Today on the site, we present Shaun Clancy’s interview with former National Lampoon art director Michael Gross. Here’s a sample exchange:
CLANCY: But how did you land that National Lampoon job?
GROSS: Well, my assistant at Family Health was looking for a job—nice guy—and he got called up to Lampoon. He came to me and said, “You know, I got called up but I’m not right for it and they know I’m not right for it but you might be the right person to do this!” And I’d read their Time magazine parody and I said, “You know, I looked through the magazine and it’s a complete mess.” So my wife looked at it and she said, “Why would you want to work on that rag? This is terrible. I thought we were trying to get Esquire one day or, you know, Vogue! You were going to be a major player in the publishing world. This is a piece of shit.” [laughter] I said, “I think I know what I can do with that magazine.” So I applied. I went in for an interview. The story I tell is basically, Doug Kenney asked me—You gotta remember, Doug Kenney had just come out of college. So they didn’t know how to run a magazine! They were brilliant, but they didn’t even know what an art director did. And they hired an underground studio, because they thought, we’re not Mad so we’ll do the contemporary version which would be largely like underground comics. Now, I went in there and said, “No, no, no. You’re doing this all wrong. Matty Simmons, the publisher, was looking for a new art director because he couldn’t get advertisers with that look to the magazine. They wanted to be slick. That’s his only answer. So I was called in, and Doug Kenney was probably told they had to replace the art director but I’m not really sure and I sat with Kenney and I remember distinctly that they did a series of postage stamps.
I said, look at these stamps, you did these postage stamps. They’re very funny. But their drawings are by underground comic book artists on every stamp. I said, this is like Mad magazine, where they have Mort Drucker do every drawing. This is not the same. The way that this will pay off is if they look like real postage stamps. Then the humor is doubled. And they got that and that’s what I hoped. And that changed the magazine. It was a reflection of my vision.
—News. Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? has won the National Book Critics Circle award for autobiography. The NBCC is one of publishing’s biggest prizes, and arguably has a stronger track record of consistently rewarding real achievement than either the Pulitzers or the National Book Awards.
Bernie Wrightson’s wife has posted an update on the artist’s post-brain-surgery health on Facebook.
Paul Gravett writes about recent comics auctions in the UK and France.
—Interviews & Profiles. Multiversity talks to Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds about the parental complaint lodged in New Mexico against Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar.
Abraham Riesman conducts an entertaining interview with Art Spiegelman and Philip Johnston about their Wordless! show, and discovers that Spiegelman has significantly softened on his anti-Kirby stance.
Ward Sutton talks to Warren Bernard and Bill Kartalopolous about the Alt-Weekly Comics show they curated for the Society of Illustrators in New York.
The Montreal Review of books has a short, funny conversation with Joe Ollmann.
Ginnis Tonk interviews romance-comics blogger Jacque Nodell.
Boing Boing has published another excerpt from Peter Schilling Jr.’s Carl Barks’ Duck.
Neil Cohn has presented new information on reading navigation in comics.
—Crowdfunding. Here are two projects worth highlighting for a moment. Hazil Newlevant has put together an already successfully funded Kickstarter for Chainmail Bikini, an “anthology of women gamers,” and Stefan Vogel is attempting to fund a graphic novel called The Illegalists, about a gang of anarchists in early twentieth-century France. Letterer Todd Klein makes a case for that project here.