Monday, July 8, 2013

CRAZY #50:More than you'll need to know

Yeah, I'm a little late. The schedule I adhere to only exists in my head anyway, so there's no need to worry about being “late” or meeting “deadlines”.

Here's the 50th issue of Crazy from May 1979.

It was a Marvel magazine, and when they parodied superheroes, it was usually only Marvel superheroes (which at the time were mostly unknown to non-comics fans), but with the current hit movie being a DC character, this time they couldn't avoid using the Distinguished Competition.

 photo 7-8-1_zps926d4fb8.jpg  photo 7-8-2_zps2af0fac2.jpg The people in this piece by Vance Rodewalt are all well-known to Magic Whistle readers, and frequent targets of the one-note jokes often used in Crazy. Some of them weren't even in the public eye by 1979.  photo 7-8-3_zps20aebbf7.jpg Ask any person in the street about the Superman mythos and they will tell you Clark Kent changes into Superman by changing into a phone booth, yet I own dozen of Superman comics (most of which predate my birth) and not a single one has this motif. Where does this come from? Is it just a misnomer? And if it is true, what does he do now that most people use cel phones?  photo 7-8-4_zpsdd313f06.jpg I've been posting issues of Crazy every Monday because I have a lot compared to other humor magazines, and also because of their status as an interesting historical artifact. A lot of them show what was going on at that time, and sometimes there's a parody of a movie or TV show nobody remembers now.

 photo 7-8-5_zps2eb0b380.jpg However, particularly with Crazy, a lot of the issues start to look the same. It was late in editor Paul Laikin's career and by this time he didn't seem to really care about what he was producing, whether it was typos or just recycling previously written material from other magazines. While it's nice to show the frame of reference, there are only so many jokes about celebrities you can make. You can just update old ones by replacing Dolly Parton with Christina Hendricks or Dean Martin with Lindsay Lohan and have essentially the same joke.

I kind of know Mike Weiss, who I occasionally run into at comic functions, and he made a passing reference once to having written for Crazy as a teenager. I've been meaning to ask him about this experience, in particular this story. I asked him to recount any memories of writing for them and he answered back with this essay. I may as well use it verbatim, since it provides much insight into how the sausages were made.

 photo 7-8-6_zpsfb9c0aef.jpg Plagiarized Pigs

A Tale of My Crazy Youth

By Mike Weiss

I first started submitting to Crazy Magazine shortly after I turned 15. My very first piece, The Ultimate Products was published in issue 21. I remember being in a comic store in the East Village with a friend of mine when I spotted that issue. I hadn’t seen it yet—I don’t believe they mailed complimentary copies—and as I walked toward it, my heart pounding, I kept repeating to my friend, “This is me, this is me...” And as I leafed through the pages, “this is me, this is me...” And when I got to The Ultimate Products it changed to “this...isn’” I was devastated.

You’ve got to realize, I was a teenage boy and I thought being published in a humor magazine, especially one produced by Marvel Comics, was going to be the coolest thing in the world. Life changing. In reality, nobody gave a shit but up until that moment I believed it.

The article was barely recognizable. There were so many lines that weren’t mine and there was even a product that wasn’t in my original script for 'Whitey Detergent' which, according to the text, helped black people pass as white. So not only was my article completely changed, there was a racist joke with my name on it.

And, while I was processing all this information at this comic store, the manager, a surly junkie looking guy, decides to tackle me because apparently I was standing too close to the register. Discovering the harsh reality of publishing, being framed as a racist, and getting the wind knocked of out me by a psychopath; it wasn’t a good day.

It was over a year before I submitted another piece to Crazy. Time had taken the sting away and I tried again. I had learned from my mistakes. I wrote a lot of short pieces with a surplus of jokes so the final product would be closer to what I originally created.

I wrote a number of one-page Mad-style commercial parodies and interviews with current (1970s) pop culture icons (R2-D2, The Jolly Green Giant, Moses). These were cool because they were published in color on the inside covers or the back cover. For the interview pieces I would write three pages worth of jokes and the editor, Paul Laikin, would pick the ones he liked best. While there was always some rewriting, “punching up” and added gags in every piece I sold to Crazy, the more I gave him to choose from, the better chance there was that my words would appear in the article.

