Dick Kulpa tell-all Cracked book
Dick Kulpa has written a tell-all book detailing his entire four-year history with CRACKED — as Editor and Publisher.

Palm Beach Post Dick Kulpa article
A week after this article appeared in the Palm Beach (Florida) POST Dec. 29, 2000, something went horribly wrong.


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South Florida Fun Times golden seal of recommendationFormer Publisher Talks About 'His' CRACKED Magazine


For those familiar with MAD Magazine, CRACKED was MAD'S longest-lasting competitor dating back to 1958. South Florida cartoonist and editor Dick Kulpa acquired the iconic humor CRACKED Magazine in November of 2000, having served as its editor-in-chief for ten months. The FUN TIMES is pleased to have landed this significant interview.

(Part 1 of a 3-part interview)

FT: Everyone knows about your controversial tenure running CRACKED Magazine. What was your first CRACKED challenge?
DK: Saving the magazine's name. According to my "overseer" at the company owning it at the time, some officials weren't comfortable with a name like "CRACKED." To placate him, I had to diminsh the logo on the cover (in our initial editions.)
That name, as classic a name in comics as "MAD," existed since 1958. To me, anyone questioning CRACKED as a title had to be either Sick, Crazy or Nuts.
"Phooey," I said.
(A former editor did tell me that CRACKED enjoyed great sales during the crack epidemic, so ironically, the complainants weren't inaccurate.)


EXCLUSIVE: VICE Magazine Interviews Dick Kulpa


FT: What was your chief goal with CRACKED Magazine?
DK: To raise circulation sales to 100,000 copies.
When I was installed as CRACKED's editor my edict was to "turn things around" and I was given a year to do it. My solution? To get comics back into the mainstream arena, widening sales territory. I had already proven "regular kids" could still enjoy comic books through my 1985 Gangbuster comic.
(I'd prove that again in 2007.)
Back in the 50s-60s most kids bought and read comics. They'd throw 'em on the floor, trade them, and so forth. As comics aimed for and became dominated by the much smaller "fan boy collectors culture", I sought to reverse that trend. At 40,000-60,000 monthly sales, CRACKED was small potatoes to me.I was more accustomed to Weekly World News sales (in the millions) where I worked as senior editor, art director and page one designer for 12 years.

FT: Were YOU a "fan boy" as a kid?
DK: No. I enjoyed MAD Magazine and Marvel's 1960s comics, but not "comic books" in general. I occasionally read a non-Marvel title, but by age 16 I got my first car (The Double Eagle) and at age 21 I discovered girls (I wasn't let out much). I fell away from comic books as a reader, though for some strange reason I still wanted to draw them.

FT: How would you have "turned things around?"
DK: I've always said "See that guy mowing his lawn, or those kids riding bicycles? I want to reach them." Because of its availability in mainstream store and supermarket racks, (not JUST in limited comic shops), CRACKED had the potential to reinvigorate mainstream interest in the comics medium.
To achieve that, we had to become as "reader friendly" as possible.
I sought less clutter in art, funnier stuff and most importantly, a sense of "purpose."
Such an education was force-fed me in my early Weekly World News days by some of the finest — toughest — and most capable editorial people on this planet. After all, these folks sold billions of hard copy editions, and I came to understand the reasons why, though it took me five hard years to do so. Unfortunately, it was not so easy forcing folks to learn/implement all this, and I found myself debating more than I cared to -- or ever should have. For one thing some staffers had difficulty discerning the difference between humor and satire.
(I killed a completed page featuring a Bugs Bunny joke, funny as it was, because it usurped the character and did not satirize it. That's called "IP theft.")

The Internet was to play a key role, since I ran the tabloid web site for two years and learned a few tricks. Upon my assumption of CRACKED as its editor, I immediately completed its unfinished web site and, via the capable hands of webmaster Mark Van Woert, implemented message boards. This put us in direct contact with the real bosses, our all-important readers.
Those boards filled up fast, so much so that I was accused of bankrolling board posters by a former CRACKED old guard member using a pseudonym (which I had pinged.) WRONG-O, Bucko, and for the first time in years(?) CRACKED published "real" letters from fans on its letters page, since we got plenty. Boy could I smell success!

It would take a bit longer to establish "purpose," as I was given a whopping 9 days to assemble and complete our first edition (#344.) Cobbled together from stuff pre-ordered by the old staff, as well as existing works solicited through an Internet caricature listserve, that edition exists as probably our most humorous, if not the least organized.
As time progressed we dabbled in juvenile "fart&poop" humor and some sexual innuendo. It should be noted, long time CRACKED artist John Severin turned down such a script -- to his credit.
I was never comfortable with sex jokes (and the legacy they'd leave) so I aimed CRACKED toward public schools by making it "safe" for kids to bring to class. Teachers weren't confiscating comics like they did in my day, and during one high school visit I gave out so many CRACKED Magazines it seemed as if every kid walking the hall was carrying one to look "cool." This provided great exposure in the MAINSTREAM arena, AND, I viewed schools as a future distribution venue. Real progress was achieved with state school officials in Florida, but that ball was dropped by Illinois associates in 2004.

