Your Unauthorized Guide to the Golden Age of National Lampoon Magazine

Sam Gross, R.I.P.

May 17, 2023

Sam Gross, probably the most iconic of all the single-panel National Lampoon cartoonists, has died at the age of 89.

Sam’s work appeared in the magazine almost from the beginning, starting with the May 1970 Vol. 1, No. 2 (“Greed”) issue, and then regularly thereafter, well into the 1990s when it finally ceased publication.

Cartoon by Sam Gross depicting a couple dining at a restaurant with a sign that says "Try Our Frogs' Legs". The couple look down and are startled to see a legless frog wheeling itself from the kitchen on a hand cart.

He is probably best known to Lampoon readers for his “frogs’ legs” cartoon (above), which first appeared in the December 1970 Vol. 1, No. 9 (“Christmas”) issue. It appeared more prominently—and in color—on the cover of the album “That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick” (1975) and was later sold as an art print by the magazine.

Gross could be counted on to create some of the funniest and sometimes sickest cartoons in the magazine. And sometimes they were just plain weird in the funniest possible way. Here are some of my favorites:

Cartoon by Sam Gross depicting an amusement park animal ride attraction late at night where a father is looking at his watch as his son is slowly making his way on the back of a giant snail.
Cartoon by Sam Gross depicting a woodsman carrying an ax being chased by an animate tree stump.
Cartoon by Sam Gross showing a young boy staring at a poster at an adult theater. The boy imagines that the black bar over the woman's breasts in the poster are concealing monster heads.

(I wanted to post his “tampons from outer space” cartoon, but was unable to find it. If anyone knows which issue it appeared in, let me know in the comments below and I’ll add it here.)

Gross was incredibly prolific. The bulk of his cartoons were done for other magazines, particularly The New Yorker, but even for family-oriented publications like Parents. But his NatLamp work was Gross at his uncensored best.

My favorite obit of Gross is the one by Michael Gerber of American Bystander. More obits: The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Times.

R.I.P., Sam.


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