Book Review: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great

The chums of NatLampCo

A wonderful and very welcome book about the Lampoon. The thirty-six writers and artists who are featured made it an essential monthly read before it evaporated into blandness in the late eighties only to close in the nineties.

I remember coming across the Lampoon for the first time with issue ten and I just loved the format, especially the comic and magazine parodies finely crafted by Design Director Michael Gross and Art Director David Kaestle. I attribute a lot of the circulation success to these two. Gross, rightly, dismissed the design of the first few issues by Cloud Studios as inadequate because they lacked the vision that the writing clearly deserved.

Issue after issue through the seventies and the early eighties delivered some of the funniest writing around and the look of the material was just so perfect. Odd in a way because according to comments from some of the book's contributors the Lampoon offices were a bit like the frat joint in Animal House.

I thought the material for each contributor was a well-rounded selection, whether it was for a writer, cartoonist or illustrator. No doubt those who were regular readers will remember their favorite page that is not here. I would have preferred a page or two more to show the wonderful graphic work of Bruce McCall and a real omission, in my view, is the stunning sixteen page Mad parody from October 1971, written by John Boni, Sean Kelley and Henry Beard.

All this wonderful material is presented in a large page sized book and beautifully printed on decent paper as one would expect from Abrams. I was though, rather disappointed with some of the layouts. This is a book about a highly visual magazine and I would have expected all the material to be reproduced as it appeared in the Lampoon. There are several pages where this has happened but lots of other pages have taken the original photos or graphics and presented them as new page layouts. Michael Choquette's excellent March 1972 photo story about Hitler living on a Pacific island is a different layout using photos not in the magazine and leaving out others in the original pages. As a publication designer I would have used a light color panel for the page shape with a drop shadow on two sides and then printed the original page on it. The Lampoon pages looked great so why alter their look for this book?

Despite the design comment above (I'll knock off half a star)this book is a worthwhile celebration of a unique American humor magazine.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

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Covers from the magazine's best years.

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The book's cover with the famous Mona Gorilla painting by Meyerowitz.

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Right: Frank Springers beautiful art for Frontline dentist, April 1972. Three pages here as in the magazine.

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The back of the book has six pages of 'where are they now'.

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Right: one of the wonderful spin-off publications the editors created. I think the best pages should have been included in the book.

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Two of the three pages in the book of the wonderful 'Let's get America out of Dutch' newsletter. It was eight pages in the magazine's May, 1974 edition.

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A spread 'Stranger in paradise'. The complete feature is in the book but unfortunately not in the same layout as the magazine.

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At least I get to see a photo of the great Rodrigues.

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