Dick Kulpa published CRACKED Magazine, longtime competitor to MAD Magazine since 1958, back in 2000-2004. He’d get a unique window into the world as to how “Big Business” REALLY operates back then.
For an astounding four years — from 2000-2004 — CRACKED publisher Dick Kulpa left no stone unturned in his effort to save the classic CRACKED Magazine! He soon found his way into comic conventions, bastions of pop-culture icons, movie/TV stars, comic books and just about everything relating to entertainment!
Within 12 months (2003-04) he, along with daughter Michele and then-fiancee Hara (and her little dog too) drove more than 29,000 miles — equaling the circumference of the globe — targeting comic book pop-culture conventions around the country. This would become CRACKED’s finest hour, and if CRACKED loved the comic cons, comic con fans also loved CRACKED!
As per CRACKED marketing strategy, it was never Dick’s intention to solely target “converted” comic fans — his goal was to bring comic book entertainment back into the mainstream conscience, “like the good old days” of the Golden and Silver Ages. Back then nearly every kid aged eight and older had shelves full of ’em, and Dick viewed that abandoned territory as fertile ground. However…as comic cons grew in popularity — attracting main-streamers to expanding forays into overall pop culture — Dick took the plunge.
He used this incredible opportunity to meet with fans, experiment with sales, connect with comics industry professionals and elevate the CRACKED name, with marked success.
Sitting at a table grew old quickly, so Dick boosted his efforts by producing spoof sketches and caricatures, generating activity at his CRACKED booth to such a point that Batman’s Julie “Catwoman” Newmar dropped by the CRACKED booth to “see what all the fuss was about.” At that convention, frantic fans lined up for Dick’s “Batty-Man” spoof sketches, then took ’em around the corner for Adam “Batman” West — also a convention guest — to autograph.
Dick found it incredible that classic stars he worshiped during TV’s greatest days were so easily accessible at these pop-culture extravaganzas, and jumped on every photo op he could get! At one event he even got a kiss from Superman 2 villainess Sarah Douglas, and at a Tampa, FL comics convention (Tim Gordon’s “Giant” show), Superman’s original “Lois Lane,” Noel Neill, presented Kulpa with an autographed copy of her biography.
Dick found himself assisting Falcon Crest’s Lorenzo “Lance” Lamas, helping hawk the actor’s $20 photos in New Jersey, and TV’s “Incredible Hulk” Lou Ferrigno obliged the CRACKED publisher by ripping a CRACKED Magazine in half at Shelton Drum’s Charlotte, NC HeroesCon. “When THAT guy walked by my table,” Kulpa said, “the cement floor shook.”
Dick gained some insider tips from Mad Magazine great Al Feldstein at another comic convention, and Kulpa himself offered lots of advice to aspiring comics publishers and artists during his entire convention run. One guy just “made it” in Hollywood (CA), and recently thanked Dick in a letter.
Does anyone recall the original Star Wars movie scene where Darth Vader “Force chokes” an Imperial Officer? Dick shared a smoke break with actor Richard LeParmentier, who played that officer. That wasn’t Dick’s only Star Wars run-in, however — members of the famed “501st Legion“, a national club featuring thousands of fans decked out as Star Wars storm troopers, welcomed Dick to a comics show held in Pompano Beach, Florida. This was part of a series of popular comics expos put on by good friend Charles.
Kulpa says he owes a huge debt of gratitude to Charles, who helped shoehorn CRACKED into major conventions across the country. At MegaCon, Dick was handed a surprise award: “Best Convention Sketch Artist of 2004!” It seems ol’ Charles got Kulpa’s name on an ongoing online ballot, and fans supported it in droves, putting Dick ahead of such greats like George Perez, a past winner. This was the first-ever election Dick was in that he DIDN’T know of — with no ballot-stuffing here — at least by Kulpa!
Sadly, the never-ending pressure from CRACKED and “bizarre circumstances” fueling it did a real number on Dick’s artwork, taking literally years to recover. Luckily, Kulpa’s comics convention successes led to his most successful venture (recovery?) yet, i.e. South Florida Caricature Artist Captain Cartoon, popular caricaturist now appearing at parties, restaurants and special events throughout South Florida, and doing this legally blind!
As the chips fell, even that 29,000-mile “scar trek” would not save Kulpa’s CRACKED — and could not, as it turned out. In 2004 Dick learned 46,000 of his 62,000 racks had “vanished” — dating all the way back to March 2001 when the draw was surprisingly cut by a whopping 40%! There was no way a mortgage-heavy CRACKED could succeed with those numbers, and frankly, no way Dick would have taken on CRACKED with a mere 15,000-plus racks with sell-through percentages averaging as they were. That meant instant bankruptcy.
