What would I have given to become the art director of The National Lampoon?
My left arm? My right knee? My pinky toe? Yes, yes, and yes. I would
have slashed these and more essential body parts off just to land the
best art direction job a poor boy from Stuyvesant Town in the backwaters
of Manhattan could hope to get. I so loved the Lampoon when I
first saw it – at least the concept – that it became my dream job. From
the first issue, designed by Cloud Studios, I was confident I could do
better – much, much, much better. In fact, I was already doing Lampoon-like things for underground newspapers, so I figured I was a shoe-in, if only I could get my shoe in the door.
It was not, however, ever to be. By the time I received
my Doctor Martins, Cloud was out and Michael Gross was in. His art
direction was cleaner and tighter than the previous anarchy, and his
typography combined with visual acuity enabled the Lampoon spirit of parody to shine. Yet under his reign I longingly wanted even more to be hired by the Lampoon
(in whatever high ranking design position I could get). So I did what
any red blooded, ambitious, go-getter would do. I tried to copy it in
other publications I was working on.
I became art director of Screw magazine, which published
an offshoot zany rag called Mobster Times (subtitled “Crime Does Pay”).
It was just before Watergate blew the top off President Richard Nixon’s
administration. I tried so hard to make MT in the mold of NL. But lo and
behold, I didn’t have the lightness of touch that Gross had. My hand
was heavy, my type was crass, my attempts lacked nuance.
Nonetheless, every year for three years I took my portfolio up to the Lampoon
anyway, where I was pleasantly rejected with one of those great “we
have your telephone number” responses. Instead, I was hired as art
director of the New York Times Op-Ed page – and the Times is where I
remained for almost 33 years. Still, I often have a recurring dream that
I was art director of the Lampoon after all – and with all my