Friday, October 22, 2010

F(uture) Forgotten Books: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great, edited by Rick Meyerowitz



So, I looked at this, an example of long-term art-book publisher Abrams's newish program of moving solidly into publishing books about and collecting comics materials (a trend I applaud, as I suspect do their accountants), and it powerfully reminded me of how much I enjoyed, even when I was mildly disgusted by, the National Lampoon in the '73-'76 period when I first became aware of it and was able to gain somewhat inconsistent access to it (I was, after all, ages 8-12). My mother angrily brought me and one issue I bought back to the drugstore where I'd purchased it, for example (the same place I'd ride my banana-seat bike down to buy my "mainstream" comics, and where I'd seen my first Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and where I'd buy my father a copy of Harry Harrison's anthology Nova 4 in its Mentor Books edition for his birthday...if Mentor and Charlton Comics were mobbed up, there was a certain logic to them being easily available in my Hazardville [Hammett fans take note] neighborhood). But what strikes me as particularly interesting is how much of this book, concentrating on the consensus-best years of the magazine, is familiar to me from those years...I think Meyerowitz, perhaps intentionally, missed the comic dinosaur spread that I recall enjoying enormously. Meyerowitz makes some not necessarily popular editorial judgement (he makes a Large Point of reprinting the splash-page illustrations for John Hughes's "My Vagina" and "My Penis" while refusing to reprint the short stories themselves, which he considers jejune and trite and examples of how NatLamp went wrong in the Animal House years and later). And there's the rub, here...much of this stuff doesn't hold up well for me at all...jejune and trite and self-conscious naughtiness are all over the place, but most of the wit is simply epater Mom & Pop and Teacher. Even Mad, and Plop!, and infrequently Cracked in the same years would dig a little deeper at times, not having quite the recourse to the sexual themes and skin-magazine imagery that so angered my mother. So, this is a tribute to an era of the magazine when it was part of the wedge that would also include the Lampoon's radio series, stage shows, budding film career (and such proto-NL projects as The Groove Tube) and, most sustainedly, Saturday Night Live. But, what it's not, particularly when compared to such other inputs of the time that I was experiencing as the Ballantine reprints of the first years of Mad then still widely in print, The Mad Reader and more, is brilliant work that will live forever, even when done by such often brilliant people as Anne Beatts, Gahan Wilson, and Tony Hendra. Oddly enough, even Mr. Mike O'Donoghue often did better when someone might tell him, No, do it again and differently.

For more of this week's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

13 comments:

Richard R. said...

Firstly, you got sidetracked - as you sometimes do, Todd, and never finished the Mother took you and the issue back to the store story.

I read Nat Lamp only occasionally, remember little of what I read, other than the famous buy or we shoot this dog cover. I think I was reading Evergreen Review at that time instead, and no they weren't alike in the slightest. These days, I wonder how many people know it (Lampoon) from the "National Lampoon's ..." film titles as opposed to the periodical itself.

Todd Mason said...

Well, there wasn't much else to tell, other than my mother demanded successfully to return the issue and more or less successfully that they not sell any more copies of the issue to me...the next issues were another matter.

Well, EVERGREEN was a much more genuinely shocking magazine when it chose to be, albeit they did run Mr. Mike's PHOEBE ZEITGEIST comics, which were more of the sort of thing that NATLAMP would later do, only the references were a bit more sophisticated than those they felt they could make in the POON.

Todd Mason said...

And, yes, the LAMPOON barely exists now except as a licensing agency for bad films...but, then, CRACKED is a website, and has only been for some years now, with only the slightest of connection to the magazine, such as it was (a very mixed bag, even as Cracked.com is now).

George said...

I read NATIONAL LAMPOON when Frazetta was doing some of the covers. And, like you and Rick, I was reading EVERGREEN intently. That may have been the journal that captured those crazy times instead of ROLLING STONE.

Todd Mason said...

ROLLING STONE always was, at least after the death of Ralph Gleason Very early on, the Chamber of Commerce journal of Youth Pop Culture, even when Paul Williams, Hunter Thompson, and others might do something interesting in its pages. EVERGREEN REVIEW and ESQUIRE, on "either side" of PLAYBOY (which in some ways might've been at its own height), were certainly chronicling the '60s into the early '70s at least as well. MS., not suprisingly, also got to do some interesting things as a similarly new title in the early '70s (to NATLAMP).

Todd Mason said...

And I had to play catchup on EVERGREEN...I was barely aware of it (as a censorship target, essentially) in the '70s, but didn't get to see an issue till the very early '80s.

Scott Cupp said...

Great choice, Todd. this looks really fascinating.

Todd Mason said...

It's a good way to help disabuse nostalgia, and to learn just a bit more about these folks in the midst of the magazine's early huge success.

Richard R. said...

I have the collected PHOEBE ZEITGEIST strips, published by Grove Press, and it has been read many times. It's packed now so I can't give the specifics of it's publication, but I found it entertaining then, and still do.

K. A. Laity said...

The power of "no" -- pushing lazy writers (is there any other kind? not among the published) to be better. Not to be dismissed, eh? Remember when parental outrage was a rarity? I recall laughing very little at THE GROOVE TUBE; can't remember if it was my prudery in youth or just not that funny (the Chiclets bit the only part I can bring to memory). The 70s nearly the end of dangerous comedy before the blanding of the 80s.

CRACKED is crowd sourced now which accounts for the unevenness. I should get around to submitting something, but being a writer, I'm lazy.

Todd Mason said...

PZ is truly the working model, and as rancid as anything that followed while also being witty as the later stuff, for the LAMPOON. At least as much as the HARVARD LAMPOON is, which btw has had some newwstand distribution over the last several years, and has been consistently terrible when I've seen it.

Lazy writers? Lazy and/or desperate, at least, when not caught up in the passion of creation, which in its turn can cause marathon sessions and desire to avoid writing in the future. There are much more systematic writers, and most of the pros learn to make themselves somewhat systematic at least, but impulse has its way with too many of us.

Todd Mason said...

Hm. Blogspot is eating comments again.

As I just wrote and had vanished, THE GROOVE TUBE is pretty dire in entire, and I should look a bit more closely at CRACKED.com...

I'm afraid I've always been aware of parental (and even more school administrator) outrage and hamhanded foolishness...only occasionally on my own parents' part, but certainly on the part of those around us.

Richard R. said...

Thanks or the support, man. On this day I needed it.