Have you ever wondered what the relationship of the “Area Man” Onion is to the “A.V. Club” Onion? Us too, and here’s the answer:
Pocket history of The A.V. Club: The Onion was founded in 1988 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as a paper targeted at Madison residents and UW-Madison students in particular. (We have framed copies of some of the earliest issues here in the Chicago office; they’re pretty hilarious, not so much for the cutting-edge headlines, like “UW Students Are BUTT DUMB” and “Thompson Changes Title From ‘Governor’ To ‘Sexecutioner,'” as for the discount-pizza coupons that take up a third of the front page.) The Onion’s Wikipedia entry is pretty thorough about the history of the publication, and the various owners and phases it went through, if you’re curious.
The paper expanded over the next five years, and in 1993, Onion copyeditor and contributor Stephen Thompson started an entertainment section in the back, with music and film reviews written by Onion writers.
Why is this of interest? Well, on a tiny little comics connection, Steven Thompson is the son of CBG’s Don and Maggie Thompson, and we remember Maggie telling us many times long ago about how here son was working on the school paper and doing well, and look how that turned out.
The other reason it struck us is that in the increasingly crowded media landscape, The Onion A.V. Club is one of the few standout sites. Its staff manages to straddle the frat-to-emo spectrum fairly adeptly, and while we can’t begin to imagine who or what is influential these days, it seems as mainstream and accepted (in the positive sense) as Esquire or Rolling Stone were in their day.
The other reason that it struck us is that The Onion can also be seen as the very model of comics moledom. To the college-age crew that started the paper, comics were just another pop culture source of laughs and thrills, not a bastard medium or cause of juvenile delinquency. Their easy acceptance — and Onion interviews of carton figures like Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek, to name two at random–put comics creators squarely in the mainstream of pop culture thought.
We’re not sure where we’re going with all this, but see the next post.