Once upon a time, in New York City, before the 21st century turned the corner, there was a group of dangerous, skeptical, satirical, often-brilliant, always provocative editors and art directors and writers who revolutionized magazine publishing. At the head of the table sat Clay Felker, the founder and editor-in-chief of New York Magazine, the weekly, topical, NewYork-centric publication that was definitely NOT the New Yorker. It was Felker, working with the very talented designer/artist/art director Milton Glaser, who built out the “city magazine” concept, but their greatest contribution was using the publication as an on-going socio-news channel,(who will ever forget the “Radical Chic” cover story) featuring terrific writing by New Journalists authors like Jimmy Breslin, Nora Ephron, George Goodman (“Adam Smith”), Gail Sheehy and even Woody Allen. Grazing at the buffet was Harold T.P. Hayes, the legendary editor of Esquire, who brought us the New Journalistic stylings of Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese (“Junior Johnson is The Last American Hero”), and posterized, impact-with-an-editorial message magazine covers produced by the great George Lois, one of the brightest of all lights in New York Advertising. Off to the side, at the bar, were Doug Kenney and Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman, founders and provocateurs of National Lampoon and the constantly shifting cast/staff of the publication that launched some of the best comedy writing of all time ( and not just in print–really, isn’t Animal House, written by Kenney, one of the all time great films) and gave birth and an outlet to much of the talent that helped form the starting team at Saturday Night Live. Chatting up the entire group as they worked the room were a pair of very smart, modestly anti-establishment editor/writers, Kurt Anderson and Graydon Carter, who combined to create an American humor/satirical/investigative magazine named Spy. Spy was a totally different type of humor magazine than National Lampoon (itself an evolution of the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine–indeed, much of the initial staff of the Harvard Lampoon came down to New York City to staff the publication); Spy lasted from 1986 to 1998 and it was always inventive, creative, pointed, and dangerous–they took on subjects and handled editorial in ways never seen before. Although the publication was also New York City centric (one of it’s most frequent subjects for comment was a young Donald Trump, whom they called a “short fingered vulgarian”), it had an amazingly broad editorial range and was consistently terrific. There’s a great book out about Spy, called Spy: The Funny Years and it’s worth the time and money it might take to dig up a copy in a local used book store or at Alibris. If you can’t find a copy anywhere and you’re a serious publication dog, I’ll even loan you mine for review, if you pay postage and put up some decent collateral, like a kidney.
For those who loved Spy –or who would like to see what a modern-day Spy might be like– I have amazing news, news good enough to make us forget, at least for the next three weeks, all about the mud-slinging, low-down, no-one-likes-anyone Presidential campaign that is currently disturbing the peace: Spy has been resurrected.
There is an incredible journalistic experiment going on right now at Esquire. Spy has been reconfigured/reimagined as a digital magazine, but of a different type, a “pop up” magazine, with a shelf life of approximately 21 days…i.e. the time between today and the national election on November 8th. Tune in now, tune in daily, and don’t miss the short-term resurrection of one of the great publications of our era. This is highly encouraged. It’ll bring a smile to your face, re-set the appropriate don’t-put-too-much-faith in authority buttons, and set the tone for the end to the campaign that no one wanted–including the contestants.
Have at it and, special thanks to Esquire for stepping up for the pop up. I just knew things were going to get better sooner or later.
The Fine Print: Cover from Spy Magazine, published 1986 to 1998. The subject matter seems to have a familiar ring. All rights belong to the respective rights holder. Thanks for sharing and. even though it’s a short visit, welcome back Spy.