In Comeback, Cracked Vows Crass Comedy

The Associated Press
Monday, August 14, 2006; 5:59 PM

NEW YORK -- The story of how the crass comics magazine Cracked was brought back to life begins, of all places, at a white-shoe law firm in New York.

A pudgy young lawyer named Monty Sarhan had been giving life to the dreams of Internet entrepreneurs by helping them with finance deals when he caught the entrepreneurial bug himself. He decided to leave the legal profession and "go for the brass ring" by acquiring a media company.

He found that brass ring in the form of Cracked, the juvenile comics rag known for its bathroom humor that had always played second fiddle to Mad Magazine as the top time waster in the nation's study halls. Even he wasn't convinced it was a good idea at first when a friend suggested he consider buying Cracked.

"I said 'not interested. It's comics. It's for little kids,'" Sarhan recalls. But the seed had been planted and "for the first time I stopped thinking about Cracked for what it was and started thinking about Cracked for what it could be and what the potential was."

That potential will be revealed when the new Cracked hits newsstands on Tuesday after a two-year hiatus. It had a press run of 100,000 and has a cover price of $3.99. True to its heritage as a lampooner of pop culture, its debut cover features a doctored photo of Tom Cruise's head pasted onto the body of Steve Carell and asks if he is "The 44-Year-Old Virgin?"

But the glossy new version bears little resemblance to the Cracked of old, which relied on hand-drawn cartoons and comic strips. Rather, it resembles the modern breed of "lad mags" like Maxim, Stuff and FHM. It even spoofs the similarity with a gratuitous full-page photo of a scantily clad woman and the caption: "Here is a picture of a skinny blonde model with big breasts."

"It's not so much that I modeled the style after Maxim, it's that I modeled the style for today's tastes," says Sarhan, pointing toward the magazine's short-form writing and busy graphical layout. It's targeted at the 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, a bit older than its original audience but about right to attract the now full-grown juvenile delinquents who enjoyed the magazine in its glory days.

Sarhan, who is 33, has gathered a stable of contributors that includes writers for "Saturday Night Live" and Comedy Central's "Chappelle's Show," as well as the satirical author Neal Pollack and the actor Michael Ian Black, co-star of the former NBC comedy "Ed" and snarky commentator on VH1's "I Love The..." series.

Sarhan won't say how much his group of investors paid to acquire the struggling Cracked in 2004 from former Weekly World News editor Dick Kulpa, who had bought it from tabloid publisher American Media Inc. in 2000.

After taking over, Sarhan killed its last issue before it was published, "cleaned house" on its masthead and set about re-imagining the comedy magazine, or Comedy Mazagine, as it has kept the traditional misspelling on the cover.

Industry experts say Sarhan has his work cut out for him, given the many already established lad mags and the limitless distractions that the Internet, video games and cable television offer to its target audience.

"They are entering at the end of the cycle of the laddie magazine market and it's going to be very tough to break into that market nowadays," said Samir A. Husni, author of Samir Husni's Guide to New Consumer Magazines and a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi. "Yeah, they may have a great archive, but it doesn't really mean much in terms of a brand in the marketplace."

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