Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Heuristic Squelch Issue Review, Nov. 2004

New Squelch is out. Here's the verdict, as written to those responsible.

Amazing. One of the best covers in years (along with Homeless Mario) and one that I actually bothered to print out with the rest of my PDF issue. It is a weird, complicated joke, maybe too complicated for a cover, yet it works. It takes so long to put the pieces together--"The guy's dead...There's a Talisman...He's got the he shot himself...but the gun is...Oh, and Sean's like 'what went wrong?'"--that for me it's actually more fun. It's not that the joke is hard to understand, just that it's almost a puzzle, and once you figure it out the joke is that much funnier and more satifying. And the mere fact that it is so complicated for a cover gag is funny to me an a whole 'nother level.

Aesthetically, it's a bit all over the place, and you can tell the Talisman is Photoshopped in. Where did you guys shoot the picture? It's an admirable approximation of a QVC set. And Sean's expression is, of course, priceless.

Page 2:
Staff box theme is well done and surprisingly fruitful. This Month's Cover is good. Small text is dumb. Kevin said it's from someone's livejournal? Hey, isn't it that people turn into stone when they look at Medusa, not that she turns things to stone by looking at them? I think you have this mixed up. Maybe you're thinking of Midas touching things and turning them into gold.

Interesting. It took two writers to hash out something half as long as usual. I hope this is just because you really wanted to hype the crap out of Laugh Your Axe Off. Speaking of the ad, comedy shows? Just saying. I'll echo Kevin's note on this: It's well done double-reversal Lampoonesque nonsense, but this style is a dead end after awhile. It's a good exercise because you're essentially creating comedy out of nothing, but once you learn it and master it (as it seems you have) the next challenge is to apply it to actual topics. Loker often does this in his Daily Cal columns, which apparently absorbed all the actual material he may have had for WFTT columns.

Page 3: Squelch Endorsements
Premise a bit unclear. The intro says some stuff about how California votes don't matter, which colors how I read the piece, but I'm not sure how. Do you mean they don't matter as to the Presidential contest? Sure, but this is about state propositions. California votes matter for those, right? And California approved stem cell research while hanging tight to existing three-strikes law, so it's hard to pin down a point of view that CA is too liberal or conservative. The intro suggests that these measures are going to be uber-conservative (because CA liberals don't matter) or uber-liberal (because they'll never pass anyway?). In fact, they're just silly and neither of these is true, which is fine, but I would suggest you ditch the intro elements that hint at an angle that isn't there. That said, the endorsements are pretty funny and this definitely beats another page of Newsflashes. "Jesus[squared]+3" is not that funny. I'm starting to get bored of Jesus as an "automatic comedy word."

Pages 4-5: Newsflashes
I'm so glad you guys spared us an extra page of this dead format. Kevin's right about Deaf-Mute mixing in a bit too much tard. These all bore me, every one, although I especially dislike the Architecture one because Wurster slams are so easy and pedestrian. I've said it before and I'll say it again. At least Wurster fails spectacularly. We should reserve our worst scorn for Evans and its complacent mediocrity, not to mention the extensive work they had to do on it because it really was literally falling apart.

Caviezel NF makes a good point, although I don't know how true those "internet rumors" about Caviezel playing Superman really are. I guess the other ones on this page are okay, too, although I still don't care.

On the Superb ad: $10-$20 to see Dane Cook, off campus? What the hell? Who's going to pay that? Are they out of their minds? So he's been on Comedy Central. I bet most people haven't heard of him any more than they've heard of most of our comics. This is insane.

Page 6
Top Tens are good, including another Tapeworm list. Two top fives, which suggest struggles in the meeting, but that's fine since what we get is pretty good.

Dr. Seuss feels a lot like that email forward about Dr. Seuss books, basically summarizing them and making them sound more serious/sinister/whatever than they really are.

Page 7: Ma-ti
Why isn't this "A Day in the Life," as opposed just "Day in the Life..."? These gags are okay but I love the piece as a whole, just because the premise is so darn good. That "Power of Heart" crap was always so weak. This piece says what we were all thinking, and I love it for it. It's funny because it's true. That bad guy's name was really "Looten Plunder"? I love it. Hope to see more from Spencer Gilbert in the future. Top tens strong again.

Page 8: Deadbeat Dad
I didn't like this much on the writers list but it's much better now that I see it all laid out. I like that it's broken into manageable chunks.

page 9: Lincoln/Kennedy Coincidences
I think this is an old Sean piece, possibly from the blog. Funny idea, but gets formulaic very fast.

Spread: 5 Other Bigs
Great layout. The whole issue has a very clean design sense that makes good use of white space, and this is a good example of that. If this layout weren't so good I don't think I'd like this spread. But the layout makes it pleasing to the eye and elevates the just-average writing.

Page 12: Hey, Rhino
The rhino-horn design element is a clever way to help us follow an unorthodox layout. Good use of Impact font, which is usually a mistake. Very funny piece, especially when it turns into a comic strip. "World's Crippledest Samurai" is a very Fornaca phrase. One minus: The piece is hard to get into at first, and the introduction of Phil is confusing. I was able to go with it once I pictured Phil Hentell having these dialogues with Zack, but if I didn't know Phil Hentell, I think I would be thrown. Zack with no explanation is fine because we know it's the writer, but I wonder if people will get confused by the Phil character.

This seems to be an extrapolation of the "If you ran the Zoo" top ten list a couple years back.

Page 13: Duff vs. Lohan
Ah, my first feature as an emeritus. Very elegant layout, tastefully done. I was trying to guess what you guys would do and I imagined a Street Fighter II "Vs." screen with Duff and Lohan on it.