Dick’s CRACKED was already crippled back in 2001 when distribution abruptly ended prior to his second issue (#353). “Lacking hard core publishing experience back then, I was astute enough to know magazines generate much more revenue in store racks than they do rotting on shipping docks,” Kulpa quipped. That mind-boggling 2004 rack-loss revelation confirmed Dick’s long-held suspicions that something was “definitely wrong” in the mix — and always was, dating back to his very beginning.
“For all the duress, nightmares, survival actions — and especially my mistakes — and I made my share as a direct result of all this,” Kulpa admits…”NONE of this would have occurred had CRACKED distribution not been suddenly canceled — with all distribution records wiped clean from the seller’s computers — in January, 2001.
“WTF? — I never learned THIS in my marketing class!”
“In the second Austin Powers flick, Powers went to bed with a beautiful new wife and awoke to a bullet-spitting fem-bot, very similar to what happened to me,” Kulpa said. “The entire equation suddenly inverted. Not in Oz anymore, I suddenly found myself in Hell!
“For instance, CRACKED’s freelance editorial debt piled up to a high of some $27,000,” Kulpa said. “TWO significant events occurred — no mea culpa here, as I was not in attendance at these “meetings” — which gutted nearly $40,000 in expected operating funds — by my SECOND edition! (Yeah, I have transcripts — and names — from two separate meetings.) Trouble was, I had JUST entered into major outside contractual obligations, and there was no way out for me…just forward. It was ‘damn the torpedoes…’ for the next four years. FOUR YEARS! In essence, I literally ‘Occupied CRACKED.’
How did he cope? “Like a cartoon character, I’d been run off a cliff and didn’t know enough to fall. I also utilized sage advice learned during my youngest of days…’duck and cover.’ But not always. I nailed down a national TV show and established connections with a state’s school education system as a potential distribution venue, and brought all that — along with CRACKED Magazine — to Rockford, Illinois. THAT proved to be a HUGE mistake, and within six months I fled that place with everything I could stick into a little Ford Escort.”
“Unfortunately, CRACKED isn’t over yet,” Kulpa laments. “2005 sale terms became impossible to fulfill after a “legal conundrum” wrought by the buyer — supposedly working in alliance with me — brought everything to a halt. I lost one eye and half the other in 2008, with a huge chunk of money still owed me. Ergo, I’m forced to bring everything from the very beginning back up, as it’s all relevant to today. Don’t blame ME!
“Technically, I still own CRACKED.”
“This Book goes way beyond just ‘me’. From a relative’s suicide attempt to Bat Boy — from JFK Jr. to the 2001 anthrax attack, from Cheap Trick’s Rick (I still owe him money) Nielson to President Obama — all these elements are intricately woven into what’s come to be known as the great ‘CRACKED Debacle.’
“Oddly enough, one entity that was consistently “nice” to me all that time? Mad Magazine. At one point its own distributor arm through Time-Warner actually rescued CRACKED.”
Full of facts, anecdotes, eyebrow-raising parallels and coincidences which would gladden the heart of any conspiracy junkie, it’s a story that MUST be told, says Dick. “I cannot read minds, so there is NO conjecture. There’s just way too much business chicanery going on now — what happened to me is now happening to us all,” he says. “I am currently gauging interest in this Book, about one of America’s most nostalgic, classic publications ever, and based on descriptions, some now say ‘The Book’ should be made into a movie, given all it entails. THAT, I believe, is inevitable.”
“Back when I battled an allegedly wayward police chief during my ‘very first scandal,’ never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to encounter anything quite like this. Everything I did, everything I ‘agreed to’ — everything I signed — were all done under tremendous, unbelievable stress. This book — if it’s ever published — will reveal why.”
Many, many people were hurt in this, Kulpa says. “I was supporting a family of seven at the time. Staffers, freelancers, suppliers, family, friends, you name it. I KNEW this, and I sincerely apologize for it. But everyone involved needed to know ‘why.’ and ‘who.’
So what does Kulpa want? “Total restoration,” he says. “Nothing more, nothing less. Only THIS time I won’t be sequestered into a room intimidated by big shots, not allowed to leave to show any contract to my attorney, stress or no stress. A statement made at that meeting by Mr. Big himself appears in my 2005 “Captain Cartoon” coloring book.”
“I’m tired of taking the fall over this.”