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


Harvey Kurtzman’s “Daily Poop,” 1954

Front page of Mad's Daily Poop.

Parody Of: The New York Daily NewsTitle: “Daily Poop.”
Parody In: Mad comics #16. Date: October 1954. Pages: 6.
Contributors: Harvey Kurtzman (writer), Jack Davis (art).
Availability: Findable. Reprinted in The Mad Reader (Ballantine, 1954), Mad, Vol. 3, No. 13-17 (Russ Cochran, 1987), Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad #6 (E.C. Publication, Spring 1999), The Mad Archives, Vol. 3 (Mad, 2012) and maybe elsewhere.

1954-mad-cov-smHarvey Kurtzman’s “Newspapers!” in Mad #16 is basically a six-page takeoff of the New York Daily News, but it’s preceded by a warning to comic book readers that tabloid journalism’s focus on sex and violence is corrupting American adults. Though clearly a satire of the 1950s anti-comics crusade, Kurtzman’s loathing of the prurience and vulgarity of the tabs is obvious, and his parody is cold-eyed, precise and damning. (So damning, in fact, that it subverts the story’s moral: If comic books are no worse than tabloids like this, maybe they should both be banned.) Even the name “Daily Poop” evokes a not-so-subtle Swiftian revulsion.

Angry letters to the Daily Poop

Proto-trolls commenting in the “Poop.”

The “Daily Poop’s” typeset text and four-column layout reflect Kurtzman’s growing desire to escape the comic-book format and put out a “real” humor magazine. He got his wish the next year, after the same anti-comics crusaders mocked in “Newspapers!” ran E.C.’s other titles off the newsstands, leaving Bill Gaines practically no choice but to convert Mad into a 25-cent magazine beyond the reach of the Comics Code Authority. It’s funny how these things work out, sometimes.

Parts of the “Daily Poop” are silly in the usual Mad way, such as an ad for “Nu-Mal-Trition,” the new weight-loss miracle that “merely knocks you unconscious for days on end.” Elsewhere, Kurtzman and Davis use Mad’s anarchic clutter to portray a society rapidly devolving toward mindlessness: Celebrity gossip crowds out news; movie ads shrink to pictures of lips and one-word titles (“Dames,” “Love,” “Kill”); letters to the editor grow shorter and angrier until all they convey is threats of violence. The world of the “Daily Poop” is a lot like Idiocracy’s. Or ours. — VCR