Ten Years Ago in ‘Spy’
Reliving one’s formative years of logrolling, short-fingered vulgarians and Separations at Birth


‘Spy’ June 1990 cover

October 1992

This month, we hew literally to the title of this site, “Ten Years Ago in Spy,” as we document a slim, late-in-the-day, huge-type-size issue of Spy, October 1992.

I note that my copy bears an address label. We have conclusive proof that I was, at one time, a subscriber. I guess the magazine had gone so far downhill that I no longer cared if issues arrived late, covered in postie fingerprints, and beaten to shit.

However, I must say they’ve used an amusing method of angular distortion in the cover typography. Our art director du jour is Christiaan Kuypers. Where is he now? (“Hans and Franz” used to “consult” for Spin, allegedly. Now, to paraphrase Chuck D, “Base? How low can you go?” Spin is a magazine without graphic design, at least in my remembrance; its undesign explains why I do not read it.)

Right. Spy. Right.

Speaking of art direction

“From the Spy Mailroom” this month does its usual schtick of wackily! deconstructing reader mail, which it will often also do in the remaining two columns of the same page, entitled “Letters to Spy.”

People’s Front of Judea? Judean People’s Front?

But what genuinely sets our hearts a-leapin’ is any letter that begins, “I really hate your magazine.” That’s how Geneva Lewis of Norman, Oklahoma, prefaced her comments regarding an article abou roadkill that ran nearly a year ago (“The Joy of – Screech! Thud! – Cooking,” by Tony Hendra, November 1991). “I have just one scenario to present to you: One day, you will be a very, very small person and squirrels will be very, very large. Squirrels will drive over you in a crunch of tires, leaving your blood-splattered, lifeless body on the curb. For people like you, words mean nothing. You have crossed the line too many times between what is sarcasm and what is hate.” Actually, the line we thought we’d crossed in that article was between satire and prohibitively expensive art direction. But your scenario – didn’t we see that once in an old EC comic?

Since we’re on the topic of art direction

What’s an old copy of Spy without an advertisement displaying revealingly outdated and tacky typography?

But in this case, it all makes sense, since the ad seeks to sell us on Completely Mad, a hardcover compilation – actually, you can get it the other way: “$24.95 (Cheap) paperback” – of procrustean Mad effluvia. The advert is typeset in the perverse Colin Brignall anachronism Italia, which, frankly, I always rather liked.

You know, those ridiculous ITC faces and I go a very long way back. I remember being just a wee schoolgirl and sending valuable Amerikanski money orders down to (Dag) Hammarskjöld Plaza to buy original ITC specimen booklets. I think I may have just a couple of them left. I’m sorry, but some things are merely old, not valuable.

One’s preferred “attack queer”

Mouldy, attenuated Richard Goldstein, verve-incapable and a perverse anachronism in his own right, lumps poor Camille Paglia in with Andrew Sullivan in his as-yet-unread book Attack Queers.

Actually, he may have a point, but it is strenuously debatable.

And who shows up in the Spy Letters page this month? Poor Camille Paglia!

Just a note to express my admiration of your New York Times parody, with its deft, skilful and hilarious send-up of my heavy-breathing, multi-adjectived op-ed pieces. Naturally, I especially loved your plump, sumptuous, supersexed vaginal turkeys!

Spy is also to be commended for its uncanny acuity in getting my politics right. While The Village Voice doggedly tries to tar me as a neoconservative and the establishent feminists hysterically call me Phyllis Schlafly, Spy intuited that I am partial to Jesse Jackson (whom I voted for in the 1988 primary) and that I support Bill Clinton.

Your shrewd political judgement is a most welcome relief from the usual cricket chorus of shrill, scratchy squeals.

Camille Paglia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Now, isn’t Richard Goldstein “an executive editor of the Village Voice”?

Somebody’s holding a grudge.

tongs, pl.

...I thought I would drop a note [seems to be a trend this month – Ed.] regarding the Laureen Hobbs “Webs” column in the May issue. Hobbs refers to Barry Diller, David Geffen, Sandy Gallin and Howard Rosenman as part of a “powerful gay tong.” First off, why “tong,” and second, what does their homosexual[ism] have to do with anything? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for gay visibility in the press, especially regarding Hollywood – but if she had referred to a “Jewish enclave” or “black gang,” I’m sure you would be getting a lot of letters. I’d like to assume she is simply making unnecessary reference to a group o f businessmen’s life-style [sic], and not to some sort of menace that needs to be disclosed.

Ned Morgan
Seattle, Washington

No implication of menace was intended. And yes, we’re sure you’re right that a mention of Jewishness or blackness would also have prompted letters – but if it were relevant, we’d have mentioned it. These men’s gayness is a, if not the, basis of their powerful professional relationship. And tong is simply fresher than mafia.

The Judds: Separated at birth?

In “The Webs” (back in the day, the term was synonymous with “tv network,” to use the Varietyism), Laureen Hobbs recounts:

With only a few episodes written and the main charaters barely established, the executives felt that the scripts were already focusing too much on secondary players. “But it’s supposed to be an evolving ensemble comedy,” [Kevin] Curran told the group, like Taxi. “Maybe so,” parried one of the excutives, “but there’s a difference. Taxi had Judd Nelson.” Curran could not contain himself: “It was Judd Hirsch, you fucking moron.” In short order, production on Circus was suspended, and Curran was gone.

Comix superspecial

Any failings of October’s issue – arriviste graphic design and editorial staff, for example – achieve wholesale compensation in Fantastic Foursome, a faux comix by Larry Doyle (book) and Alan Kupperberg (illos). According to the flyleaf, this issue, entitled “The Times They Are a Changeling,” is part of a stable of DLC Comics, including:

  • Super Oratory Brothers – Howard Cosell analogue: “We must use our power blocks more wisely – not to make the powerful more so, but to make the powerless less so....”; Jesse Jackson analogue: “We need fewer goombahs and more good jobs! Not paratroopas, but super pooper scoopers!”
  • The Incredible Hunk – Juroress: “Jon-Jon’s dreamy. I’m going to vote guilty
  • Dr. Gloom – Something to do with an economist

‘The Fantastic Foursome’ Epitomizing Al Gore as Woody, an inflexible tree with green hair, is perhaps too obvious. Illustrating Clinton as a Doughboy, a baleen-toothed superhero with screwball eyes, is perhaps not. Tipper Gore as aproned matron is particularly well executed, a simulacrum that even works when she is shown banging drums in the DLC house band, New Covenant (Carrie Nation, shurely?).

Pudgy, misshapen Barbara Bush arrives on the scene in skin-tight Lycra. Tipper: “Love the outfit, Silver Ox. But I’m afraid my husband would never let me wear something so revealing.” Tipper slaps Silver Fox with a PARENTAL ADVISORY warning upon hearing her retort “Save the catty remarks for tea and crumpets, bitch!” A foul-mouthed, overweight, exhibitionistic former First Lady dowager is nobody’s idea of dignified dotage.

Oh, about the tea and crumpets? “Hilly, that recipe of yours – you weren’t serious about the vegetable shortening, were you? I used real butter, and the boys really seem to –” “Tipper, I’m driving here! And don’t call me Hilly!”

What magic “Shazam!”-style incantation does Doughboy bellow before unleashing his awesome powers? “Camelot!” of course.


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Updated: 2002.10.01


See also: Interview with Alex Isley, former SPY art director