Sean Kelly, R.I.P.

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.

2 comments on “Sean Kelly, R.I.P.

  1. -

    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???

  2. - Post author

    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.

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