Your Usual Corner Table at Mule’s Diner

« There’s a safety in thinking in a diner. You can have your coffee or your milkshake, and you can go off into strange dark areas, and always come back to the safety of the diner. » — David Lynch

My relationship with the National Lampoon has always held a strong element of contention: in my view, for every brilliant strip or feature, there’s some deplorably juvenile shock-for-shock’s-sake fratboy dross. But the good stuff, even if it doesn’t always outweigh the bad, is still worth tracking down… and sharing!

While Stan Mack is most celebrated for his impressive comics reportage (an area explored in this previous post), I’m just as taken with his earlier endeavour, the surreal Mule’s Diner, sporadically published in the Lampoon during the magazine’s heyday (the first half of the 1970s).

In his history of the magazine, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead (2010, Abrams — now also a film!), Mack’s cartooning colleague, Rick Meyerowitz, wrote of him admiringly:

« In Mule’s Diner, surrealism was dished up with the coffee, or maybe it was the coffee. Stan invited the Lampoon’s readers to sit and have a cup and listen to a story. Dine at Mule’s and you’ll find yourself ruminating on some fantastic little morsel for days afterward. The stories, like the ink, are indelible. Read a few now and see if there is another artist who has cross-hatched his way this deep inside parts of your head you didn’t even know you had.

Stan misses nothing. It’s only after looking at the picture he drew of you that you notice you’ve been missing a button on your coat. I saw him interview a politician in a crowded convention hall. He looked the man right in the eye while he wrote down verbatim what the guy said, and drew his portrait without even once looking at the 2×3 inch pad he held in his right hand. The portrait looked like the guy, too. That’s talent! »

Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 24 (March 1972).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 27 (June 1972).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 34 (Jan. 1973).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 39 (June 1973).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 46 (Jan. 1974).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 53 (Aug. 1974).
And the most famous of the lot — the tragic saga of Murray’s fart, from National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 68 (Nov. 1975);
The handsome auteur, sans moustache, displays his best side. Photo by Sylvia Plachy.

-RG

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