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

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“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 anddesigners and frames it in the free-wheeling, rule busting context ofthe 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 wouldhave slashed these and more essential body parts off just to land thebest art direction job a poor boy from Stuyvesant Town in the backwatersof Manhattan could hope to get. I so loved the Lampoon when Ifirst saw it – at least the concept – that it became my dream job. Fromthe first issue, designed by Cloud Studios, I was confident I could dobetter – 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 receivedmy Doctor Martins, Cloud was out and Michael Gross was in. His artdirection was cleaner and tighter than the previous anarchy, and histypography 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 whatany red blooded, ambitious, go-getter would do. I tried to copy it inother publications I was working on.

I became art director of Screw magazine, which publishedan offshoot zany rag called Mobster Times (subtitled “Crime Does Pay”).It was just before Watergate blew the top off President Richard Nixon’sadministration. I tried so hard to make MT in the mold of NL. But lo andbehold, I didn’t have the lightness of touch that Gross had. My handwas heavy, my type was crass, my attempts lacked nuance.

Nonetheless, every year for three years I took my portfolio up to the Lampoonanyway, where I was pleasantly rejected with one of those great “wehave your telephone number” responses. Instead, I was hired as artdirector of the New York Times Op-Ed page – and the Times is where Iremained for almost 33 years. Still, I often have a recurring dream thatI was art director of the Lampoon after all – and with all myappendages 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 frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

View all posts by Steven Heller →