Friday, October 30, 2009

Remembrance of websites past (Part 3: The Slingshot)

In the past seven years I've looked at a lot of humor sites. I run a humor site. There are plenty that I admire, return to, chuckle at. But of all these sites, only two have made me laugh out loud virtually every time I visit. (Which means reading them at work is very hazardous.) One of these is the late, totally under-appreciated, and utterly brilliant Slingshot.

The Slingshot was a sublime parody of a turn-of-the-century British magazine 'for young chaps.' Each issue included a half-dozen splendid features on topics ranging from surreal parodies of cricket matches to 'Bodily Organ of the Month' to reader's letters - not to mention the editorials from J. Moriarty Clench, a magnificent scowling bastion of Journalism Incarnate. How can you not love a publication that takes care to educate its readers so carefully:

It is very important not the confuse the Pancreas, an Organ of the Human Body concerned with the Digestive Processes, with St. Pancras, the chief London station of the Midland Railway Company. The diagrams above clearly illustrate the distinction.

But beyond the treasure trove of dry wit that each collection of articles contained was its unique packaging: for the Slingshot! was actually laid out like a real publication, with each page one enormous image. As a result, the layout was replete with not only written but visual humor as well. This went far beyond a clever caption for something grabbed from Google Images. This was a skilled and talented graphic designer assembling a work of art whose every pixel added both to the authenticity of the design and to the luminosity of the humor behind it all. Advertorials for products ranging from bear combs to painful pants litter the pages, along with various small pieces surrounding the main articles. The author - a gentleman with distinguished academic credentials, though he remained anonymous throughout the Slingshot's! life - clearly had access to a huge pile of authentic period material, and the wit to use it well. The Onion, on its best day with a team of writers and graphic artists working on its own mock-historical layouts, never really matched what one man did here.

So what happened to the Slingshot? - Alas, the brightest fires burn for half as long. The author found himself struggling under the terrific workload that producing each issue of the magazine required. Further, as you've probably guessed, while navigation was pretty good, the site caused headaches with some browsers and was totally un-optimized for search engines. Text versions of the articles were also posted, but they were a bit of an afterthought and - truth be told - lost a bit of their luster excised from the carefully crafted visual design of the pages. This is a prime example of a website that would have worked better offline. I believe the author did try to publish it, but did not succeed, and eventually I presume he found the site too much work to maintain.

If there are any publishers out there looking to do a good deed, look up this man and give him a contract. Get The Slingshot! onto shelves, where it belongs.

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Satire pervades the web, seeping into mailboxes and mainstream news like a spilled cup of coffee. It stains and it won't go away.

The Bitter Cup is a collaborative blog for members of HumorFeed, a collaborative of satire and humor sites that has been making trouble since 2003.