Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Funny Strange

Oh dear. Canada's best-known (and probably only) national-level satire magazine has closed down publication. ...in December 2004! The fact that it's taken four whole months for the news to filter down to me across the pond is pretty funny to begin with; in fact, it's probably a lot funnier than most of the content of good ol' Frank Magazine itself.

Like Viz in the UK, Frank's glory days were in the 1980s, when the yuppie takeover meant that there were enough people who actually cared to read scathing parodies of, erm, Bay Street traders. And journos, politickers, celebs, sports figures and all the rest you'd expect to fuel any half-decent satire rag. Except, well, it just wasn't that funny.

The CBC chronicled the demise of Frank in an article you can read here, in which it says that in the year prior to its closure, the magazine had a circulation of 8,500 compared with "roughly 16,000 during the 1980s." For a country with a population of around 30 million, that's actually quite a lot, considering that several of Britain's well-established lefty mags I could name survive on a circulation of less than 5,000, in a country with nearly twice Canada's population.

But getting back to my main point, Frank never really did it for me. It carried virtually no weight in Quebec, where I grew up, and even for English Canada, I often wondered who actually read the thing. Just look at the picture of the cover page in the linked CBC article above. Not exactly Private Eye, is it? Yet weirdly enough, whoever was in charge of editorial at Frank showed definite signs of envying its British cousin. Its bi-weekly publication rate was one clue, which gradually became less and less justifiable as the years progressed. But more baffling was the editorial's use of British slang words peppered throughout the magazine. Not that the average Canadian couldn't have figured out what "arse" or "wanker" meant (no comment from the peanut gallery), but why use them at all when the mag's target audience simply doesn't speak like that? It wasn't even being pretentious, it was just misguided and out of touch. And speaking of which, it turns out that when the magazine fell into new hands just over a year ago, the new publisher had (brace yourselves) "promised to relaunch Frank with a focus on Bay Street gossip." Hello?!?!! Way to lose an audience (FYI for non-Canadian readers, i.e. all of you, Bay Street is the Toronto equivalent of Wall Street or The City).

Now that Frank's dead and buried (although apparently founding editor Michael Bate might bring it back as a website, oooooh, watch out world!), I'm hopeful that it won't be too long before another, fresher contender can rise up to take its place. Or indeed several. After all, it's not that Canadians don't get irony, or don't have a sense of humour. This is the country that produced the Kids in the Hall and Vice Magazine, for crying out loud, and equally brilliant TV comedy programmes like Trailer Park Boys that have yet to reach an international audience. We can do political satire well enough on television, thanks to This Hour Has 22 Minutes and the slightly faded but still much loved Royal Canadian Air Farce. So it's more than a bit embarrassing that our best-known print equivalent to date has been more funny strange than funny ha ha.


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