Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Favorite Issues: Starlog, National Lampoon, Playboy, Comics Scene

... in which our intrepid blogger wastes your time by telling you about significant issues of magazines he's liked. The first in a series.

National Lampoon, June 1972: A decade before I would begin to read the magazine (in what turned out to be its twilight period of creativity), National Lampoon's June 1972 issue featured a science fiction theme. A short, bad-taste story by Theodore Sturgeon. A surprisingly touching Martian visit with twisted cartoonist Gahan Wilson. Some sharply written fake news. A fun (and yes, very juvenile) look at the last days of Star Trek. Lots of comics. And much, much more in this 100-page magazine. Oh, wait -- I didn't even mention the incredible alien crucifixion cover painting by the incredible Frank Frazetta.

Starlog #24, July 1979: Regular readers (er, "reader"?) of this blog know my affection for this magazine. I also have great affection for its old annual July anniversary issues, 100-page specials chock full of special features. The July 1979 issue actually was published more than a year before I became a reader of Starlog, but it includes everything that I think made the magazine great. When it was great, it was very great. We have special anniversary features: a two-page editorial by co-publisher Kerry O'Quinn giving a lot of the background to the magazine and the people who put it together; a full-color special section reviewing the previous year's important science fiction films, television programs, special effects, and space art; congratulatory notes from famous people; an index to the mag's first three years. We have the usual strengths of the magazine: interviews, previews of television programs and films. And, of course, there's the extra-special touches that told me, the reader, that I was reading something of note: a special cover design; a two-page contents page (featuring a rare photo collage by the editor, Howard Zimmerman). And more, more, more. These days when the British SF magazines regularly publish issues with 132, 148, and even 180 pages, it may be hard to understand how a 100-pager could be noteworthy. But it was, and it was the kind of annual that readers anticipated for a couple months each year. And it delivered.

Playboy, June 1983: Why would a gay man have a favorite issue of Playboy? Try this: A big interview with Stephen King. A preview of a new movie from a group I was just beginning to discover, Monty Python. Fiction by SF great Robert Silverberg. An article by George Burns. A humorous look at the future of Star Wars. A pull-no-punches critique of President Ronald Reagan's conduct in office. Not a bad mix, especially when added to tons of info on books, movies, politics (an expose on the Pulitzer clan), profiles, comics, and so much more, all in a 270-page magazine. When people today express impatience with the idea of print magazines because everyone can read bite-sized pieces of info online, this issue of Playboy is one good counter to their delusions. It was from a time when a magazine could count on readers having intelligence and attention spans longer than five minutes. It was a magazine for readers. And this wasn't even one of the annual 300-plus-page holiday or anniversary issues.

Comics Scene #3, September 2000: This was the third incarnation of Comics Scene, and each incarnation had issues that stood out. But this 100-page magazine had everthing. An interview with the legendary Will Eisner (plus a portfolio of his artwork). Columns, editorials, previews of comics-related (and/or animated) films, interviews with comics creators, and fold-outs with extended illustrations and photos. A magazine you could really sink your teeth into. One of my favorite bits of any of the Comics Scenes is the interviews with creators of lesser-known comics. I've never been a superhero comics fan, nor did I grow up reading comics. I got into comics when I was in my early teens, discovering Marvel's Epic Illustrated and National Lampoon's Heavy Metal, so I guess my tastes were more adult and independent than the kiddie stuff. (I'll have to cover HM and Epic in future installments of "My Favorite Issues.") No problem. Comics Scene catered to everyone, and I discovered a lot of interesting cartoonists in its pages. In this issue, I learned about Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, which featured an interview plus a four-page foldout of his work. Fun and informative. What more could I ask?

Future installments coming.
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