Sunday, May 20, 2018

Not The Trump You're Thinking Of!


Most magazines that flame out after only two issues would likely not be all that memorable or significant. That's not the case with Harvey Kurtzman's Trump, a magazine he produced briefly for Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner. After his split from William Gaines Jr. and MAD magazine, Kurtzman was casting about for his next gig and already had a scheme worked up with Hefner to produce a satire magazine. To that end he brought with him several of the original MAD talents and for two dazzling installments they made a go of it.


But for complicated reasons, some having to do with the compulsive personalities of both Kurtzman and Hefner and some having to do with the simple rigors of publishing finance, the book only lasted for two issues. Kurtzman and his gang went on to other gigs, and of course Hefner's success is well documented. But Trump was a failure, at least financially.


The intention with Trump was to repeat the wild satirical energy of MAD but in a slick magazine format. The features in the debut are a weird blend of what one might've discovered in a typical issue of MAD along with somewhat more visually exotic devices using photographs. There's a wacky fold-out in this first issue, which spoofs the infamous fold-outs of the sister magazine Playboy. Oddly Alfred E. Neuman makes a cameo in this feature. The little figure who adorns the cover is called "The Knave" and many suggest this spare cover style, an apparent attempt to separate the magazine from its inspiration MAD is one reason the magazine failed to find an audience. That would be true if if in fact the magazine had not sold well, but it did.


The second issue has a cover which is even less visually robust than the first one, almost a negative companion. It was not the plan for there to be only two issues, there was a third in production when the cancellation of the mag came abruptly and from Hefner himself to a gobsmacked Kurtzman. Stories vary, some suggest it was merely financial hijinks which doomed Trump, but Hefner himself later indicated he was unhappy with the magazine. Whatever the case, he was not especially unhappy with Kurtzman, as he hired him along with Will Elder to draw Little Annie Fannie for a few decades, some years after Trump folded.


Having looked at the first two issues of this magazine, thanks to the great Dark Horse reprint tome which is filled with explanatory notes by Denis Kitchen, I can see what Kurtzman wanted to create. He'd keep trying, but the magazine of his dreams wouldn't come along for a few more decades and it would be by other folks inspired by MAD no doubt, but younger men and they'd call it The National Lampoon.


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4 comments:

  1. Kurtzman seemed to be obsessed with attaining prestige, so the lavish format was probably a dream come true for him, but trying to re-create anything, especially a unique beast like Mad, is a difficult thing. Part of the energy of Mad was the sheer shock of its invention, and undoubtedly the sheer joy of its creators discovering a new medium. You can't really duplicate that.

    I thought Kurtzman's solo work was more sophisticated in many ways than the heavily illustrative work done with his collaborators. Those gigantic cartoon murals he did in magazines like Pageant and the Dracula strips and such he did for European magazines like L'Echo des Savanes suggest that if he wanted prestige, all he needed to do was be himself.

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    1. I think you nail it when you say Kurtzman sought prestige, wanting to be part of a larger cooler world than that of the typical comic book artist. His legacy is immense and we can look back on the varied projects and see his genius, but clearly in his own time he struggled to find that for himself.

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  2. It's been years since I thought about this, but I think the collapse of the American News Company played a big role in the shuttering of Trump.

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    1. Changes in the publishing world certainly are the reasons Hefner first gave Kurtzman for the abrupt cancellation, a need for Playboy to husband its cash. Later though apparently he made comments suggesting he was editorially unhappy with the book, that he realized early on that it was not going to catch an audience like he wanted. I'm of the mind that he was engaging in some Monday morning quarterbacking with that as there's really no way to know after just two issues what a potential audience for a magazine might be. Maybe that's an intuition he claimed to have, but I'm skeptical.

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