When I first saw this cover on the newsstand, it was in a shop that brown-paper-wrapped their more risque covers…and/or the covers of so-called Adult Fare. It would have looked something like this:
But that purple “Science Fiction” at the top was still visible and, despite the fact that I was under 18 (or 21, depending upon jurisdiction), I would not be deterred. I managed to persuade the clerk (who was quite familiar with me) to let me take a look at the shockingly salacious cover – by Frazetta! – and ultimately purchase it. Yes, there were some boobies displayed, and yes, there were jokes and sexual innuendo that might not be all that appropriate for a 14 year old (given the date and time, I probably used some of my Bar Mitzvah gelt to purchase it).
I would not be deterred. it said SCIENCE FICTION right there at the top. By hook or by crook I was going to find out what something called “National Joke” had to do with science fiction. And I did. Boy did I.
Below is the full cover sans wrap: the fact that the editors commissioned a cover by Frazetta meant, at the very least, that they had some clue as to what they were on about:
Now normally, one-offs, especially when they aren’t first issues themselves, would not be included in this collection. On the other hand, I think it justifiable to include one-offs that have a different, unique, take on the genre and this issue of America’s then current off-kilter, socially-satiric, irreverent, boundary-pushing magazine qualifies.
The come-ons under the Science Fiction also helped – Ted Sturgeon! A top-notch short fiction stylist. Gahan Wilson, who’s cartoons were macabre and often featured in that other shuttered magazine only found under fathers mattresses – Playboy; Sextraterrestrials was intriguing and a Sci-Fi (shudder) Quiz.
I actually wore my first copy out. I had to replace it a few years back. Yes, I probably spent some time looking at the boobies when I was younger, but it was really the off-beat take on the genre that I spent the most time with. Gahan Wilson’s contribution was a series of illustrations that can be best described as “Ugly American Tourists On Mars”. (It could almost be ripped from today’s headlines, what with all of the statue and painting defacings going on. But instead of drawing graffiti on the Mona Lisa – an admittedly horrific thing – these folks were defacing Ancient Martian artifacts!) And its presented the way only Gahan Wilson could have shown it.
Sturgeon’s story – Pruzy’s Pot – has been reprinted several times. It is a story, told in letter form, and is all about an intelligent, perhaps extraterrestrial in origin, toilet. And I’ll add, for the curious that it is an enthusiastic toilet.
Other humorous features include an early steampunk cartoon, a set of cartoons about the recent Apollo program missions that casts American progress in a jaundiced light; the Sextraterrestrials pretty much covers the gamut of what one would imagine depictions of odd aliens in flagrante delicto would look like (and would probably be banned these days).
There’s an Anthology of Next Year’s Best Science Fiction, with names slightly changed to protect the innocent, a cartoon feature on “Dodosaurs”, dinosaurs that didn’t make it for one bizarre reason or another, such as the Masturdon (I’m sure you can imagine why). (I’m thinking of talking to Kermit about making a listing of next year’s SF novels an annual feature on the website. After all, what is SF if not an extrapolation of the here and now into the future?)
Among my favorite pieces is a story titled The Last TV Show, about a low-grade, failing space opera television show that acquires new special effects, provided unknowingly by aliens, who take over the show, the station and convert it into a spaceship so they can leave the earth, taking some “snacks” along with them.
A large part of my pre-teen and teenaged education was acquired through science fiction, Heinlein, notably. This issue of National Lampoon showed me an entirely different version of the genre. Arriving on the heels of Dangerous Visions (which I also devoured at about the same time), it really widened my perspective on the genre.
I believe there are PDF versions of complete issues of the National Lampoon available by searching the web.
It is definitely a “on-off”, but valuable in offering us that mirror we can examine ourselves in, a mirror that obviously comes from deep experience with the genre, and an equally deep commitment to never letting an off-color joke go unwasted.