.

All this was catnip for parodists: The Dartmouth Dart’s “Spots Illustrated” appeared just four months after SI’s first issue; by June 1956, college humorists at Valparaiso, Ohio State, Maryland and Annapolis had followed suit. Almost simultaneously with “Sporty Illustrations,” Mad #32 mocked “Sports Sophisticated” in a feature asking, “What’s Happened to Sports Magazines?”

Kurtzman gets in his own digs at the idea of a sports mag for people too well-bred to sweat: Al Jaffee’s photo roundup includes rich Texans spurring Sherpas up Everest and an “action” shot of a chess match. A column of ads drawn by Will Elder ends with a biodome-like golf cart the player never has to leave.  The one piece on a popular team sport is Bernard Shir-Clif’s reconstruction of President Taft throwing out the first ball of the 1912 season.

Three pages from Sporty Illustrations.

Davis’s climbers and Elder’s puffers in “Sporty Illustrations”

The chief delights of “Sporty Illustrations” are its absurdity and its art. These come together beautifully in a two-page feature, drawn by Jack Davis, that takes one of early SI’s favorite visual motifs — the full-page, full-color photo of Not Much — and gradually morphs it into a Canadian Club ad.

Al Jaffee's bullfight art for Sporty Illustrations.

Al Jaffee mocks SI’s early taste for arty photos of uncommon sports.

It’s rare for a parody of a slick magazine to feature art as slick as its target’s, but Davis, Elder and Jaffee were at the height of their powers for Trump. Jaffee’s “artistic” bullfight picture actually is that, and Elder’s six-panel “Sgt. Bilker” strip is both painterly and cartoony, an early glimpse of the style he used in “Little Annie Fanny.” Davis’s art in particular is miles beyond what he was doing for Mad just months earlier.

Perhaps some of Kurtzman’s dissatisfaction at Mad grew from a belief that Davis, Elder and others (including himself) could only do their best work on a canvas worthy of their talents. If so, Trump’s two issues were enough to prove him right. — VCR

 

The Most Parodied Magazine?

Parodies of Life, The New Yorker, Playboy and Time.

College parodies from Missouri (1937), Yale (1961), Arizona (1955) and Penn State (1928)

(WARNING: The following observations are based on the author’s own haphazard — though extensive — collecting and are informed speculation, not gospel. It is even possible  his list of Most Parodied Magazines is imperfect and should include Confidential, Liberty, Mad, National Geographic, Police Gazette, Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone or Vogue. Further research is called for, as they say in grant proposals.)

What is the most parodied magazine of all time? Playboy thinks it is, but magazine parodies were popular decades before Playboy. The ’20s saw an explosion of “Burlesque Numbers” on campus and in Life and Judge. College mags put out “annual” parody issues  — sometimes decades apart — until they fell on hard times in the ’60s everywhere but Cambridge. Newsstand parodies spiked in the early ’30s and boomed in the ’70s and ’80s in the wake of National Lampoon.

Four New Yorker parodies.

New Yorker parodies from Duke (1941), Ohio State (1947), Punch (1954) and Harvard (1976).

Titles from The Harvard Law Review to Strictly Elvis have been spoofed multiple times, but only a few can draw parodists year after year the way a flame draws moths. My own list contains an even dozen, only four of whom are contenders for the Top Spot. In order of appearance (or reappearance after major surgery), the eight runners-up are:

  • Ladies’ Home Journal (1883)
  • The Saturday Evening Post (revamped 1897)
  • Reader’s Digest (1922)
  • Esquire (1933)
  • TV Guide (1953)
  • Sports Illustrated (1954)
  • Cosmopolitan (revamped 1964)
  • People (1974)

The Journal was the first magazine with one million subscribers; the Post the first with twice that. Their oversize pages were thick with four-color ads and the best illustrations money could buy, which likely made some would-be parodists despair of getting a likeness. Similarly with Esquire, though its risqué content in the ’30s and ’40s led many collegians to plunge ahead regardless. Spoofing the Digest or TV Guide in normal-sized magazines posed an unwelcome choice: Print the parody separately (expensive), or run it sideways, two-up (awkward). SI, Cosmo and People are among the top targets of the past forty years, but they missed all or part of college-parody era.

Four Playboy parodies.

Playboy parodies from Texas (1956), U. Mass (1964), West Point (1965), and Berkeley (1966).

