personal totem: getting sentimental on a primal nasty

Getty nasty and rude; a little cheeky fresh and punky before the PC Nazis neutered the magic. ….

Art Chantry (

Last week I was at a thrift store and found a stash of old National Lampoons from the early seventies (around 1971 – #’s 14-20). When I was in high school, I actually subscribed to this thing and actually owned copies of these actual issues from back then. They’re long gone now, but seeing these magazines again sort of blew me away. They are soooooo NASTY!

These things were made before the liberal code brought the PC nazis into play, before we could actually lose our careers for insulting and stereotyping other ‘tribes’. It was when the left still had teeth and constantly bit. After reading this stuff again after all these years, I realize how much our thinking and collective mores have shifted. It’s no wonder that the right hates us “libs” (as they call us – like some old star trek teleplay). We were rally a bunch of nasty in-your-face jerks. Funnier than hell, too.

AC:remember mr. mike's funnies on snl? like his "impression" of the morman tabernacle choir all having 8 inch long sharp spikes thrust into their eyeballs? "it goes something like this..." dark humor? nah!

The National Lampoon, when it started sort of changed the world of humor. It was the conduit through which the extreme underground and marginal “adult’ humor entered the pop consciousness. Sure, we had Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen and Laugh In. But so much of that humor was based on the old borscht belt comedy of a prior generation. remember Rowan and Martin? not exactly stone hippies. That took Cheech and Chong.

The National Lampoon changed all that. Founded by a bunch of smarty pants college kids, they took writing and visual humor into territories that previously you had to go hunting for – and hunting HARD. But, now, here it was delivered to your doorstep (along with your reefer).

---The Easily Mused Blog scans in a 1971 NATIONAL LAMPOON parody of MAD Magazine.---Read More:

the NL was edited by this guy in this memorable subscription ad. This thing worked so well that my sense of humor has been this dark ever since – just because it FORCED me to subscribe. so, has America’s funny bone. Without NL, we would never have had the Second City or Groundling troupes ever find their way into the movies – or maybe even television. This magazine set the stage and introduced the players. It was the channel they steered through to reach the pop consciousness. Would Steve Martin have ever had a career if the NL hadn’t existed beforehand? I doubt it.

Doug Kenney was the MAN behind the scene. He was by all accounts a brilliantly twisted almost genius level editor. When you examine the old issues, your first impression is the visual language. It’s nasty, coarse, edgy and extremely well executed. The illustrators and comic artists are the very c

of the crop of the era and they seem to be able to exhibit the full flower of their dented wit and vicious humor to the hilt. In other words, absolutely unquestionably top notch and brilliant. I keep using expletives, here, but they really don’t go far enough ind describing this magazine. You literally have to go see an old copy for yourself.

Most editors are ‘word people’. Doug Kenney is no exception, he hires and promotes some of the most brilliant satiric and sardonic humorists ever assembled in one place. And there seemed to be little in the way a barriers that couldn’t be crossed.

However, he seemed to employ his visual artists in a similar fashion. He’d and his staff might come up with an idea and hire somebody to run with it. I doubt he even controlled the images beyond proofreading. He, by all reports, ran a tight professional ship. He just let the inmates play at will on the grounds of the asylum.

My experience with editorial concerns (magazines, newspapers, etc.) is usually just the opposite. Particularly the bigger they are, the more difficult they are to please. Usually the editors and ‘word people’ try desperately to control any aspect of concept, doing everything they can to strip away your efforts in those territories. And, boy, don’t EVER put any words in your image! They totally freak. It’s the kiss of death if you do that. It’s like some sort of dead zone that will immediately kill off your efforts.

For instance, my experiences with the new york times op ed pages. I’ve been employed to create editorial illustrations on the NY Times oped page about a half dozen times. Usually the ‘art editor” is a fan and loves my work. I get assigned an editorial and I read it, ponder it and then do an editorial illustration to stand alongside the piece, but not necessarily ILLUSTRATE it. It’s a subtle difference, but necessary to editorial work.

Once it gets past the ‘art editor’ it goes to the ‘oped editor’, who is the honcho. And that person invariably trashes work (and that rat editor issues more apologies than i imagine he ever bargained for when he took the job). I usually have to go through about 6 or 7 complete re-makes, each time due to a request to ‘dumb it down’. The word guys keep stripping away and stripping away any ideas or thoughts from your work until it’s about as vapid and utterly empty of ideas or opinion as humanly possible. If you put any words in the image, it gets re-written and re-written and re-written until the entire point is lost. They usually wind up removing the text all together and run it without, like a gag panel where you have to make up the punch line. more often, usually they don’t run it and try to not pay you.

For all of this fun and frolic they offer about $150 (and a incredibly quick deadline). I gotta tell ya, the idea of going through all that BS – deadlines, editors, rewrites, redraw over and over and over, all for $150 is embarrassing. But, they think they’re doing YOU a favor. All those crazies out there screaming abut a liberal media are just plain ignorant. It doesn’t exist. It’s strictly business, and business ain’t ever liberal.

Anyway, Doug Kenney seems to have been an oasis of insanity allowing all these crazy artist folks to strut their stuff. If the NL had an art director, he sort of had the job of gathering the stuff together and trying to stuff it into the covers. I doubt the AD ever played a larger role than handing out checks and keeping everybody on time. It would have been impossible do art direct this gang. The final work speaks to that.

So, this is one of those rare cases where the amazing editor, rather than an amazing art director, actually controlled the visual language of a publication. And to see that done with such vision and ‘kwality’ is very rare thing indeed. Name another magazine that you can say that about. It’s hard to imagine.

Doug Kenney was also a very complex soul. for instance, when NL ventured into movie making, they started out of the gate with “national lampoon’s animal house.” He actually took on an acting role in the film. Think of it: here’s the EDITOR of the funniest, nastiest magazine of the era (or maybe ANY era). He can do anything he wants in his own movie. Yet, the role he took for himself is the pathetic geek dork (i think the character;’s name was “goose.”) what does that say about him?

A few years later he killed himself. I read a long article about his final years and (although i can’t remember the details) I believe his suicide note was a laff riot.


AC:in one of these they parody and slice up MAD magazine. try to imagine exactly how do you do that? try to imagine ridiculing MAD and doing it so well that you really can’t look at MAD anymore without thinking about their criticisms. it’s like accusing water of ‘wetness’. and they really eviscerate MAD. man, those guys could be tough customers…at what point did NL ‘jump the shark”? i remember it suddenly lost it’s edge and wasn’t funny any more. i always wonder how that shift came about. does it coincide with kenney’s death?…sort of interesting how much reading that magazine changed your perspective on life. sounds corny to say it, but it’s true. you couldn’t read the thing and ever stay the same. it made you a different person….the very first issue of NL i ever picked up (on a newstand) was issue #3. it totally confused me. i could not understand what i was looking at. i still have that thing and keep it around as a sentimental personal totem. it’s on the same shelf with the first punk poster i ever saw. there’s a few things i’ve kept like that – things that forever changed my thinking….

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