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.