Author Mark Arnold just released his two volume history of Cracked Magazine, If You’re Cracked You’re Happy! The books detail the history of the magazine from its beginnings in 1958 through its final days of multiple owners, changes and eventual demise.
It’s definitely not a softball celebration of the perpetual second-fiddle-to-MAD humor magazine. There are candid interviews with former editors, contributors, and staff where punches are not pulled. There is particular venom directed at those who helmed what was left of the publication when American Media International (publisher of tabloids the National Enquirer, The Weekly World News and other things) acquired it as part of a larger purchase that included the tabloid The Globe.
I did four parodies for Cracked right after the American Media takeover and it’s subsequent handing over to Weekly World News staffer and cartoonist Dick Kulpa. Being that I was a former Cracked contributor, Mark Arnold interviewed me for the book. I have a rather long two page story about my time with Cracked, which had its good and bad moments. Unfortunately, some of the accuracy of others comments concerning my time with Cracked are… Cracked. I thought I’d set the story straight here:
From If You’re Cracked You’re Happy! Part Too Page 49:
One of the major people who got his start during Kulpa’s regime was Tom Richmond, who started in 1999. Originally, he went to MAD and they gave him the cold shoulder and then he went to Cracked and then after Cracked folded, he went back to MAD and they embraced him mainly because Drucker and Torres weren’t doing as much and they needed somebody to do the parodies.
First off, I don’t think it’s very fair to say I “got my start” from Cracked. At the time I started doing work for Cracked in 1999, I had already done hundreds and hundreds of published comic book pages for NOW Comics and a four issue Marvel Comics mini-series, and was making a living as a freelance illustrator with a lot of decent clients including doing CD-ROM game art, magazine illustration, ad work and other stuff. MAD also hardly gave me ‘the cold shoulder”. They were very receptive and art Director Sam Viviano and editor Nick Meglin gave me a lot of personal feedback and encouragement. I continued to have an open dialogue with them and sent them my new work continuously even while working on projects for Cracked. Saying that I went back to MAD “after Cracked folded” is totally inaccurate. Cracked was still publishing regularly when I stopped working with them, which was a decision on my part based on both the opportunity to possibly work for MAD and the fact that I’d had it with Cracked and they way things were being done there. Finally, Drucker and Torres were still doing regular parodies for MAD at that time as well, and my doing that kind of work was far down the road if I was to do it at all, which was a big question mark.
This next bit needs point by point correction, so I will split up the single block and rebut as needed. It’s all from a quote by Cracked writer Barry Dutter:
Excerpts of quotes by Barry Dutter from If You’re Cracked You’re Happy! Part Too Page 113:
“I don’t know if Kulpa ever told you the story of Tom Richmond. Tom Richmond is a very talented artist and a great guy and he was trying to get into MAD for years.”
About six months, actually. I first showed my work to Sam in July of 1999, which other than a half-hearted showing to Nick Meglin at the NCS Reubens in San Antonio two months earlier in May, represented my first real attempt to get work from MAD. The piece I showed Sam was a parody I had written and drawn myself of the 1998 film Godzilla (the Matthew Broderick one). Later that year I showed the same piece to Dick Kulpa, who had just taken over at Cracked and was calling for submissions. He published it immediately… a parody of a two-year-old film… in Cracked #344, which was on news stands in early 2000.
They always said, “Well, we’ve already got Mort Drucker, what do we need you for because you kind of draw like Mort Drucker.”
That was part of it, but not the whole story. Yes, they said my work showed too heavy a Drucker influence, but they also said they could see I was not a Drucker copy-cat…an important distinction to them. They could see I was headed in the right direction, and wanted to see me continue to develop my own voice and revisit my work with them.
So we hired Tom Richmond and as soon as we hired him for Cracked and made him our star movie parody guy, suddenly he was good enough to work for MAD. At that point, I think Drucker was getting ready to retire and then MAD actually needed a new guy to come in. They stole him away from us.
