In the months since my rather lukewarm review last October, NationalLampoon.com appears to be getting better. In fact, I would say that it has now clearly risen above the abysmal level of the final print issue (November 1998). They are even up for a Webby this year. There is still a lot of room for improvement, particularly in the looks department.
I had a chance the other day to speak with Scott Rubin, the editor-in-chief, and it sounds like they are really trying hard, though their resources are more meager than one would expect for such an ambitious and high-profile venture.
He says one of the advantages they have over the old print version is lead time. In the old days, stories would appear in the magazine at least two months after they were written, seriously hampering the topicality of the humor. On the Web, articles can be available online almost as soon as they are finished.
Scott finds comparisons to The Onion frustrating. National Lampoon was doing news story parodies in its News On The March section long before The Onion, yet the popularity of The Onion(not to mention National Lampoon‘s being a bit late to the dot-com party) has meant that NationalLampoon.com has had to be careful not to be perceived as an imitator.
Scott, it turns out, is as big a fan of National Lampoon‘s golden era as any visitor to this site. The Flashbacks section has been very popular, but getting permission to run old material has often turned out to be a nightmare. In many cases, especially if the author or artist was a freelancer, NationalLampoon.com can’t simply scan it and put it on the site. Past articles that were written by staffers are the property of National Lampoon, but those by freelancers belong to the freelancers. This is as it should be. The problem is that many of the copyright holders (particularly cartoonists) for whatever reason have refused to allow NationalLampoon.com to run their stuff. It’s a sad situation, and not uncommon in the publishing business. If you’re wondering when they will ever put every issue of National Lampoon on CD-ROM (like Mad magazine did) now you know why it hasn’t happened yet.
(Reading back issues of the magazine, you would think that all those guys were pals who loved to hang around together and are all off somewhere enjoying their retirement talking about the good old days at the ‘poon. The truth is that many of the people who worked on the magazine never even met and the ones who did work together often ended up hating each other’s guts. Some of them are still bitter over stuff that happened twenty or thirty years ago. I know because I have heard from some of them.)
The biggest problem with NationalLampoon.com (and things National Lampoon in general) has been with the management at J2 Communications, the owner of National Lampoon.
But this may be about to change. Daniel Laikin, one of J2’s board members, is in the process of taking over the company. If everything goes as planned, Jim Jimirro will step down as CEO and the company will change its name to National Lampoon.
Laikin sounds very bullish, according to an article that appeared on AuthorLink.com in March (If you want to read the article, see Late March in their Archive section. It’s about a quarter of the way down the page. Linking directly doesn’t seem to work.) and plans to re-establish ties to former contributors and other people involved in the magazine, movies, and other ventures. Mr. Laikin has even contacted me (!) recently to say that he plans to renew the connection to Harvard Lampoon. He also says they will probably not be back in the magazine business, but that they haven’t closed the door to that possibility.
Will it happen? I certainly hope so. This could be one of the best things to happen to National Lampoon in a very long time.