At one point I considered distributing CRACKED via fleets of ice cream trucks, and I now know how to publish and distrinute an instant million circulation publication. I took that beyond theory and into practice in 2008 with a limited 10,000-press run newspaper. It worked. (My very first "real" job was circulation manager for a thrice weekly paper in 1971.)

FT: You don't mention many names.
DK: Nope. Only those who supported my efforts through thick and thin. The trouble with being "boss" is just that. WE tend to have a solid view of the overall picture and can't (or choose not to) make everyone privvy to everything. I took lots of heat after I rented an office, for instance, since I was also contractually tied to a two-day-per week creative consultancy off premises. What I in effect did was secure a "virtual secretary" for $950 a month, so CRACKED phones were covered when I was not at the office. You can't hire a real one that cheaply.

As our "New CRACKED" took off in early 2000, the honeymoon came to an abrupt end when a staffer failed to sub a price onto a cover after three communications in two days. Three weeks later, the printed editions arrived sans cover price...I guess that's one way to create a "priceless" issue.
But it cost one solid comics pro his job, ten grand to fix...and perhaps, a bit more than that.

ON THE OTHER HAND...how would you feel as a new employee if, after accepting a job, settling into it and working your a** off, your new boss tells you to pull the plug and go home after five months? Guess who becomes the target of your wrath?
Fact was, I am an efficiency nut and never saw the need for a large staff. Fed by a stable of talented freelancers across the country, CRACKED was easily handled by two people, helping to keep us off accountants' radars.
I was *ordered* to build our big (six-person) staff, against my better judgement.

FT: Did MAD Magazine's success have any influence on you?
DK: Those folks set the standard for satire mags, and I'd always respected MAD for disciplined consistency and solid offerings still evident in my MAD subscription. Concurrently, my own "bastion of experience," Weekly World News, actually outperformed Alfred E, so I had a head start.

A key aspect in any magazine's success is consistency. Format, quality and editorial slant all figure in. BUT...the world turns, old readers move on and new readers emerge. That's one reason I implemented tabloid-style headlines on each cover — to make that cover "work" for us on racks 24-7.
Whereas MAD organized into "departments," I sought to establish proprietary characters. However, I chose to maintain CRACKED's aim for 12-15-year-old readers, a slightly younger crowd than MAD'S audience. That was MY golden age of comic book reading.

In a goodwill gesture, I sent New York's MAD office a box of Weekly World News T-shirts. A healthy MAD meant a healthier humor magazine industry, and CRACKED very much needed that. Those T-shirts helped shivering New York MAD staffers stay warm and healthy in winter, by God.

FT: If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently?
DK: With 20-20 hindsight, I'd now say "no way" (or something a tad stronger) to the position.

Five vintage CRACKED Magazinbes for $9.95

MAD Magazine's stingiest competitor was CRACKED Magazine, dating back to 1958! Now Dick Kulpa is offering autographed copies of one of CRACKED's most collectible editions for sale — to help save his sight! Read More...!

My past record was solid — one business I founded in 1973 is still in operation today. AND I worked in virtually all facets of publications, from distribution to production to editorial, since 1969.
When presented with such an opportunity, first to head CRACKED and ultimately, to acquire it outright, what if I had chosen not to take that risk? For the rest of my life I'd be asking myself "what if?"...and clucking like a chicken. That would have driven me Crazy (and we all know what happened to that mag.)

FT: Why have so many humor magazines failed?
DK: Lots of reasons. There is a difference between real humor and silliness. I found many of those magazines unfunny. I enjoyed Marvel Comics' Not Brand Echh for awhile, but like the 60s Batman TV show, it got old. Humor is an art unto itself. "Silliness" and "sarcasm" are not funny.

FT: Last question...with everything you'd implemented, "What went wrong?"
DK: I knew something wasn't "right" for years, but could not put a finger on it. Some staffers claimed it was all in my head, and things got a bit contentious. FINALLY, the proverbial "smoking gun" emerged in August 2004. During one particularly heated phone exchange, my distributor's account exec in charge of CRACKED blurted out "I don't GET it...you have 62,000-plus rack authorizations but you're only in 15,500. WHY???"
My answer (and I was quite astonished)..."YOU are my distributor...YOU tell ME!"
He was transferred off CRACKED that day, with no explanation given.
How did that translate? Based on CRACKED's average sell-through history, projected income fell way below established publication expenses — not to mention the mortgage payment — due to that mystery rack disappearance — occuring out of the gate.

Summing things up: In January 2001, opportunity suddenly became adversity. Spending was all but curtailed...there went the promotions budget — and just about everything else. My "bride" had morphed into an eel...imagine waking up to that. A legal battle loomed.
To any normal publisher, this was guaranteed bankruptcy.
But I was not, and never shall be, normal. In spite of all the torpedoes, a very major national icon remained under the control of "us little guys."

My battle cry at the time..."Come and get me, folks."
Dick Kulpa and his 1960 Chevy The Double Eagle during his CRACKED days
CORPORATE WARRIOR: Former(?) CRACKED publisher Dick Kulpa stands by his classic car the Double Eagle in this 2001 photo
.

End Part 1

Next: Four Lonnnng Years

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