Decades after The National Lampoon and SPY ruled the comedy world, a dream team of writers and artists have resurrected the classic print humor magazine as a new quarterly publication – The American Bystander
Founded by Michael Gerber, Brian McConnachie, and Alan Goldberg, The American Bystander launched in late 2015 with an enormously successful crowdfunding campaign. “Reaction was euphoric,” says Gerber. “We made our Kickstarter goal in just four days. And the moment people got issue #1, readers asked, ‘When can I buy #2?’ We were astounded. People aren’t supposed to like print anymore — but they do.”
Hence, issue #2 is now available via a Kickstarter campaign stretching from March 23 to April 21.
If Bystander reaches its $25,000 goal, it will then be available in bookstores and Amazon. As with the first Bystander, issue #2 is a large format softcover book featuring material from some of America’s funniest writers and artists, adding to the dream team assembled for issue #1.
Bystander #2 boasts Saturday Night Live’s Jack Handey and Brian McConnachie, Letterman’s Merrill Markoe and Steve Young, Slate’s Mallory Ortberg, a whole raft of New Yorker cartoonists young and old, The Simpsons’ Mike Reiss, Onion writers Todd Hanson and John Howell Harris, and a sterling lineup of comic book veterans from Howard Cruse and MK Brown to Rick Geary and Shary Flenniken.
The first issue was a 146-page, full-color softcover book filled with contributions from The Simpsons’ George Meyer, Reiss and Al Jean; Handey and McConnachie; New Yorker cartoonists Roz Chast, Jack Ziegler, Liza Donnelly; legendary illustrators Seymour Chwast, Edward Sorel, and R.O. Blechman; a crop of stellar younger talents like Ortberg, Simon Rich, and Kate Beaton; and a humorous essay by Monty Python’s Terry Jones.
Bystander was created to provide something America’s been missing for almost twenty years: smart magazine-style humor. Bystander offers classic writers and formats that used to be found in Esquire, Playboy, The Atlantic, even on The New York Times Op-Ed page, as well as humor magazines like The Realist, and National Lampoon and SPY both which went under in 1998.
The editors of Bystander think of the quarterly as the comedy equivalent of “slow food,” a format meant to be savored. From parody to satire, short stories to multi-page comics, there’s something in the magazine to suit every taste. And more importantly, Bystander showcases the kinds of stuff you don’t see on the web, or can read on your phone. Gerber stated, “Our goal is to provide an outlet — connect all these talented writers and cartoonists with the audience. But we can’t do it like a big corporate magazine; newsstands are dying, and comedy makes print advertisers nervous. So that’s why we went to Kickstarter, directly to readers.”
Behind all the comedy, there’s also a serious purpose; the demise of mainstream publishing has been especially financially tough on these writers and cartoonists, who are the first to be trimmed when budgets get cut. Editor McConnachie noted, “Here’s a novel idea: We are going to pay our contributors a fair wage, plus let them keep all the rights to their work.” But the money has to come from readers, not advertisers — currently the Bystander doesn’t accept paid ads. “Humor magazines are the Bernie Sanders of the media world,” Gerber says. “Corporations hate them. They’re grass-roots, eccentric, human-sized. If readers keep loving us, we’ll be fine. If not, we probably shouldn’t exist anyway.”