Today's confession: I liked Cracked better than Mad. Well, at some point I must have figured out that I was going for the weak sauce, but when I first discovered those comedy magazines on the bottom shelf of the drugstore newsstand at some point in the late '70s (yes, kids, I once saw Gerald Ford in person--as president) I have to admit I went for Sylvester P. Smythe over Alfred E. Neuman. And I'm sure it was because Alfred was too intense and bewildering while Sylvester was just cute. That doesn't reflect well on me at all, but there you have it. I was wrong. No excuses. Let's move on.
I only mention this because former Cracked contributor Dan Clowes, in an interview recently posted on McSweeneys.net, declares, "No one was ever a fan of Cracked." I am sad to say that he's wrong, but otherwise I can fully recommend the interview, which was left on the cutting-room floor from Mike Sacks's newAnd Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Humor Writers on Their Craft. (There were originally 25 interviews, but the publishers apparently only had room for 21.) It's incomprehensible to me that you'd drop a Clowes interview, especially a good one like this, but they also dropped RozChast, Dan Handler, and Bruce Jay Friedman, which is solid company. McSweeney's has resurrected all four interviews, to their great credit.
Regular Omni readers will come to understand that I will link to all Clowes content, and I will, as long as Alex Carr keeps forwarding it to me. Here's my favorite bit from the interview, right at the end:
There's a book that came out
more than ten years ago âˆ’ a 50th-anniversary index of the members of
the National Cartoonists Society. It's a book of photos and short bios
of hundreds of old-time American cartoonists, and for some reason a few
"younger" âˆ’ I was thirty-seven at the time âˆ’ non-members, such as
myself, were included.
There are dozens of
photos of these old codgers smiling with these stupid grins on their
faces. But you can see the sadness underneath. It's such a grim
document. My friend [and fellow cartoonist] Chris Ware told me he had
to actually hide his copy of the book, because he can't bear to look at
What did you both find grim about it?
All these lives spent behind the drawing board; decades on a daily strip that no one remembers.
What is the lesson for you âˆ’ that you don't want to end up like that?
I sort of do
want to end up like that âˆ’ that's the pathetic part about it. I look at
that book and I am thrilled to be a part of it. It's sort of like the
ending to The Shining, when the camera zooms in on that group photo with Jack Torrance at the black-tie party in the 1920s.
There is something so great about becoming that guy.
I'm thrilled to hear he wants to become that guy. AfterGhost World andArt School Confidential (and this too-good-to-be-true upcoming project) I was worried we'd lost him to movieland, but I'm glad to hear him say here that those detours have mainly had the purpose of refreshing him so he can go back to the drawing board without going completely insane.
Bonus material: A favorite section from the Bruce Jay Friedman interview, about his most famous employee from the time he edited cheapo men's magazines in the '60s:
My best move at this job was to hire Mario Puzo, later the author of The Godfather.
The candidates for the writing job got winnowed down to Puzo and Arthur
Kretchmer, who later became the decades-long editorial director of Playboy.
I knew how good Kretchmer was, but I needed someone who could write
tons of stories from Day One, so I hired Puzo in 1960 at the princely
salary of $150 a week. But there was an opportunity to dash off as many
freelance stories as he wanted, thereby boosting his income
considerably. He referred to this experience as his first "straight"
job. When I called him at home to deliver the news, he kept saying in
disbelief, "You mean it? You really mean it?"...
What sort of stories would Puzo write for you?
You name it âˆ’ war, women, desert islands, a few mini-Godfathers.
At one point we ran out of World War II battles; how many times can you
storm Anzio, Italy? So we had to make a few battles up. Puzo wrote one
story, about a mythical battle, that drew piles of mail telling him he
had misidentified a tank tread âˆ’ but no one questioned the fictional
There has never been
a more natural storyteller. I suppose it was mildly sadistic of me, but
I would show him an illustration for a thirty-thousand-word story that
had to be written that night. He'd get a little green around the gills,
but he'd show up the next morning with the story in hand âˆ’ a little
choppy, but essentially wonderful. He wrote, literally, millions of
words for the magazines. I became a hero to him when I faced down the
publisher and got him $750 for a story âˆ’ a hitherto unheard-of figure.