Loon News

Loon News

The "Loon News" is a parody newspaper founded by Mike Sortino (later M. C. Brennan) and Eric Paul Johnson on April 14, 1983. It features satirical news articles lampooning current events and print journalism, as well as alternative comics, "serious" music and film reviews, and occasional confessional essays from its founders. During its maximum period of popularity, the Loon News print edition was distributed in relatively modest numbers in Phoenix/Tucson, Hawthorne, California, New York City, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and sold via mail-order and zine distribution outlets such as Factsheet Five, in alternative bookstores and record stores. Predating The Onion by over half a decade, The Loon News pioneered many of the "fake news" and news satire techniques that have since become commonplace.

Like The Onion, The "Loon News"'s articles commented on current news and entertainment events, often through slanted or egocentric "reporter-involved" stories similar to those found later on The Daily Show. The paper also parodied AP style and newspaper features from horoscopes and Dear Abby to cartoons like Garfield and Family Circus as well as letters from "readers" and editorial pages. As a product of its' young creators' idealism, much of the "Loon News"'s humor was written with a political point of view, either subtly or overtly deriding local and national politics from Arizona Governor Evan Mecham to President Ronald Reagan and beyond.

The "Loon News" also included unconventional and non-parodic material ranging from music and film reviews to extended personal essays and discussion of cofounder M. C. Brennan's then-controversial gender transition. While there were many regular features, Brennan and Johnson both insisted that there were no hard and fast rules, and that the content could conceivably include anything. In this regard it had as much in common philosophically and aesthetically with punk, art, and political zines of its era as it did with purely comedic publications.

Regular features

In addition to standard news parody, the "Loon News" monthly features included:
*"Mike Sortino's VIEWPOINT!", a first-person editorial on some pressing current controversy
*"What's My Beef?", an often barely coherent list of annoyances by Richard Boland
*"TeeVee Tonite!", a page of television listings consisting of normal TV Guide listings recut for maximum commentary on the films and actors involved
*"The Rest Of The Story", parodying the often convoluted historical lessons of radio commentator Paul Harvey
*"Walken On Sunshine", a collection of haiku and beat poetry purportedly (but not actually) written by actor Christopher Walken
*"Graphtime", a parody of USA Today-style charts and graphs.
*"Ask Beau", an advice column purportedly written by an 80 lb. black labrador retriever
*"One Loon's Opinion", in which cofounder Eric Paul Johnson would often share unsavory political opinions, often involving Legos.

Reporters and editors

The "Loon News" has been continually edited by at least one of its founders since its inception. Mike Sortino (later M. C. Brennan) was Editor-In-Chief from 1983 to 1984. Eric Paul Johnson edited the paper from 1984 to 1993, with a brief hiatus in which editing duties were temporarily turned over to Richard Boland, an original member of The Loons. In 1993, Brennan resumed editorial duties and remains in charge of the Loon News' production.

In addition to Brennan, Johnson and Boland, prominent Loon News writers have included Kim Darling, Mychele Dee, Keith Lloyd, J. Leon Keith, and Melissa Wilmot. Dee, Keith and Wilmot have since gone on to successful writing careers.

The Loon News published several columns by fictional columnists including:
* Ramblin' Jack Astor, a John Birch Society member and anti-communist crusader loosely modeled after Ed Anger of the Weekly World News.
* Mavis Mumples, a Sunday School teacher who provided monthly parables from Biblical sources which always ended in perverse psychosexual tragedy.
* Coach Craig Tinkle, a jaded, sports-hating sports columnist that may parody Phoenix KNXV-TV sportscaster Craig Fouhy
* Mike Sortino himself, the discarded former male identity of M. C. Brennan

Many of these characters had their origins in The Loons' live stage performances, video work, audio recordings or radio shows.


The "Loon News" was born out of the comedic and artistic efforts of a group of young Phoenix teenagers called The Loons. M. C. Brennan (then known as Mike Sortino) and Eric Paul Johnson met in grade school and began collaborating on a wide variety of creative endeavors, including music, film, radio, performance art, books, and--with the advent of the Loon News--journalism. The Loons took their name from, and were inspired by, Phoenix DJ Jonathon Brandmeier, and both Sortino and Johnson made key early appearances on Brandmeier's KZZP radio show that laid the groundwork for their later success.

