Pay Attention: National Lampoon
by Jeet Heer
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
In a recent (or recent-enough) interview, the invariably insightful Lynda Barry noted that, “There was a group right before Matt and I started who were in the Village Voice — Jules Feiffer, Mark Alan Stamaty, and Stan Mack, who did Real Life Funnies. And I finally met him and he doesn’t look anything like he draws himself, which I thought was hilarious. There’s all these people who were in the early National Lampoon — but now it’s as if they do not exist…. When people say, ‘You’re one of the first women cartoonists,’ I say, ‘Nooo, there was Shary Flenniken and M.K. Brown and Trina Robbins.’”
Barry, as per usual, is dead-on about both the Voice and National Lampoon. For today’s posting I want to focus a bit on the Lampoon, a journal that played a big role in the history of comics especially in the 1970s, one that is now only dimly recalled.
In an essay for an upcoming book, I tried to place National Lampoon in a historical context: “In the early 1970s, the creative energies unleashed by the underground comics started to be assimilated by mainstream publications. National Lampoon magazine was a pioneer in this process. It was sold by subscription as well as on the newsstands and carried ads like a regular magazine, but it also featured a strong comics section giving prominence to such underground cartoonists as Shary Flenniken and Bobby London. Indeed, one way of defining National Lampoon’s editorial identity was to say that it combined erudite humor with the fearless irreverence of underground comics. During these years, National Lampoon served as a meeting ground for a wide variety of cartoonists, not just undergrounders but also artists like Neal Adams, who worked for commercial publishers like DC and Marvel but wanted an outlet for their wilder side.”
I’d add that of all the Lampoon cartoonists, the ones that are most regrettably underappreciated right now are M.K. Brown and Shary Flenniken. In this supposed golden age of comics reprints, why aren’t Brown and Flenniken in print?
There are signs here and there of a Lampoon revival, as evidenced by the appearance of Rick Meyerowitz’s handsome new book Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, which does a fine job surveying the major writers and artists for the magazine. Go here for Dennis Perrin’s smart and querulous account of the book launch and dissenting take on the on Lampoon history. Over at TCJ, Tom Crippen has been done a series of astute posts about National Lampoon, which can be accessed here.
These are welcome harbingers of a revival of interest in the old National Lampoon. If this renewed attention leads to a fresh book reprinting the best of the Lampoon comics and volumes devoted to Brown and Flenniken, then perhaps the universe is correcting itself.