If You Don’t Read This, I’ll Kill The Dog

 

“Making people laugh is the lowest form of humor,” said Michael O’Donoghue, one of the wits behind The National Lampoon (and a substitute English teacher at my high school). But making people laugh hysterically was the goal and success of The National Lampoon, which picked up where MAD magazine left off.

Now an insightful and entertaining new book chronicling the Lampoon titled Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the Lampoon Insanely Great by Rick Meyerowitz (designed by Laura Lindgren) provides the first in depth look at the art of Lampoon art and art direction. See Meyerowitz talk about it here.
 
Meyerowitz contributed a few of the Lampoon‘s most iconic covers, including Mona Gorilla. In this book,
he documents the major contributions of the other writers, artists and
designers and frames it in the free-wheeling, rule busting context of
the times that Lampoon helped define.
 
Speaking of the Lampoon, I had a dream once:

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
appendages intact.

Watch for Lampoon events in Los Angeles and New York.

 


 


About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes a weekly column for The Atlantic online and is the "Visuals" Columnist for the New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of over 160 books on design and visual culture. And he is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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  2. Hi, National Lampoon is the greatest. I just found your blog and think its great! You are exactly what I was looking for. Would you be able to give me your feedback about this outsourcing payment website? http://bit.ly/luYUpg

    Thanks so much for not killing my dog!

  3. Hi, National Lampoon is the greatest. I just found your blog and think its great! You are exactly what I was looking for. Would you be able to give me your feedback about this outsourcing payment website? http://bit.ly/luYUpg

    Thanks so much for not killing my dog!