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A Cracked History Lesson

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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11 Responses to “A Cracked History Lesson”

  1. Anthony says:

    It bothers me today when people compare Cracked.com and MAD Magazine. They’re two different comedy formats. Apples and oranges people. MAD’s magazine was better than Cracked’s, but Cracked’s website is (arguably) better than MAD’s. Also, I don’t think any of the people who worked for Cracked magazine now work for the web version, so the connection is pretty much nonexistent.

    • Tom says:

      Some time ago the Cracked.com people wrote a post about how Cracked is now “kicking MAD’s ass” after it had spent about 50 years in its shadow. The response to that is exactly what you are saying: apples to oranges. In order for Cracked to beat MAD at anything, it had to cease being Cracked and become something else. MAD has not taken a run at a content-driven website since it tried about 10 years ago, which was way before the curve. Cracked’s crowing about finally being up on MAD is like one less popular Italian restaurant bragging that they are finally seating more customers than the better Italian place down the street… and all they had to do was become a Chinese Restaurant.

  2. Nate Fakes says:

    I’m really hoping MAD”s website (or, as they call it, blog) becomes as successful as Cracked.

  3. Barry Dutter says:

    Hi Tom. Barry Dutter here. First of all, I’d like to apologize for any inaccuracies about your story that may have come from me in the CRACKED book. I wish they had interviewed you for the book so you would have had a chance to set the record straight. My version of your story mostly came from Kulpa, so it was kind of the truth as filtered through him. I do stand behind most of what I said, though — you were (and still are!) a great guy, Dick did feel betrayed by you going over to MAD, and for one brief shining moment, you were CRACKED’s #1 parody guy. (You did our cover feature for our X-Men issue and you also had the main parody for our SUMMER MOVIE issue, which I believe was a the one right after that. And you would have been the lead parody guy for any future issues that you wanted to work on. I had forgotten that your GLADIATOR feature had been switched from color to black and white, that’s unfortunate, that was a bad decision. (Not mine, I promise!) My understanding was that you had been trying to get in to MAD for years, I didn’t know it was only one year. I regret my error. That was the way it had been explained to me. I always enjoyed working with you and I’m sorry that my slightly inaccurate version of events made it into print. PS: I recently saw your MODERN FAMILY piece in MAD and I thought bit was outstanding — one of your finest works yet. You particularly excelled on your portrayals of Sofia Vergera and Ed O’Neil, whose characters are kind of caricatures to begin with. Great job!

    • Tom says:

      Barry- I understand and am not upset at all. Sorry if it came off that way. Stories get told and retold and other people’s ideas become taken as fact. You told the story as you understood it, and that’s what quotes are all about. Mark probably should have had me review his intro to my quotes, as that was not an outside opinion or story but book narrative. I did enjoy working with you on the two features we did. Thanks for the kind words about the Modern Family piece.

  4. funideas95070 says:

    Author Mark Arnold here:

    Since the other comments were made by other people I interviewed, I won’t comment on those comments, but I will comment on my own statement that you took issue with:

    “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.”

    I’m sorry if I offended by stating that you got your start at Cracked. I’m sure you worked on SOMETHING prior to Cracked, but admittedly it wasn’t that significant in my mind or I or you would have stressed it more strongly. And from what I gather from what you said above, it wasn’t the same type of genre as what you did for Mad or Cracked, so this was a first work of sorts.

    I probably shouldn’t have phrased it that you left Cracked after it folded, but you have to admit, Cracked was dead already after Kulpa took over. It certainly wasn’t the same as it was. Also, Kulpa reprinted your stories a couple times after you left and it gave the impression that you were still there long after you were gone from Cracked until the very end.

    I will stand by my statement about Drucker and Torres being on the way out at Mad, because I feel as a reader, they were. They weren’t churning out the volume that they were in the 60s, 70s and 80s by the time you arrived at Mad.

    It’s all a bit nit-picky as you do get your say in your interview and you get to flesh out what really happened.

    Overall, I hope you liked the books. It seems like you did. I do like to be as accurate as possible in my coverage but it was a bear taking 80 interviews and cobbling them together into a cohesive narrative.

    -Mark.

    • Tom says:

      Mark- No worries and I did enjoy the books, especially the early history and the Don Martin stuff. That was one of the few real Cracked vs. MAD moments that counted for something. I do recommend the books.

    • Doob E. Yuss says:

      Tom Richmond’s first TV and movie satires were of “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Traffic,” both in early 2001.

      Mort Drucker, who at that point was “on his way out,” has since illustrated the parodies of “Cast Away,” “Sex in the City,” “Becker, ” “A.I.,” the first “Harry Potter” film, “Smallville,” “Enterprise,” the second “Star Wars” prequel, “Minority Report,” “Analyze That,” “CSI: Miami,” “Seabiscuit,” “Joan of Arc,” “Everwood,” “Las Vegas,” “Troy,” “Deadwood,” “Desperate Housewives,” “War of the Worlds,” “CSI: New York,” “House,” “Prison Break,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “My Name is Earl,” “Law & Order SVU,” “300,” “American Gangster,” “Monk,” and the second “Chronicles of Narnia,” plus another 25 or 30 articles and covers. Drucker was 72 years old in 2001, and he retired much like Hugh Hefner embraced celibacy.

      Angelo Torres only did a dozen TV and movie satires in the two years following Richmond’s arrival, an incomprehensible plunge from the 15 or 16 that Torres used to “crank out” in his productive days.

      • Tom says:

        I’d have to agree that saying Mort and Angelo were “on their way out” when I started at MAD is a stretch at best.

  5. Kit Lively says:

    I’m looking forward to reading the books. I’m still pretty proud of the stuff I wrote for the magazine (whether I should be or not) back in the mid to late 90′s, when it was still being published by the New York staff. They had a lot of ex-Lampoon guys there, which was cool and exciting. But yeah, the Kulpa years were pretty rough. In my case it was leaving my credit off of pages I’d written, in one instance even attributing the writing to someone else, and never making a correction in a later issue. Yeah, yeah, I know… boo-hoo. But still. Also, I had a problem with him removing a finished two-page piece of mine from an issue days before going to press, and then not providing any kind of kill fee. Anyway, I’ll stop griping now. Some of this stuff may have made it into the book, anyway (I’m not sure what Mark did or didn’t use from my interview). I should also note that Kulpa-era editors Marten Jallad and Scott Gosar were good guys, and fought for the rights of the contributors. I never got the chance to work with Barry.

  6. Lash LeRoux says:

    Tom, most whom have read of your blog for any significant period of time are familiar with your Cracked experience. While I will not pretend to have first-hand knowledge of what transpired, I faced a similar situation wrestling for WWE after Vince McMahon bought out WCW. So, I can sympathize with your experience. It is always extremely frustrating when you finally get the opportunity to do what you love and have a passion for, only to find the circumstances of the environment are near miserable. That would leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.

    “…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.” As for that assessment, I take issue with it — so I can only imagine how you personally feel about it. Let’s be honest, that quote implies that MAD was looking for ANYONE who was competent enough with brush and ink to replace a couple of legends. If that had been the case, Tom Richmond would be an asterisk in the MAD history books; only hanging around to fill space until someone more talented could be found. Instead, here’s the truth: the fact that you have enjoyed a very significant career with MAD and have become one of (if not THE) premiere parody artist(s), speaks volumes to what the “Power’s That Be” at MAD think of the quality of your work. Anyone who has an opinion to the contrary is being intellectually dishonest at best, and is merely attempting to demean your talent as an artist. And, for the record, I stand by MY statements.

 

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