Sorry, Barry, but this is ridiculously inaccurate. First, I was hardly their “star movie parody guy”. I did a grand total of two movie parodies for Cracked, and the last one was not even the lead feature (that went to a parody of Battlefield: Earth). Part of the reason I quit was because of what happened with that last job I did for them. It was a parody of the movie Gladiator, and I was told this would be done in color as the X-Men parody I had done in the previous issue was. Cracked has a small color section in each issue at the time, with the rest in black and white. The splash page of that parody took me forever, and I spent hours and hours coloring it up in PhotoShop. Then I was told it was being bumped to the B&W section in favor of another color piece. I honestly can’t even remember what that piece was, but that wasn’t the point. The point was I had worked my ass off on that color because they told me it was to be in color, only to find I had wasted all that time and effort. That really pissed me off… very unprofessional.
Second, my working for Cracked made zero difference to the guys at MAD. One of the things I couldn’t stand about Kulpa and Cracked was the “boy, does MAD hate us!” delusional mentality they had. I think it was the only thing they could try and hang their hat on . . . even in it’s hey-day Cracked was always second banana to MAD, and once the top talents left when Cracked‘s page rate plummeted and the professional staff left, they were not even in the same hemisphere as MAD, let alone in the same ballpark. Cracked was no threat to MAD, but for some reason Kulpa and Co. believed MAD thought they were and was worried about Cracked “making a move”. Almost every editorial comment Kulpa made in Cracked mentioned MAD and pointed out some ludicrous claim as to why Cracked was “#1” or threatening to be. My thinking was always “why don’t you shut up and work on producing a magazine that actually does give MAD a run for its money?” It was like they thought the minute a copy of Cracked was released, some intern at MAD ran into the staff room with a copy and they all sat around pouring over it, bitching and taking notes. NOBODY AT MAD CARED ABOUT CRACKED, especially after it went downhill in a hurry with American Media as owners. They didn’t have to, they were busy producing a great product. It was only in Dick’s head that MAD paid them any attention. The only reason MAD offered me work was because my art improved considerably over the course of the 10 months between my showing it in July of 1999 and again at the Reuben in early May 2000. They didn’t “steal me” from Cracked. Lots of artists did parody work for Cracked and MAD never went after any of them. They only cared about my working for Cracked insofar as they wouldn’t offer me work as long as I was being published in Cracked at the same time. They didn’t even offer me work or promise to, they simply said they would use me at some point, but they didn’t know when. Either way, I was done with Cracked. Had I not ever gotten a chance at MAD, I do not think I would have done another job for Cracked at that page rate or after the lack of professionalism they had been demonstrating.
Third, Mort was not retiring. He and Angelo continued to do movie and TV parodies for years after I started with MAD. Neither are retired today, for that matter… why they don’t do more work for MAD is a question for them. If anything, MAD was looking for someone to do color parody work for their upcoming switch to color, but I was still a ways away from proving I was capable of doing that at a level MAD would be happy with.
Tom was a great guy and it’s every artists dream to work for MAD instead of Cracked, so he left us and Kulpa felt betrayed.
It may be Dick felt betrayed, but my leaving was as much his fault as it was my getting a possible opportunity with MAD. Cracked‘s page rate was a dismal $100 per page for finished art, and that was when they actually paid you. That rate wasn’t just for the art, by the way. I also did all the text and word balloon production, delivering them a fully print-ready page with editable text. They paid less than peanuts… more like peanut shells and dust. Kulpa also pulled stuff like that bumping my color piece to black and white, or changing the aspect ratio of the art to accommodate some odd margins when the work was designed as a full bleed. He did that on my first piece for them, making all the panels distorted (squashed horizontally without the corresponding vertical adjustment) and ruining the artwork. The thing was, if you were getting paid next to nothing the only thing you really had was seeing the work in print, and he would take that part away sometimes with this kind of stuff. He was famous for decisions like adding word balloons to what was supposed to be pantomime cartoon features and other similar things, much to the surprise of the artist when they opened the printed issue. It wasn’t a tough decision to leave Cracked, that’s for sure. The magazine was spiraling into the abyss, with work being published that was barely above fanzine quality (some of it was still good, but a lot was being done on the super-cheap by students or amateurs). At least I got paid for all my work with them . . . which is more than some people can say, I’ve heard.
For a complete and accurate story behind by brief time at Cracked, you can check out this post.
I’m not saying that Mark’s books are totally inaccurate or not worth reading… in fact I heartily recommend them if you have an interest in the Cracked story or the history of humor magazines. I can only speak for myself and what I have addressed here.
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