The scourge of the '80s is back -- and trying to fit into the '90s publishing market.
Spy magazine, founded in 1986 as an amusingly pointed deflation of much of the decade's worship of success and celebrity, ceased publication with its March 1994 issue. But Sussex Publishers Inc., which owns Mother Earth News and successfully revived Psychology Today, bought the magazine in May from owner Jean Pigozzi for an undisclosed sum and recently released the new Spy's August issue.
James Mauro, the new editor, has held editorial positions with Reader's Digest and the American Express magazine group, which once owned D magazine. He said the new Spy will be "less mean-spirited. We'll still give people enough rope to hang themselves. But we won't kick anyone while they're down."
Extremely influential during its initial eight-year run, Spy was known for its innovative layout and hip design, its wicked humor and its discovery of fresh writing talent.
One of its co-founders, Kurt Andersen, became the editor of New York magazine, while another, E. Graydon Carter, became the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair. Frequent contributor Paul Rudnick went on to write "I Hate Hamlet" for Broadway, "Jeffrey" for off-Broadway and "Addams Family Values" for Hollywood.
Originally, Spy was what many called "The New Yorker with bite" with its digs at Manhattan celebs like Donald Trump (whom Spy dubbed a "short-fingered vulgarian") and former New York Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal, often characterized as Abe "I'm Writing as Badly as I Can" Rosenthal.
But the magazine expanded its focus beyond the Big Apple to feature "investigative satire" of Washington politicos and Hollywood stars.
After the founders sold the magazine in 1991, many detected a downshift in Spy's quality, notably under former National Lampoon editor Tony Hendra.
When asked about what he intends for Spy, Mr. Mauro said, "Not to be cagey, but I think the first issue captures the spirit well."
The August issue, with a base run of 165,000 copies, includes "Spy's Near-Death Experience," a greatest-hits compilation from previous years, as well as such long-established features as "Naked City" and "The Fine Print."