Your Unauthorized Guide to the Golden Age of National Lampoon Magazine

Sean Kelly, R.I.P.

August 15, 2022

Sean Kelly, editor of National Lampoon in the seventies and early eighties, has died at age 81.

Sean Kelly was involved with National Lampoon from nearly the start. His earliest byline appears in the July 1970 (Bad Taste) issue. He was soon on staff, eventually becoming Senior Editor in 1977 until he left the magazine in 1984.

A native of Montreal, Canada, Kelly was a radio actor, newspaper reporter, advertising writer, and English teacher before he was introduced to the magazine by early NatLamp contributor and fellow Canadian Michel Choquette.

He is perhaps best known for his talents as a lyricist and poet, penning such classics as “Overdose Heaven,” the James Joyce parody “Finnswake Again,” and the lyrics for well over half of National Lampoon‘s song parodies.

He collaborated often in the early years of the magazine with Choquette, Anne Beatts (also Canadian; also brought in by Choquette), and Tony Hendra. He and Hendra co-wrote and co-directed Lemmings, the magazine’s off-Broadway mock-rock concert and its first foray into show business.

On top of his responsibilities at National Lampoon, he became founding editor of Heavy Metal magazine in 1977. HM was sister publication to National Lampoon, and was essentially an English-language version of the French science-fiction/fantasy comic Metal Hurlant.

After leaving National Lampoon in 1984 (and even before), Kelly has wrote a vast number of books and did quite a bit of writing for television, particularly children’s television, and mainly for PBS, and has written for many other magazines, including Spy.

I met him briefly, at an event held for the launch of Rick Meyerowitz’ book Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, in 2010. He was shorter than I expected and seemed like a warm and friendly guy.

R.I.P., Sean.

Obit: NYT, reposted here if you are unable to access it.


Nobody left a comment yet?! Guess I'll do it. I recently found a Youtube video of Sean Kelly at a bookstore speaking event with the lady who wrote that not-that-good half-ass history of NatLamp (I forget the title and her name, don't feel like looking it up), and he does seem like a very nice and incredibly smart fellow. According to Mattty Simmons' book, however, he seemed to be a very polarizing person amongst the NatLamp stuff, possibly even more than PJ. Simmons pretty much hated him and said that Kelly would say horrible things behind people's backs. It's always fascinating to read about the stories of the NatLamp office where it seems nobody got along and everyone's comedy style & personality clashed with others. Compare and contrast them to the Mad magazine history stories where the office was one big happy crazy bunch under the very paternalistic William Gaines. Since Sean was one of the founders of Heavy Metal magazine, I'll throw a question out there: As someone who saw and enjoys the movie but never read the magazine, how good and "NatLamp-esque" is it???


October 2, 2022 11:41 am

That may well be. It's been a long time since I've read any of the various books that chronicle the history of the magazine. Regarding Heavy Metal, I subscribed to it for the first few years and liked it a lot. It had almost nothing to do with the Lampoon, other than sharing the publisher and Sean Kelly's involvement. I don't remember the story exactly, but I think it was Kelly's idea for 20th Century to get the rights and publish a US edition of this French science fiction/fantazy magazine he'd discovered, Metal Hurlant ("screaming metal"), translating all the material into English. There were also some other French comic stuff brought into NatLamp around this time, such as the work of Claire Bretecher and the special edition French Comics (The Kind Men Like) in which Kelly is credited as a translator. For what it's worth, the Heavy Metal movie(s) do capture a lot of the spirit of the magazine. On first viewing, I thought the way they tied the stories together with the "green orb" was a bit contrived. (The magazine never tried to anything like that. They were just different, unrelated stories.) I will be ever grateful to Heavy Metal, the magazine, for introducing me to the work of Jean Giraud (Moebius), one of my all time favorite comic artists. Some of the early stories were incredible and beautifully done. I don't know how it went after the first few years, though.


October 2, 2022 12:08 pm

Actually it was Tony Hendra who discovered Métal Hurlant. He had been over in Europe looking for comic artists for the Lampoon and got many offers, the most interesting were copies of Métal Hurlant. He brought some copies back to the US and showed them to the editors. Sean Kelly then approached Matty Simmons, Simmons liked the idea and sent Len Mogel over to France to negotiate rights—and at the same time try to sell the Lampoon over there. Métal Hurlant editor Jean-Pierre Dionnet thought for a moment about publishing the Lampoon in French, but since his own magazine was running in the red he only sold the rights of MH for an American version which became Heavy Metal. He also offered to do the translations but at the Lampoon offices they used Sean Kelly, who spoke French, to translate the stories. The animation movie was supposed to carry some of the stories done by the French artists, since it was supposed to be done in England, but it was eventually taken over to Canada and they only used material from the American artists and made up other stories. The last segment, which is the longest, was supposed to be Moebius' 'Arzack', but since he wasn't involved, they completely changed it, although keeping the idea of a rider (a woman instead of a man) on pterodactyl-like bird.

—Diego Cordoba

November 20, 2022 11:24 am

Thanks for the clarifications and additional info, Diego!


November 20, 2022 11:52 am

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