So who are the top targets? Chronologically, the Four Most Parodied Magazines Ever are:

  • Time (1923)
  • The New Yorker (1925)
  • Life (1936)
  • Playboy (1953)

The top twelve share three qualities that appeal to parodists:

Familiarity: It’s no fun imitating something nobody recognizes. All these magazines except The New Yorker and Esquire achieved multi-million circulations, and all except Life and People ran at least sixty years. (People will reach that milestone in 2034; Life’s logo still turns up on newsstand specials.) All are, or were, Top Dogs in their respective categories: There are ten parodies of Time for every one of Newsweek, and the ratio is similar for Playboy over Penthouse and Life over Look.

Personality: Parody thrives on distinctive voices and viewpoints: the tortured syntax and “jeering rancor” of early Timestyle, the folksy certainty and small-town conservatism of Reader’s Digest. A strong personality also keeps a magazine from vanishing up its own genre. There are many parodies of movie, scandal and pulp-fiction mags, for instance, but few target one particular title. (Science-fiction parodies, on the other hand, tend to be very specific.)

Adaptability: A “magazine” was originally a storehouse, and the most parodied can accomodate a huge variety of goods in many sizes. Ten of our twelve could plausibly run a story on any subject, though some would skew it toward a particular demographic; the other two cover television and sports, which barely restricts them. Parodists also favor magazines that run many pieces of varying lengths and styles rather than a few long ones; they’re more likely to tackle the New York Times Book Review than the New York Review of BooksThe New Yorker is a partial exception here, but its air of detached, worldly amusement was a model for four decades of college humorists, and the urge to try on Eustace Tilley’s monocle often proved irresistible. It still does, if this summer’s “Nuë Jorker” is any indication.

Despite that, The New Yorker isn’t THE most parodied magazine. Neither is the other third-place contender, Life, though the first full-length parody appeared within months of its debut (the Missouri Showme’s “Strife,” February 1937). Playboy is comfortably ahead of both, but hasn’t inspired a notable parody in the U.S. since “Playbore” and “Playboy: The Parody” fought it out on newsstands in 1983-84. Which leaves Time.

Mock Times from, top row: Annapolis (1928), Harvard's Advocate (1932) and Lampoon (1941), Dartmouth (1948), Ohio State (1948); bottom row: Alabama (1952), Davidson (1953), Punch (1960), National Lampoon (1984), Emory (1998).

Mock Times from, top row: Annapolis (1928), Harvard’s Advocate (1932) and Lampoon (1941), Dartmouth (1948) and Ohio State (1948); bottom row: Alabama (1952), Davidson (1953),
Punch (1960), National Lampoon (1984) and Emory (1998).

The Penn State Froth’s “Froth Time” of January 1928 is the earliest Time parody I’m aware of. The Navy Log and Yale Record piled on the same year, and in the late ’40s and ’50s parodies of Time popped up on one campus or another almost every month. The Harvard Lampoon issued four between 1941 and 1989. At the other extreme, in 1953 Davidson College’s Scripts ‘n Pranks slimed Time in its only full-length parody ever.

Newsstand mags that have mocked Time include Vanity Fair (in 1933), Ballyhoo, Punch, Esquire and National LampoonThe New Yorker’s 1936 “Time, Fortune, Life, Luce,” written by Wolcott Gibbs in maliciously heightened Timestyle, is thought to be the most reprinted magazine parody ever. It’s certainly the most quoted: “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind” supplied the title for a Gibbs anthology only a few years ago. Just recently, Tom Connor and Jim Downey (“re-Wired,” “Is Martha Stuart Living?”) released a 64-page one-shot with “President-Elect” Donald Trump inside the famous red border.

In February 1952, the University of Alabama Rammer Jammer celebrated the school’s centennial with its “first 100% parody issue,” called, appropriately, “Tide.” (One contributor was a junior named Gay Talese.) “We had several national magazines in mind before we struck our colors to Time,” editor Leo Willette wrote. “Though a good portion of our readers had heard of The New Yorker, only about ten percent ever read it with anything approaching regularity…. Comparable shortcoming manifested themselves with Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, True, Argosy and most of the spectrum of reading fare. In Time, we assume, the student will find a familiar friend. Then, too, Time (1) has a style not difficult to interpret and copy; [and] (2) gives outlet for a potpourri of short, easily digested chunks of gripes and gags….”

What more could a parodist want — except, maybe, a centerfold? — VCR