The piece needed editing for length. I see that you've gone and added jokes that mainly make fun of me and what a perv I am, which I guess is deserved. Kevin may be right that it distracts from the main joke. It's interesting to see you guys do that, since it's very much in the spirit of what I used to do with people's pieces, like when I took Cynthia's piece about sleeping over with a boyfriend and filled it with dead-ex-girlfriend references that derailed the original intention. I've never had that done to me before, so that was interesting.

As I told Loker, I'm mainly sad the joke about the threesome with Lohan and the Parent Trap twin got cut. I liked that joke.

Page 14: James Bond
Good concept, written up in kind of a boring manner. Vignettes or a timeline or some more interesting device to break up the jokes would have helped this one, which really didn't lend itself to being written as a straight essay. Also, some other errors: "his late film" - what, did it die? "Quatropussy" - should that be "Quadropussy"? and the last paragraph goes from referring to "Bond" to a first name basis, "James." So good premise, good ideas, solid jokes, poor execution. This reminds me of Sean's Cola Wars piece, which he wrote for a spread. Funny gags, but it was dead in the water until we decided to take the middle chunk and turn it into a timeline so readers know where the jokes are. Detached, third-person perspective essays like this are tough to make funny.

I like the "Fact:"s and the generous white space used around the piece so that it doesn't look crammed in.

Page 16: Disabled Students Program
Aaron gets a gold star. One of my favorite pieces this issue. Great art choice, too. That said, the intro is a bit confusing due to the inappropriate use of the word "persecuted" which leads us to believe that Aaron will be the victim of injustices when in fact he is the inadvertent beneficiary of the DSP policies. You may say that was an intentional joke. Well, it doesn't work. It just makes it harder for us to understand the jokes in the piece. It would have been better to say "I benefit in unintentional ways" or something. Otherwise you're lying about the premise to me and that doesn't help you. Imagine if Letterman started a top ten list with one heading and all the entries were about the opposite. It's not funny, it just means you don't get what he's doing until he's halfway through the list and the first five jokes were wasted on you.

That said, the piece is still great. I don't even know why, but for some reason, the piece overall is pleasing to me. Maybe because it ends so strong, finally turning the premise on its head. Love the slow talking. Is this the true story of why Aaron goes to Vista?


Page 17: Will
Ripped from the blog, yourself, Kev. Strong, funny piece. Not much to say about it. I seem to remember being hard on Deenihan pieces lately and I think this one places Kevin back on firm ground.

Page 18: Daughter's FuturePretty good, especially for a piece written by girls. Hey, why wasn't "Comedy Writer" an entry?

Page 19: C.A.S.H.
Simple, but funny and well-done.

Back Cover
Great stuff, esp. Cancer. I'm disappointed it's not SquelchCo, which displays a disregard for past ad agency spoofs and the default fake company name we always used to use (always=often). Coveting works fine by me. Verbs is where I get thrown. I don't get it. Do people hate Verbs? Is this a play off the "Verb. It's what you do!" get-off-the-couch anti-obesity campaign? I think the idea is that the slogan makes no sense because it lacks a verb, but I can't figure out what verb is missing or what the slogan is supposed to say, which makes it more confusing than funny.

The Squelch & Sons PR firm slogan looks weird--maybe it could use a period, or no quotes, or...I don't know. The font on "Public Relations" and the slogan seems lazy.

What if the last ad was for the Squelch & Sons Public Relations firm, and had the same slogan? I'm not saying that's a good idea, I'm just saying.

Overall, guys, a great issue that inspires very little vitriol, making it difficult to get through an issue critique. My favorite issue in ages, and not just because it has one of my pieces in it. Mainly because of that, but not completely.


Zack said...

"but it's much better now that I see it all laid out.""Great layout. The whole issue has a very clean design sense that makes good use of white space, and this is a good example of that. If this layout weren't so good I don't think I'd like this spread. But the layout makes it pleasing to the eye and elevates the just-average writing.""The rhino-horn design element is a clever way to help us follow an unorthodox layout. Good use of Impact font, which is usually a mistake.""Very elegant layout, tastefully done. I was trying to guess what you guys would do and I imagined a Street Fighter II "Vs." screen with Duff and Lohan on it.That felt so good. The comment on the spread, especially, will be tattoed on the face of anyone who disagrees with me on layout ever again. The design staff this year is very strong. The only work I actually did on the Lohan/Duff piece was to place the title off to the side. The rest was just vague feedback and advice, and some qualiity work by Liz Unger and May Mei.

Impact is actually a very good font, but it is used in a lot of poor designs because it comes on every Windows computer, most of which are owned by people with no graphic design sense whatsoever. Impact is one of my favorite fonts, especially at the 150% width I often use. Most of the other core fonts, especially Times and Arial, are atrocious. Verdana is the only other decent one, and even then, you can do better.

Anonymous said...

The layout is beautiful, pretty much all throughout. Way to go Design Squad!

Lincoln/Kennedy is not old, but it is repetitive and sort of lame. I did have an article called "Santa Claus = God for Kids" which contained the line, "God had a secretary named Kennedy. Santa Claus had a secretary named Lincoln."

I liked the Parent Trap/threesome joke quite a bit, too. I'm just glad there wasn't anything added about peeing on Lindsay Lohan, because that idea was brownsteiny and random and because Lindsay Lohan is a princess, dammit, and no one should do that to her.


Aaron said...

While I do like the fact that I've become an adjective, I had no knowledge of a peeing on Lindsay Lohan joke. I was too busy trying to get a peeing on four year olds joke into the sexist childrens' games piece.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I think I'm starting to like the issue reviews more than the issues. And I like the issues.

Rob said...

I enjoy reading through your blog. By the way, if you are interested in talking about a link exchange with me at, please let me know.