|Final issue||February 2007|
In print, Cracked blatantly copied Mad's layouts and subject matter, and even featured a dumb, wide-cheeked mascot named Sylvester P. Smythe on its covers (see Alfred E. Neuman). The Smythe character was Cracked's "janitor." An article on Cracked.com, the magazine's official website, explains that the magazine was "created as a knock-off of Mad magazine just over 50 years ago," and it "spent nearly half a century with a fan base primarily comprised of people who got to the store after Mad sold out."
Cracked's publication frequency was reduced in the 1990s, and was erratic in the 2000s. In 2006, the magazine was revived with a new editorial formula that represented a significant departure from its prior Mad style. The new format was more akin to "lad" magazines like Maxim and FHM. The new formula, however, was unsuccessful and Cracked again canceled its print magazine in February 2007 after three issues. As of 2009, the brand exists solely as a Web site.
Cracked's original publisher, Robert C. Sproul's Major Publications, generally imitated other companies' successes in various genres, such as westerns, men's adventure, and the Warren Publications mid-1960s revival of horror comics.
Editor Terry Bisson later recalled, "The whole company was about lowball imitations. The publisher, Robert Sproul, wanted to put out some imitations of western, romance and astrology mags, and I was hired (at about age 27) to put them together because of my romance mag experience... The pseudomags did pretty well (this was a very low end market)." Many of the Cracked contributors would also work on these titles. A number of monster-themed issues were printed under the Cracked umbrella, capitalizing on such publications as Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. Sproul published Cracked into the 1980s.
However, even as the company chased publishing trends, its long-running flagship title was Cracked Magazine-- or CRACKED Mazagine, as its cover always read—deliberately misspelling "magazine." (In the same vein, the magazine's online presence Cracked.com originally referred to itself as a "wesbite.")
Some notable artists have appeared in Cracked's pages, in particular the indefatigable John Severin. Severin had done some work for early Mad and a great deal more for EC Comics' war books, and was one of the pre-eminent artists in western comics, but would come to be best known as Cracked's house cartoonist. For almost 40 years, he was the magazine's mainstay artist, frequently illustrating multiple articles in the same issue, and virtually all of its covers.
The magazine also regularly featured good girl artist Bill Ward, comic book stalwart Howard Nostrand, and gag cartoonists Don Orehek and Charles Rodrigues. In later years, the magazine was a useful training ground for such future independent comic book creators as Rick Altergott, Dan Clowes, and Peter Bagge.
Other name artists who contributed at least once to Cracked include such Mad veterans as Jack Davis, Will Elder, Al Jaffee, Angelo Torres, Basil Wolverton, and such future contributors as Bill Wray, and Tom Richmond. Others included Marvel Comics regulars Steve Ditko and Gene Colan. The typical Cracked contributor was less accomplished, however; Cracked was never able to attract and retain the level of talent that the better-paying, better-selling Mad could.
A typical issue of Cracked included two TV or movie parodies illustrated by Severin. The magazine also published "interview" articles featuring the recurring character Nanny Dickerson (Nancy Dickerson was then an investigative newscaster).
One of the magazine's longest-running features was "Shut-Ups," which were two-panel gags in which a character would make an observation or excuse in the first panel, and then be told to "SHUT UP" in the second, as the true situation was visually revealed. "Hudd & Dini," a gag strip about two convicts' failed schemes to escape prison, also ran frequently, as did a Western strip called "Sagebrush."
Other recurring characters included "Spies vs. Sabs", "Hang-ups", the "Talking Blob", and "the Uggly Family".
Sylvester P. Smythe was Cracked magazine's imitation of Alfred E. Neuman, the mascot of Mad Magazine. Smythe generally appeared on every cover of the magazine, and was typically portrayed as short, blond, wide-cheeked and mute. Smythe's official occupation was janitor for Cracked; thus, he typically appeared in overalls, carrying a mop or sweeper. He sometimes had a smiley button on his cap, and a polka-dotted handkerchief stuffed into a hip pocket. In 1998, it was revealed that Sylvester's middle inital stood for "Phooey" by (contest-winner) Darren Godfrey.
In 1987, Cracked made waves in the comics industry by seemingly raiding the legendary Don Martin from Mad's group of regular contributors. While Martin had already left Mad due to a business dispute, it was still a coup to obtain the services of "Mad's Maddest Artist". Martin worked for Cracked for about six years, and the magazine, in a tweak at its rival, billed him as "Cracked's Crackedest Artist". Cracked's concurrent attempt to sign Mad's premiere caricaturist, Mort Drucker, was unsuccessful, but the magazine did acquire longtime Mad contributor Lou Silverstone as editor and writer. Former Mad associate editor Jerry DeFuccio also worked at Cracked for a short period.
