Brainiac On Banjo: Mad About Claptrap

I’m sick and tired of sitting back listening to all of your claptrap. If you could get me to take the rap, I guarantee you’d leave me with a backslap. “Angry,” written by Paul McCartney and Eric Stewart.

Claptrap— Idiotic Parodies of Iconic Films, by Desmond Devlin and Tom Richmond, published by Deadline Demon Publishing and available from the artist. If you’re looking to use up some credit card points, sorry: as of this writing, Amazon is sold out.

Like many mischievous baby boomers, I learned how to mischief from my addiction to Mad Magazine. I discovered Mad in my sister’s comics pile. The first issue I found was Mad #40, July 1958 (I was seven years old) and by the time #41 came out my subscription copy was delivered to the family mailbox. I don’t recall how I conned my parents into that subscription, but I presume I was so damn obnoxious they mailed off the check just to shut me up. This became my time-honored technique for everything.

I learned a lot from Mad — for example, how to pronounce “idiot.” The magazine affirmed my most obnoxious tendencies. It sanctioned and encouraged my more whimsical aggressions and did a great deal to make me the mannish geriatric boy I am today. I remain quite grateful to “the usual gang of idiots.”

But if there was one thing that bothered me about Mad, it was their movie parodies. Not that I didn’t enjoy them — hell yes I did! — but by the time each issue came out they were pretty dated. One of the hidden rules of parody: timeliness is funny. Now I can add to this another hidden rule: so is timelessness.

Eventually, Mad Magazine went the way of all flesh and right into reprints. It had grown a bit dusty and needed some new energy, and despite a massive boost from new editor Bill Morrison (of Bongo/Simpsons/Futurama fame) the powers that were running Warner Bros. that week plugged the cash flow. In terms of that wonderfully juvenile ability to shove establishment faces into their own fecal matter, Mad had been eclipsed by Beavis and Butt-head, The Simpsons, South Park, various HBO comedy specials, and the MAD TV show that was more-or-less based on Mad. Well, as George Harrison intoned, all things must pass.

So Mad’s giving up the ghost tossed a lot of very talented people out of work. That always sucks, but of course, this gaggle of gifted galoots (how many times can I say “usual gang of idiots?”) hardly overwhelmed the unemployment lines. They got their Mad on, but it’s a lot less fun to get your Mad off.

This did not bother writer Desmond Devlin and artist Tom Richmond. They have Mad flowing in their jugular veins, so they decided to crowdfund an original collection of original parodies called Claptrap, done in the original Mad movie parody style. And crowdfund they did: by the time it was all over they raised almost enough cash to bail out a former president. Thankfully, they put this windfall to better use by expanding the page count and adding more classics yet unmocked (by Mad) moving pictures.

Unfortunately but obviously, this pushed the release date back a couple years. Let’s see, Claptrap started in 2020, and the experienced comic book editor coughing inside me says “that’s a long time.” Worth it — totally. Not just because of the end result, but because of the fantastic weekly updates we received from Des and Tom. Quite frankly, I probably would have been just as happy if I were to receive new updates for the rest of my life.

Claptrap is exactly what Mad would have done if they had been slightly more adventurous. No, the guys did not go all S. Clay Wilson on us, and they were extremely respectful of those upon whose shoulders they’ve perched. Tributes to the guys who built the place such as Wally Wood and Will Elder abound, and they even imitated Wood’s sound effects lettering from my all-time favorite Mad story, “Sound Effects!” (Mad #20, February 1955).

Indeed, they revealed their respect in the very place they should: the book dedication. “To Angelo and Arnie and Frank and Harvey and Jack and Larry and Lou and Mort and Sam and Stan — It’s all their fault!”

In its 124 full color pages, Tom and Dev landed on The Shawshank Redemption, Psycho, Goodfellas, The Big Lebowski, Toy Story 4, Unforgiven, Blade Runner, The Blues Brothers, The Princess Bride, Citizen Kane, Star Wars / The Whatever of Skywalker, and Die Hard. Sadly, there was no attempt to give Triumph of the Will its due. Too soon? I think it would have been rather timely, but we’ll see this November.

By now I’m sure Des and Tom are under a lot of pressure to do a sequel, perhaps one exploring missed opportunities with classic television. This would require a close hard look at the profit/loss chart, but if they need to keep the budget down they could start with lampooning Tom Terrific.

And if you’re old enough to get that reference, I’ll bet you’ve already got your copy of Claptrap. If you haven’t, check this link for ordering info.

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