Sunday, July 19, 2009

Stop The Presses:The Death Of Satire And Parody Magazines

With MAD magazine recently announcing a cutback to just a quarterly publication and laying off several staffers in an ordered company-wide cost-cutting campaign by the ownership at Time Warner, it is only the latest blow to hit humor, satire and parody magazines where MAD is the sole survivor out of group of many great magazines to fold over the years. The recession certainly has not helped the efforts of MAD magazine either. In general, most print publications of all types including both magazines and newspapers are suffering in a real sales slump right now, where many big name publications could cease publication soon.

MAD is not only cutting back to just a quarterly publication, but the TV show by the same name is ending over at FOX. And the MAD specials which were large compilations of older features and MAD KIDS are also ending their publication runs as well. For MAD going from a eight times a year publication under the direction of the legendary William Gaines to a monthly publication under the ownership of TIME WARNER, to now just a quarterly publication is not a good trend. Not good at all. This magazine is just barely hanging on for dear life. Some distributors may be less apt to want to carry MAD with the sporadic quarterly distribution schedule compared to more regular monthly schedule of the recent past. This might well be the beginning of the end for MAD.

MAD also had many good competitors at one time. CRACKED magazine was once perhaps the best competitor that MAD magazine ever had. It featured great 1950's style cartooning that seemed to resist the trend of MAD to update their magazine over the years. But CRACKED seem doomed after a 2001 anthrax scare incident to their main office now located in Florida caused the magazine to miss a critical publishing deadline, and some major distributors lost interest in carrying the magazine, and sales tumbled. A short-lived attempt to revive the magazine in a whole new format unlike the old magazine quickly failed after just three issues in February of 2007. Even THE WASHINGTON POST ran a scathing review of the new revamped magazine as unfunny compared to old publication.

But there were other humor magazines styled after MAD including CRAZY and SICK, although EC Publications that was the founder of MAD once provided their own competition with another humor comic called PANIC. But both CRAZY and SICK had some good moments in their history. CRAZY was a really great attempt to imitate the formula of MAD, but it ultimately failed. SICK sometimes had problems with too much bad taste, especially for younger buyers. MAD by comparison seemed to get things just about right between challenging the status quo and authority, without appearing too trashy or radical. MAD had a decidedly liberal political bent, highly critical of corporate greed as well as government hypocrisy. It was for a generation that questioned authority long before the religious right in America taught followers not to question anything, only to follow orders, and not to think for themselves. With his long hair and beard long before many others looked the same, former MAD publisher William Gaines was a publishing industry rebel with a cause.

ARCHIE'S MAD HOUSE and PLOP managed to revive the early 1950's comic book beginnings of the EC magazines for a time, and both were very good but short-lived efforts aimed a grade school aged audience. PLOP even featured those unique Basil Wolverton illustrations on the front cover, where the cover art alone was worth the cost of the magazine. PLOP also managed to carry humor in a weird direction with bizarre tales, besides some great artistic contributions from MAD's Sergio Aragones. It was a real gem for a time.

NATIONAL LAMPOON and HARPOON(later renamed and revamped into APPLE PIE, a parody of PEOPLE magazine) carried humor mags in a whole different and ground breaking direction as did THE ONION and HARVARD LAMPOON. During the 1970's NATIONAL LAMPOON was a great magazine catering to a young and hip college age market of buyers. NATIONAL LAMPOON was also more adult in content as well, often finding itself sold behind store counters next to PLAYBOY or PLAYGIRL magazines. But it had some awesome features including an incredible "Miracle Monopoly" cheating kit with fake cards and special features to win a monopoly game including a "Shoot The Moon" card allowing one winner to essentially take all. In 1976, a special election issue with Carter and Ford lookalikes was a real gem.

But the sad fact of the matter is that humor, satire and parody magazines are on a real downward spiral right now. MAD magazine may not survive. And television's SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE as well as clever bloggers might just end up doing all the heavy lifting for satire and parody in the near future. This is one recession that MAD magazine might not be able to laugh it's way out of.


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