Though Cracked's sales always lagged far behind those of Mad, Cracked survived and thrived for over four decades through low pay rates and overhead, and by being part of large publishing groups that could bundle Cracked in with its other magazines as a package arrangement for distributors. Cracked also appeared monthly during the period when Mad was being published just 8 times a year, thus picking up readership from Mad fans that couldn't wait out the six weeks for their next "comedy fix." The magazine would sometimes include attention-grabbing giveaways inside its pages, such as iron-ons, stickers or postcards.
In the 1990s, Cracked also benefited from the collapse of the National Lampoon, picking up Andy Simmons as an editor, as well as such former Lampoon contributors as Ron Barrett, Randy Jones and Ed Subitzky.
At its height, Cracked's circulation might have been a third of Mad's, with the overall total generally rising or falling along with the bigger magazine's fortunes. But at its nadir in the 2000s, this sales figure plunged to around 25,000-35,000 per bi-monthly issue, or about one-eighth of Mad's monthly circulation, which had also plummeted from its mid-1970s peak of over 2 million per issue.
In late 1999, Cracked's then-parent company, Globe Communications (publisher of the national tabloid The Globe), was sold to American Media Inc., the company that publishes the tabloids The National Enquirer and the Weekly World News. American Media's primary interest in the deal was in acquiring its rival, The Globe, but Cracked came along as part of the transaction. Writer/Editor Barry Dutter said, "One thing you have to realize is that AMI never wanted Cracked; it was just part of a package they bought from Globe Communications."
American Media moved Globe Communication's New York City operations to Florida, where American Media was headquartered. As a result, Cracked's offices moved to Florida as well. Most of the magazine's long-term editors and writers did not move to Florida, leading to a large turnover in Cracked's staff. Published reports indicate that American Media never had an interest in supporting the magazine, which was only selling in the high five figures, compared with AMI's multi-million-selling line of tabloids. Cracked's distribution under American Media grew increasingly sporadic.
In 2000, American Media sold Cracked to one of its former Weekly World News employees, Dick Kulpa, who became both Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Cracked. Under Kulpa, Cracked suffered from a lack of financing. Combined with Cracked's weakened distribution, circulation continued to drop precipitously, and Kulpa was forced to turn the magazine into a bi-monthly. Dark Horse Star Wars comic editor Peet Janes briefly joined the staff, but financial difficulties at the magazine ended his tenure very quickly. Later, after being offered a substantial pay cut, signature artist John Severin parted company with the magazine.
In an oddity, Cracked was near the center of the 2001 anthrax scare. An anonymous letter containing anthrax powder was sent to American Media Inc. in September 2001, killing one employee. Cracked's offices were still in the same building, and thus the magazine was among the publications that had to be evacuated. As a consequence, the company's archives, containing the magazine's original photographic prints of issues from 1958–2000, had to be destroyed due to contamination. The attack caused Kulpa to put out only four issues that year.
In 2004, new editors Scott Gosar and Marten Jallad (under the direction of now-Executive Editor Kulpa) attempted one last resuscitation of the original title. In an effort to generate publicity, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen was named as the magazine's new "publisher," but this failed to spark interest. The 365th and final issue featured an "Election Year" cover by science fiction artist Frank Kelly Freas, who'd provided many of MAD Magazine's covers from 1958-62.
In early 2005, Kulpa sold Cracked to a group of Arab, Asian, and American investors who announced plans to revive Cracked with a new editorial focus and redesign. Its first steps included naming entrepreneur Monty Sarhan as both CEO and publisher. Sarhan also announced ambitious plans to expand the Cracked brand into other media.
A flurry of new staff announcements followed, including former Marvel Comics promotions chief Sven Larsen as associate publisher, and Justin Droms and former Marvel editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco as editors. Hollywood producer Thom Mount joined the company's board of directors, and Zena Tsarfin, former managing editor of the hip-hop magazine XXL, was named to that position at Cracked. Named as contributing editors were comics Darren Kane and Jesse Falcon, former Spy staffer Jonathan Yevin, and former Cracked Editor-in-Chief Mort Todd. Michael Hobson, the former publisher of Marvel Comics and Scholastic Books, was named a senior advisor, and Neal Pollack was named an "Editor-at-Large." In 2005, Geoff Wolinetz, Nick Jezarian and Josh Abraham, co-founders of a "literary whimsicality" site, YankeePotRoast.org, were named as contributing editors, and Jack O'Brien and former National Lampoon managing editor Jay Pinkerton joined as full-time editors. In 2006, actor/comedian Michael Ian Black was also named as another "Editor-at-Large."
Several months after rejoining Cracked, Todd parted company with the revamped magazine, complaining to the Comics Journal about low pay rates and work-for-hire issues of copyright. Todd complained, "With each visit to the offices I got more dispirited as I saw the direction the magazine was taking. As has been well publicized, Cracked was, instead of ripping off MAD, going to rip off Maxim... A lot of 'revolutionary' humor ideas they've come up with are ones that have been overplayed for decades and ones I rejected for good reason 20 years ago [as Cracked's editor]".
Sarhan wrote in part: "My impression of Mort was that he was stuck in a time warp, wanted to relive his personal 'glory days' when he edited CRACKED and didn’t get what we were trying to do.... A Contributing Editor is a freelancer with whom we have a relationship with. That is all that the title means here at CRACKED. He's a person who is a regular contributor to the magazine, but he is not on staff.... Mort decided to quit as a Contributing Editor because, he said, he had a few TV projects in development. My personal opinion is that he was stuck in the CRACKED of the past and that he didn't like being a freelancer, answering to editors far younger than him here at CRACKED and having his ideas regularly rejected. If your work isn't going to get published, it makes no sense to stay.... Anyone who has spent five minutes on this website knows that we are not a MAXIM clone. It's a ridiculous assertion. We focus on comedy and humor, not women in bikinis. Yes, it's true that we look to MAXIM as a guide for some things. After all, since it's [sic] launch over eight years ago, it has gone on to become one of the most successful magazine titles ever. Who wouldn't want to emulate that success?"
The company spent most of 2005 accumulating contributors for its planned relaunch. In October 2005, the company introduced Cracked.com, a website featuring humor articles, videos, comics and blogs. Although the redesigned print magazine had originally been slated to debut in January 2006, this did not occur and the print version's launch was pushed back by several months.
On August 15, 2006, the revamped Cracked Magazine finally appeared. The first issue was a significant departure from Cracked's previous incarnation, notably in its sharp reduction of comics and illustrated content. The new format was more text-heavy, and was overtly indebted to modern "lad mags" like Maxim, Stuff and FHM, although the media website Gawker.com wrote, "Very little remains of the old Cracked – a Mad ripoff that had tread water in various incarnations for almost half a century. Much was made of the new direction now ripping off Maxim instead, but aside from a "look and feel" resemblance in terms of layout, the much more obvious (attempted) homage runs to Spy."
The Washington Post 's Peter Carlson harshly reviewed the debut, listing some of the issue's contents and then adding, "Are you chuckling yet? Me neither."  Later, Carlson quoted Cracked's Michael J. Nelson, who'd contributed a short guide to the worst comedy movies ever. Wrote Nelson in his article, "Bad comedies are worse than anything else in the whole of human history." Added Carlson, "Reading Cracked, you understand exactly what he means." 
The new Cracked had hoped to position itself as a publication that covers the world of comedy, as well as providing its own comedic content. The debut cover featured a Photoshop-manipulated image of actor Tom Cruise as the title character from the hit comedy film The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
However, after just three poor-selling issues, the failing magazine was canceled in February 2007. Citing distribution problems for its demise, editor Jay Pinkerton claimed that the remaining staff would be focusing its energies toward the Cracked website, as well as unspecified book projects. The company's website, Cracked.com, continues.
The Cracked.com site has been edited by Jack O'Brien since its debut in 2006. David Wong was added as an associate editor the following year; his Pointless Waste Of Time site and its forums were absorbed into Cracked.com. The Cracked site is best known for its humorous lists and compilations, for example, "The 9 Most Obnoxious Memes to Ever Escape the Web" or "The 6 Most Insane Game Shows From Around the World." The Cracked site also includes a blog, videos, forums, a writer's workshop, a weekly Photoshop contest, and a daily "Craptions" contest where users caption odd photographs. The site includes columns by Sean "Seanbaby" Reiley, Daniel O'Brien, Robert Brockway, Cody Johnston, Chris Bucholz, host and writer of the web series "Hate By Numbers" Wayne Gladstone, and head writer and performer of the sketch comedy group "Those Aren't Muskets!" Michael Swaim. Cracked.com is frequently included on eBizMBA's calculated list of the Internet's "20 Most Popular Funny Sites."
Cracked may refer to:
| This disambiguation page lists articles associated with the same title.
If an internal link led you here, you may wish to change the link to point directly to the intended article.