Help! its a “fumetti” Adult humor sort of magazine that relied heavily upon contributions from readers…
Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
This is going to be a toughie to share with you. It’s going to be hard to write anything about HELP! magazine and do it justice. you really need to find a complete run and look at the whole thing to really understand how important this magazine was to American graphic design history. Just for starters, without it we may never have had underground comics.
This is the first issue cover of HELP! magazine. it was founded by Harvey Kurtzman after he quit MAD magazine (the magazine he created) over a salary dispute. He dragged most of the pool of talent with him and shopped around and hooked up with James Warren (famous monsters, after hours, creepy, eerie, screen thrills, blazing combat, etc. etc.). There seems to be like minds at work here in this union. Photos of these guys together look like kindred bachelor spirits – pure hi-fi, martini’s, and broads. So, it was an interesting fit.
Harvey brought along his good pal, Harry Chester (the guy who was the designer of Mad and also of famous monsters) so he was likely the connecting point between some of these folks. Harvey also brought along his young assistant, a floating illustrator/cartoonist named Terry Gilliam (yup, THAT terry gilliam.) He also hired a talented young (and suitably gorgeous and well connected) beginning journalist named Gloria Steinem (yup, THAT gloria steinem). And that was just for starters.
The magazine was an ‘adult humor’ sort of magazine that relied heavily upon contributions from readership and pioneered a style of humor they christened: “fumetti”. It was a sort of cartoon strip using actual photographs taken on location with live performers depicting the scenes of each panel of the cartoon (rather than an illustration). They would later come in and add word balloons to tell the story dialog. It was a style of humor that was extremely popular around this time (the early 1960′s) with many small humor books where celebrity photos would be paired with word balloons as gag panel. (one such title was “who said that!?!” and another popular title was “look who’s talking!”. you get the picture). It was also a technique that lost it’s humorous novelty very quickly and soon died out, yet to be revived.
One of the really fascinating and rather stunning things about these fumetti projects was the talent they managed to bring in to their stories. Harvey Kurtzman’s reputation and Gloria Steinem’s connections brought in the very coolest of established humorists (sid caesar, ernie kovacs, steve allen, tom poston, dick van dyke, even jerry lewis) and then the coolest underground hip young unknowns and later huge stars (like mort sahl, lenny bruce, woody allen, and even a very young john cleese – who must have been terry gilliam’s connection to the yet-created monty python when gilliam skipped the country to avoid the draft).
Many of the other cartoonist humorists they also dragged over from MAD magazine. you’;ll the work of guys like Jack Davis and Mort Drucker and Don Martin popping up, doing “mature” humor for what may be the first time. it’s a delight.
Even more interesting are the reader/contributors. Robert Crumb first shows up in the letters column and the
arts sending in early comics. His very first published work was in HELP! (a ‘fritz the cat’ strip, i believe). Gilbert Shelton and other wondrous underground superstars began their published existence in HELP! as well. The magazine continued to publish young wannabes on a regular basis and you can almost literally find the birth of the entire next generation of cartoon humorists, solely due to HELP! it’s a pretty incredible thing to examine.
HELP! managed to hang in there a couple of years and then collapsed under it’s own financial losses. Kurtzman then moved on to Hugh Hefner’s empire (not a big logical stretch) and launched “TRUMP” magazine, which lasted three issues. TRUMP was an incredibly well produced beautifully printed magazine. Compared to the crappy newsprint stylings of Harry Chester’s work in HELP!, it’s a quantum leap in financial support, never mind that it almost immediately died out. Then Kurtzman was folded into the Playboy empire and started “little annie fanny.” So it goes.
This is the cover of issue number one of HELP!. It features the legendary Sid Caesar (who at that time was one of the most famous men in entertainment history). Note the delicious headline typography – pure Harry Chester (the best monster type lettering artist of all time!). I wish I could show you more, but I gave away my set of HELP! to an archivist and art historian who was desperately looking for a set of them. I figured it was where it belonged.