United States: The New York Humour Magazine Wave of 1931-1932




In its May, 1932 issue, the American News Trade Journal published the advertisement reproduced above, promoting a magazine called Ballyhoo.  The image shows a beleaguered newsstand operator surrounded by magazines with made-up titles:  Gooey, Fooey, Slappo and Nertsie.  The text describes how, following the success of one magazine, Ballyhoo, all these other titles quickly emerged as competition.  They crowded the newsstand and caused the collective sales of all the magazines to plummet.   Only when he threw away the Gooeys, Fooeys, Slappos and Nertsies, and concentrated  solely on selling Ballyhoo, could the news dealer expect business to boom once again.

Less than a year before this advertisement appeared, the Dell publishing house had launched a new title, Ballyhoo, into a very uncertain magazine market.   Ballyhoo was a humor magazine — its main content genre was the cartoon.  What made Ballyhoo distinctive was the amount of content devoted to mocking the advertisements, contests, and general hype and exaggeration of the media culture around it.

The first issue of Ballyhoo, published in August of 1931, was a sell-out.  The Dell company was surprised by its success — by February of 1932, the print run of Ballyhoo was close to 2 million copies.  And so the company invested more resources in the title and expanded its print run.  Anticipating imitators, Dell rushed out another magazine of similar format and purpose, with the name Hullabaloo.    Between them, Ballyhoo and Hullabaloo established the template for the magazines which would follow, from other publishers:  this involved titles which borrowed, from the worlds of carnivals, sideshows and advertising, terms designating excessive hype and hyperbole.  These titles underscored the extent to which these magazines were engaged in mocking present-day fads, personalities, and media content.

Between the fall of 1931 and the spring of 1932, other publishers rushed out their own entries into this field.   In November, 1931, the first issue of Boloney was published. Although it was unlike the others, with its text-heavy cover, and in the ways in which it strained for a more literary respectability, its title located it amidst the other magazines whose titles came from the lexicon of hype and fraudulent promotion. Almost all of the other magazines that were part of this wave employed the same principle of cover design:  a cartoon surrounded by abstract graphic forms conveying a sense of energy or clutter or expansion.  In December, 1931, the publisher Harry Hershey launched Tickle-Me-Too,  and the Fawcett company began publishing Hooey.  In early 1932, David Gordon started two new magazines as part of this wave,  Hokum  and JestJest, like many other satirical magazines of the time, found some of its humour in caricatural (and racist) drawings of Mahatma Ghandi, newly famous for his 400 km march against British rule in  1932.  Other magazines launched in early 1932 included Aw Nerts  (whose title was a variation on the slangy expression “Aw Nuts”), Bunk,  Kookoo and  Slapstick.  Publishing industry trade journals announced the imminent launch of two other magazines, Bushwa and Lousy.

Most of these magazines would be dead within a year or two, though the two Dell titles and, in particular, Ballyhoo, would linger or be revived over the next three or four decades.


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