Until I saw a documentary on the subject at Steve's, it never occurred to me to compare the National Lampoon to Mad Magazine. After all, the two magazines were aimed at different audiences: Mad to high school kids and the Lampoon to college students and twenty-somethings. I liked both for different reasons, though Mad had already slipped into a rut by the time the Lampoon came out.
Later on, the Lampoon got in a rut as well but that didn't stop them from declaring war on Mad. Yes, war! They said Mad wasn't funny!
Well, I guess it wasn't by the time the Lampoon skewered them.
Yikes! NL's parody of Mad (above) was scathing. It drew blood! The Mad people must have had a bad day when they read it.
Mad took the criticism (above) to heart, however and, though it took years, eventually Mad adopted the Lampoon's adult, drug culture, dead baby joke, Republicans-Are-Mentally-Defective stance.
The problem was, that approach was obsolete by the time Mad adapted it. Generation Y and the Millennials weren't averse to radical politics but they preferred to wrap it in a different kind of comedy.
Mad lost its way.
Since I'm a fan of the old Harvey Kurtzman Mad, I thought I'd mention a couple of things that magazine did right.
Also, Kurtzman's Mad put an emphasis on the unique artwork. The Lampoon was a writers magazine that used artists; Mad was an artists magazine that used writers. Too much of the Lampoon art was generic.
Mad also had some first-rate artists in their best years, artists like Don Martin (above), Wally Wood and the young Jack Davis. The Lampoon had artists too, but they were mostly there to illustrate writers ideas. The writer was the star.
Why that is, why cartoon art works best when addressing the human condition in general, I can't explain. Haw! I can already think of exceptions to what I just said, but for the sake of brevity I'll stick with my point.