The Incredible Hunk, a parody of the TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was my first shot at writing a long piece for the magazine. I just took a look at the original script and, for better or worse, the final piece is fairly close to what I’d written. The last page or so, the bit about the producer canceling the program, wasn’t mine. Compared to my first published article, five out of six pages was a win as far as I was concerned.

There were other tweaks and punch-ups—there were always tweaks and punch-ups, and sometimes, who knows, they might have helped—but the plot and much of the dialogue was intact. One of the tweaks was changing David Banner’s fugitive pseudonym of the week from David Blowfish (Paul felt Blowfish was too “risqué”) to David Boring (I’ve long wondered if a young Daniel Clowes ever read this story). Another was replacing the gangster’s name, “Big Irving” with “Big Augie.” I suspect this was done to make the gangsters’ ethnicity Italian just so they could use the sound effect “WOP” when the Hunk punches them. Once again, Crazy made a racist joke under my byline.

 photo 7-8-7_zpsaa472379.jpg The biggest thing that bothered me about the piece was the art by Kent Gamble. It wasn’t that he drew in Mort Drucker’s style; that was kind of cool in an odd way because it made the piece look more authentic, like a “real” Mad TV Satire. No, the problem was that Gamble didn’t just draw like Mort Drucker, he copied Mort Drucker illustrations, line for line!

Despite all the hours I spent obsessing on Mad Magazine when I was kid, I didn’t notice the swipes. A childhood friend of mine, David Avallone pointed it out to me. David had a photographic memory and was able to tell me exactly where Gamble had lifted the images from. Candace Bergen was taken from Mad’s Carnal Knowledge parody, Carnival Knowledge, Charles Bronson from Mad’s Death Wish send-up; Ernest Borgnine was straight out of Mad’s rat-infested Willies.  photo 7-8-8_zpseb875fb7.jpg  photo 7-8-9_zps4f197c12.jpg The thing that upset me the most was that Gamble lifted from Drucker’s Butch Cassidy parody Botch Casually and the Somedunce Kid. No, there were no Robert Redford or Paul Newman caricatures in my story. What David showed me was far more upsetting. The two pigs in the barnyard scene on the second page of The Incredible Hunk were directly lifted from the Botch Casually piece. Pigs! He copied the fucking Pigs! I read an interview with Kent Gamble years later and it turns out that he's a nice guy who is obsessed with Mort Drucker but to my teenage self it was really disturbing. I felt like an accomplice to plagiarism.  photo 7-8-11_zps7e269d86.jpg  photo 7-8-12_zps3a511e6f.jpg I apologize if this comes off as one big complaint fest. I suppose I was a pretty lucky kid. Not too many teenagers get the chance to write professionally, for a magazine published by Marvel Comics, and I was extremely fortunate to have had that opportunity. Paul Laikin was a very nice man who was quite kind to me. Not too many editors would have responded to, let alone encouraged, a 15 year-old kid.  photo 7-8-13_zps1e10c28e.jpg In retrospect, I probably wasn’t emotionally ready for the experience. I suppose my time writing for Crazy is one of the reasons I chose stand-up comedy. Whatever I say on that stage, love it or hate it, it’s me. It’s all me. And nobody ever makes me say anything racist.

I won't begrudge Kent Gamble for stealing from Mad art either because a)he may have been specifically directed to and/or b)he was quite young and just starting out. God knows I have plenty of skeletons in the closet myself.

Oh yeah, this was the back cover.  photo 7-8-14_zps875c833b.jpg


  1. I lost a lot of respect for Roger Weiss reading his essay. Not only does he constantly complain about professionals tweaking his pieces (he was lucky enough to even get anything published since he had no experience), but his constant bitching about "racist" jokes is grating. Real comedians and humor writers know that humor doesn't have boundaries, and nor it should. If you start worrying about things being offensive, then you narrow the possibilities considerably because of your own biases. He needs to take a lesson from the old National Lampoon, and see how pros work.

  2. The "complaining" was not about the tastelessness of racism, but the reliance on stereotyping and being credited for things he didn't write. There's a difference between that and the 'take-no-prisoners' attitude of NL. Also, Michael (not Roger) Weiss is talking about his experiences as a teenager. He addresses the fact that the people he worked with were professionals that knew more than him and that he was lucky to have been published at all.