It was Johnson who designed the first issue of the Loon News in early 1981, but the project was abandoned until the spring of 1983, when Johnson inadvertently ran over a bird while mowing his mother's lawn. (After a significant debate in print over the course of the past 23 years, the consensus holds that the bird was already deceased.) Sortino found this incident hilariously morbid, rushed to a typewriter and composed a salacious, slanted tabloid account of the event, entitled "Fiend On The Loose," implicating various local authorities. A few hours later, Sortino had not only written the entire contents of Loon News #1, he had devised a logo, written and hand-typeset headlines, pasted the contents together and made copies which were distributed the following day at Desert Sky Junior High School in Glendale, Arizona. The results were so popular that there were funds for a second issue, in which the travails of the "birdkiller" were continued. But Loon News #2 was successful because of another story, "Reagan Gives Gift To 'Truly Needy'", which parodied President Reagan's response to allegedly racist/sexist comments by then-Interior Secretary James Watt. The sophistication and accessibility of the parody was a hit with teachers at the school, who made additional "bootleg" copies which enjoyed wide distribution. Subsequent issues reached an expanding audience, and by 1986, the Loon News was available at a small handful of schools and stores across the country and via mail order. Shortly thereafter, Sortino began pursuing a career in acting and "serious" journalism and stepped away from the parodic aspects of the Loon News, leaving Johnson to carry on the concept until the early 1990s.

In 1993, after a name and gender transition, Sortino/Brennan assembled much of the original writing staff and revived the Loon News, culminating in an internet edition, wider distribution of the print edition, a profile by columnist Bill Goodykoontz in the May 16, 1999 edition of the Arizona Republic, and regular attention in the weekly "papers" segment of ABC News' World News Now.

After a flood of successful issues in 1999 and 2000, a series of personal tragedies forced Brennan to place the print edition of the Loon News on indefinite hiatus. A regular Internet edition continued through late 2003, but as of August 2006, the Internet edition is no longer begin updated. Brennan continues to work as a writer and performer; Johnson is a cartoonist and the creator of the Loon News-inspired Mike and Eric comic strip.

The Loons

Sortino and Johnson both freely used the Loon News as a promotional arm of their "media empire," trumpeting their (often fictional) activities and appearances in a mockingly self-serving public-relations language. However, many of the most popular moments in the Loon News--spoofs like "Loon Aid" and "Hands Across Eric's Room"--had their newspaper origins in actual comedic/performance art events staged by The Loons; as such, both the events and the stories about the events were coordinated for maximum satiric effect. Content from the print edition of the Loon News was also used in The Loons' radio, television, film and live performance work, often in a style blatantly appropriated from Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update segment. This "multimedia" integration was somewhat uncommon in the 1980s and contributed heavily to the Loons' local success.


In the mid-to-late 1980s, Sortino began the first tentative steps towards a gender transition from male to female, and began to move in new creative directions. Stage and film acting, a promising recording and performance career as a rock singer, and "serious" literary aspirations made the Loon News comedy style something of a relic to Sortino, who nonetheless wanted to participate in some form. Johnson provided unrestricted space, and Sortino devised "LN7", a seventh page feature in which Sortino discussed current projects and her gender struggles with unusual openness. Often handwritten, LN7 (a name chosen because it reads the same upside down) was confessional but nonetheless retained the sardonic, often black humor that was Sortino's trademark. However, during this time, Brennan developed and put forth a philosophy that suggested the overuse of postmodernist irony and nihilistic detachment were corrosive not only to comedy, but to every aspect of life from the personal to the political. In interviews and several LN7 essays, Brennan advocated a comedy that grew organically from honest self-revelation and principled personal and political beliefs, using satire as a tool for positive change. Regardless of its merits, the "anti-irony" manifesto changed the heading of the Loon News shortly before postmodernist irony itself beame a hot commodity on the national stage, helping many Loon News competitors to reach great success. Brennan later noted that this was, in fact, an ironic development.


Some of the more noteworthy moments in the Loon News included:
*"Loon Aid", a September 1985 news parody of the "Live Aid" concerts that included an actual concert by local musicians and eccentrics, for purely selfish ends.
*"Hands Across Eric's Room", in which a chain of one human--and two housecats--bridged the chasm of cofounder Johnson's waterbed to raise money for the dubious charity "FHL", later revealed as "Feed Hungry Loons."
*"Loon News Clear", a one-page issue printed on a transparency to capitalize on the "clear Pepsi" trend of the early 1990s
*"The Last Issue", an irregular series of issues announcing the sudden closure of the Loon News, often due to natural disasters, bankruptcy, and the alleged machinations of Wilfred Brimley, among others.
*"Pokey An Admitted Cocaine Addict", in which Gumby's owner revealed the tragic addiction of the clay icon.
*"Who Got My Hamster Pregnant?", a troubling example of investigative journalism gone wrong.
*Quadrennial "Electile Dysfunction" Presidential campaign coverage, which began with the Mondale/Reagan contest of 1984.

External links

* [http://www.loonnews.com/ Official website]
* [http://www.http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://loonnews.com/ Loon News Online at archive.org]
* [http://www.loonnews.com/mcb M. C. Brennan homepage]
* [http://community.livejournal.com/mike_and_eric/ The Loon News retrospective at Live Journal]

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