Please don’t write in about the Starlog thing.

§ April 5th, 2021 § Filed under collecting § 2 Comments

So the other day, on some streaming app or ‘nothing, I watched, for the first time in a very long time, two episodes of the late ’70s/early ’80s sitcom Mork and Mindy, starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. I think, actually, this may have been the first time I’d watched full episodes of the show since it originally aired. Oh, I’ve seen bits and pieces and clips and such since then, but watching one from beginning to end? It’d been a while.

But here’s the thing about Mork and Mindy. There was a particular magazine that I bought (or cajoled my parents into buying for me) early in the show’s airing that has stuck in my mind for decades after it was discarded in whatever cleaning incident took its life. You know the phrase “living rent-free in my head?” Well, it was this magazine, doing so for so many years. (I told my girlfriend about the “being stuck in my head” thing, and she responded “poor magazine,” which, well, yeah.)

Not sure why the memory of this specific mag was trapped in my RAM and not shunted away to the tape-drive back-up. The cover remained lodged there, and I could only recall one specific article.

Oh, the mag in questions: Cracked Collectors’ Edition #29 (May 1979):

Inspired in part by the recent viewing of the television show, coupled with the fact the mag had been nagging at my mind for so long, I dipping into eBay’s waters and fished one out.

The cover is, of course, by John Severin. A master caricaturist, it seemed he could draw any real person from any angle, still have it look like them, make them “act” on the page, and it never once made you think “look at that photo reference.” Cracked may have been the mag you picked up if there wasn’t a new Mad out yet, but by God Cracked had John Severin and Mad didn’t, so big points in its favor there.

Which isn’t to say Cracked didn’t have other fine cartoonists in their stable, because of course they did. And plenty of hem worked on this very magazine. It’s just…well, where Cracked maybe fell down a bit, especially in this example, is forgetting the “parody/satire” part of the satirical genre of which the mag was supposedly a part.

Admittedly, it’s tricky, particularly with something like Mork and Mindy, a deliberately wild and silly show. Trying to come at it with a parodic or satirical take would require using some form of humorous perspective sufficiently transformative to be seen as a commentary on the source material, versus just as extension of it.

That is this issue of Cracked in a nutshell. It’s not satirical. It feels like an official fan magazine at times, an unauthorized tie-in to the TV show. So much so that I actually checked the copyright section to see if it had been actually commissioned by the folks behind the show. A lot of the humor is simply “here are some Mork-style jokes we’ve written,” such as having a “reader’s” letters page with answers in the Mork-voice:

…surrounded with many of Severin’s illos of Mork and the cast to make sure you know who the mag’s about.

And then there’s this article defining words from Mork’s home planet:

Plus some gag pages about life on the planet Ork, and a look at Mork’s boyhood:

…which is strictly non-canon, of course, given the revelation in season 4 that Mork’s people are born old (in eggs) and age backwards. NON-CANON, DANG IT.

And really, none of this functions as any form of commentary on the show. It’s all either explanatory (like the glossary of terms) or Expanded Universe/fan-fiction-y (like Mork’s childhood). There’s a feature on “What If Other Actors Played Mork” with stills from movies and TV shows giving in-context Mork-style jokes. (Or “jokes” – one of which is a cowboy, just shot, being given the dialogue “that hurts, get me out of here, Orson! “which…what?) I suppose that’s…parody-ish, maybe?

Again, there’s nice art in this…Cracked never skimped on the funny drawings, at least back when I was reading. And that specific article I remembered all these years that I mentioned up front? “…All Seriousness Aside,” a text biography of Robin Williams (with a nice big photo of him accompanying it). Of everything inside the mag, the one that stayed with me was not comics. Go figure. I think part of it is that the title puzzled me, as a sometimes chowderheaded 10-year-old that I was. “‘All Seriousness Aside?’ Shouldn’t that mean that they put all the seriousness away and that this biography should be funny?” …As I said, chowderheaded.

I presume Cracked being recognized as part of the same school of satire as Mad Magazine is what kept any ceases-and-desists away in cases like this, where the “take-off” is barely distinguishable from licensed product. And frankly, Cracked rode that Mork and Mindy train hard. Just like they did Happy Days and the Fonz. And Star Wars. And Diff’rent Strokes. Boy, did they love Diff’rent Strokes. There was lots of Mork content in the regular mag, and there was even a second special like this one featuring all-Mork, all the time.

I don’t know if any of the other Mork articles in other issues were more along the lines of real satire. I know I had this issue as a kid, and I feel like maybe this might have made more of an attempt at poking humorous fun at the concept rather than write for it, y’know?

Mostly I think I was just surprised at how…low effort the humor was. I’d expected it to be more like Mad, but it was basically, I don’t know, Starlog.

At least it’s all nicely drawn. And overall…it’s not so bad if you take it for what it is: an exploitative fad-riding cash-grab, presenting a topic under the guise of satire but not really saying anything about it.

And before you say anything…I just noticed they used the same drawing of Mork in two of the pics posted above. Sigh.

2 Responses to “Please don’t write in about the Starlog thing.”

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    Ha, ha, I too have heard of Kraven’s Last Hunt, and bought all the issues off the stands as they came out. Actually, I think I had a subscription to ASM at the time, so those may have been delivered straight to my house.

    I didn’t care for it much, as it struck me as the Spider creators trying to Dark Knight-ify Spider-Man into a grim and gritty hero, an impression I considered confirmed by the follow-up cross-over storyline “Life in the Mad Dog Ward.” My opinion on KLH has softened a bit since then, although it’s still not my favorite of the more famous Spider-Man stories. I don’t think I’d even thought of the Mad Dog Ward story again until just now.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    That “photos from old movies, with comical captions added” thing was perhaps the main way in which CRACKED was distinct from MAD. There, too, there was a tendency to ape the style of the thing represented, rather than to parody/burlesque/satirize it–at least, where comedians were concerned. That is, if CRACKED ran a photo of Groucho Marx or W.C. Fields, the added dialogue would be in the style of Marx or Fields. The problem there was that Groucho had writers of the caliber of S.J. Perelman and George S. Kaufman working for him, and Fields often wrote (or, at least, re-wrote) his own dialogue, whereas the CRACKED dialogue was coming from someone who was unable to get hired by MAD. One tended to come away appreciating the effort, but thinking that it was not quite the same thing.