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Home > Letters to CR

Nat Gertler On The National Lampoon Brand
posted January 21, 2014
 

In discussing the Heavy Metal sale, you bring up how some other names have seemed under-exploited, and point to National Lampoon as one that seems ripe for the picking. That is an understandable reaction, for those of us who remember the National Lampoon glory days as a creative force, or those who noticed its power as simple branding (which was proven via the test screenings of the film Van Wilder, which tested far better after the paid for the right to add the Lampoon brand to the title, and went on to major success.)

However, that brand has gone through various hands which have attempted to wring all the juice out of it and have left it limp. This applies not only to the string of low budget direct-to-video boobfests that paid for the use in the title, but also to legal shennanigans at the company itself, and by those connected to it. In 2009, the by-then-former CEO of National Lampoon Incorporated plead guilty to stock manipulation, basically paying folks to buy the stock and thus make it look like the stock was in demand. The guy who had appointed him CEO and took over that role, Tim Durham, was convicted in 2012 for running a Ponzi scheme which the SEC said took investors for hundreds of millions of dollars.

A few years back, during a period when I was considering whether to go big or to go small as a publisher (I ended up picking the latter), one of the "go big" ideas I was mulling was licensing the National Lampoon brand for original graphic novels. I thought it would create an instant style branding for certain material, and would help get space in bookstores. But looking at the mess that was already in place around the brand, it seemed like it would be creating business ties that would be too risky... and this was before that last shoe dropped.

I am not sure who owns the trademark now, but I'm not surprised if publishers are not rushing to embrace it.

Tom Spurgeon: I'm aware of all this, actually. In fact I talked to some of the later owners via e-mail for some reason, I think a high school friend introduced me. I don't think it's a prestige brand the way it used to be, sure, but I'm pretty sure it could be revived. There aren't a lot of comedy brand names out there, period, and good work can change perceptions pretty quickly. We'll just have to disagree.