Early Influences 2: National Lampoon
When Mad grew tame I went to DC comics, then Marvel Comics (tougher), then underground comix (darker, ruder), then National Lampoon, which grew out of the Harvard Lampoon and became a powerhouse of intelligent satire at a time when the USA needed an opposing voice.
National Lampoon parodied the presidencies through Vietnam, Kent State, Spiro Agnew, Watergate and every other social/ political disaster to hit America. It did this with an astonishing team of writers and artists who created pitch-perfect satires in every conceivable format. They produced a complete parody Sunday newspaper, an encyclopedia and a high school yearbook, comics, diaries and spinoffs, climaxing in the smash-hit movie ‘Animal House’.
I was little more than a kid when I tried to buy the rights to one of their earliest short stories by the young John Hughes, called ‘Vacation’. I couldn’t do it because Warner Bros were already negotiating for the film option.
I still own every single issue of NatLamp from issue 2 to the point where it stopped being funny. This happened with the departure of the original team and the switch away from genuinely subversive wit to reactionary smut.
A new book has just been published called ‘Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead’ in which staff artist Rick ‘Mona Gorilla’ Meyerowitz goes back to look at the original team and tells their story, generously illustrating the tale with examples of their work.
One of the biggest tragedies is how few of the team made it through those turbulent decades intact. The other shame is what happened to a once-brilliant magazine that lost its way to end up as a truly horrible parody of itself.