Showing posts with label magazines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label magazines. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


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.

For one thing, Kutrzman's Mad (above) aimed for kids and adults alike. I'm not against cartoons for adults but the fact remains that kids form the core audience for cartooning and probably always will.  Deal them out and you deal out the future of your medium. You create a generational divide.

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.

At the risk of stating the obvious, writers and artists see the world differently. If writers had conceived the Mad "Beautiful Girl" cover (above) they would have picked a specific target to make fun of...some female in the news who they thought deserving of ridicule. Mad artists like Basil Wolverton (above), on the other hand, seemed to prefer to make fun of the very idea of beauty. That's what artists do best.

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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


That's Diana Vreeland above, the editor of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue in their peak years from 1936 to 1944 when those magazines were undergoing a Golden Age. Theory Corner owes a lot to her influence, although I almost never read her magazines, and I only discovered her name a couple of weeks ago. 

My connection with her comes from the magazine editors she might have influenced, and who in turn influenced me: Harold Hayes (Esquire), Hugh Hefner (Playboy) and  Harvey Kurtzman (Mad).

I discovered Vreeland while researching Horst, the photographer. Horst credits Vreeland and Alexey Brodovitch with introducing Surrealism (above) to American women's magazines.

She had a vision that fashion photography could be elegant and lighthearted at the same time.  

She favored models (above) with personality. 

She also had a taste for the mystical and eerie, as in this photo (above) by Cecil Beaton. It reminds me of the female vampires in the film, "Dracula."

Her photo essays frequently told a story, or rather they suggested a possible story which the reader was invited to construct. Her dramatic models were often thoughtful and in the throws of moral choice. The photo above is by Dahl-Wolfe.

Most impressive, in my opinion, was how she inspired the great photographers she worked with. The examples above and below are from a photo shoot she commissioned, where the models were to pose in furs in far away Japan. For any other fashion magazine that would be a simple matter of photographing models in front of temples. Not so for Vreeland. She wanted more.

Vreeland wanted an indescribable fantasy that exceeded what was possible in the real world. To underline the unreality of it, she chose models who were incredibly tall and lean and, in the case of the man, philosophical. The shoot took place on a plain field of snow-covered black volcanic temples, no cherry trees.

I'm guessing that this approach influenced Hugh Hefner whose fantasies were equally audacious and unreal. 

This is a room in Vreeland's apartment. Haw! I wonder what her husband thought of it.  It's right out of her outrageous "Why Don't You...?" column in the 30s Harper's Bazaar.  

I'll end with the unlikely story of how Vreeland got the job at Harpers. After all, she was an indifferent student in high school, she never went to college, she had no experience in publishing, and she was considered plain-looking by her friends and family.

She got it because she had the good fortune to social dance at a night spot where Harper's editor Carmel Snow was in attendance. Snow was the rare executive who realized that her business was operating far beneath its potential and needed fresh blood. In Vreeland, a total stranger up to then, she saw someone who was passionate, theatrical, charismatic, poised, well-dressed, danced well, etc., etc.

Snow offered Vreeland the job of fashion editor the very next day on the condition that Vreeland work her way up through the ranks, albeit on a fast track. The rest was history.

Interesting, eh?

BTW: There's some nice books about Vreeland, but the one essential thing to see is the documentary film: "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel."