Remembering the zine, Army Man

My wife and I discovered the first issue of Army Man at Ead's News in Boulder, Colorado in the late 1980s. It was one of the funniest magazines I've ever read. I didn't know that it was published by George Meyer, a writer for The Simpsons.

Here's an excerpt from a New Yorker profile on Meyer:

200711121318On the side, Meyer published a small, offbeat humor magazine called Army Man, whose subtitle was 'America's Only Magazine." Meyer created Army Man partly to avoid working on the Letterman script, but in some ways it proved to be the most fulfilling creative project he had ever undertaken. Army Man was at the opposite end of the entertainment spectrum from a network television show. The first issue (there would eventually be three) contained eight typed pages and was written almost entirely by him. He laid it out on his bed and printed just two hundred copies, which he gave away to friends.

Despite its modest appearance, Army Man attracted a surprisingly broad and loyal following. It made Rolling Stone's Hot List in 1989, and for years it circulated in samizdat on college campuses. "The only rule was that the stuff had to be funny and pretty short," Meyer told me. "To me, the quintessential Army Man joke was one of John Swartzwelder's: 'They can kill the Kennedys. Why can't they make a cup of coffee that tastes good?' It's a horrifying idea juxtaposed with something really banal — and yet there's a kind of logic to it. It's illuminating because it's kind of how Americans see things: Life's a big jumble, but somehow it leads to something I can consume. I love that." (Meyer is the only person I know who can deconstruct a joke without killing it.)

Army Man eventually became a victim of its own success. Meyer was overwhelmed with submissions, and he hated having to reject contributions from friends. He was also approached by would-be investors, who wanted to take Army Man national or turn it into a television show. He eventually realized that what to him were the magazine's best features — its small size and its simplicity — were probably doomed.

He also suddenly found himself with much less time on his hands. One of Army Man's biggest fans turned out to be Sam Simon, who is one of the three original executive producers of "The Simpsons." That program was just getting under way when the first issue came out, and Simon, who needed to build a writing staff in a hurry, was captivated. He tracked down Meyer and hired him and several of his contributors, including Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti. "Sam got quite a bit of his staff from the list of credits in Army Man," one of the show's former producers told me. "In a sense, that little magazine was the father of the show."

Maud Newton has some excerpts from Army Man:

You can make fun all you want, but when a zebra talks, people listen.


"The Nobel Prize! Gee, thanks, fellas!"

"Aw, you're throwing up like a girl."

"He's got coffee lodged in his mouth! Quick, tell him a joke!"


My wife and I rent a small cottage on the shimmering shores of Lake Superior every summer. The rustic little bungalow is made of rough-hewn logs chinked with mud, and the front door opens onto an unequaled vista of towering evergreens and azure water -– just the thing to settle the nerves of an addled contestant in the "rat race."

Last summer my wife and I were merrily preparing a hearty supper of fresh-caught trout and corn on the cob, when who should wander up but a little old man with a bulging knapsack strapped to his ancient back. He looked like a crusty forest tracker from the days of Lewis and Clark. Hailing us from a distance, he approached our modest lakeside cabin and extended his weathered hand in greeting. Bending forward under the weight of his burden, he whispered something in my ear.

It was an amusing anecdote!

Discouraging news from researchers at Johns Hopkins: Hope causes cancer.


(Via Why, That's Delightful!)