Saturday, June 25, 2016

ONE-OF-A-KIND AURORA MONSTER MODEL PROTOTYPE SCULPTS


While the years roll inexorably along, I can still recollect with fairly vivid clarity my model building days as a Monster Kid. As mentioned in an earlier post, I laid down my hard-earned allowance money on Aurora's The Mummy, my first monster kit (before that I had painted and built The Red Knight of Vienna). I bought it at Gilbert's Toy and Hobby, our local hobby shop. It was within walking distance from our house, just down the hill, across Palos Verdes Blvd., and over to the north side of Southwood Shopping Center.


"My Old House", Torrance, CA (Photo from Google Earth)


I walked down this hill to get to Southwood Shopping Center.

This was the same stretch of early strip mall where my Dad tended bar part-time at a restaurant and cocktail lounge just a few doors down from Gilbert's. Ronn's Liquor & Delicatessen was at the opposite end -- the spot where, among the Stags and Bluebooks on the news rack, monster magazines were sold! I must also mentioned that, about midway down the mall was Angelo Revel Brothers Bakery, who easily rivaled the Helm's Bakery home delivery truck for mouthwatering glazed donuts and éclairs. Without fail, when you first walked through those doors, the fragrance of fresh-baked bread assailed your nostrils, evoking an immediate hunger response.


A few vintage shots of the Helms Bakery trucks.




Olympic Bread and some of the world's best donuts were sold
out of the back of these trucks!


Much like the UPS signs of today, this cardboard sign was put up
in windows to signal the Helms Bakery truck driver
to stop. I still have ours!
Forgive me for momentarily waxing nostalgic --- anyway, Gilbert's Toy and Hobby was a kid's dream store. Model rockets (the kind propelled by CO2 cartridges), kites, balsa wood airplanes, an HO track (you'd pay so much per 15 minutes to run your cars on it), train sets -- you name it -- Gilbert's had it all.

Oh, and did I mention they sold Aurora monster models? Delvin and Arnette Rice, the proprietors, like hundreds of other hobby shop owners, also participated in the great Master Monster Maker Contest of 1964, sponsored by Aurora Plastics and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The banner sign in their window "daring" kids to enter was proof positive.


The proprietors of Gilbert Toy and Hobby Shop.


A local business listing in the Torrance Herald 1961.

After hearing of this, I spent many hours at our newspaper-draped kitchen table, assembling and "customizing" my Mummy model kit. I had my Testor's gloss enamel paints, my toluene-laden, headache-inducing tube of glue, and a supply of mineral spirits, aka "paint thinner". But what to do to make my Mummy stand out from the rest in the contest?

I noticed that my jar of thinner was getting pretty dirty from the gray paint I was using for Kharis (this was the Lon Chaney Jr. Mummy version, not the Boris Karloff Im-ho-tep Mummy, you see). Then it hit me like a gallon of tea infused with nine Tana leaves! I called out: "Mom, do we have any old t-shirts?" Like most any other Mom of the era, she didn't throw anything away that wasn't otherwise dead, dangerous, or decaying.

I tore thin strips of the cotton shirt, "painted" them with the thinner that was dirty with rinsing brushes, and -- voila! -- I had my "mummy wrappings". I also brushed the same material onto the broken down temple pillars that were a part of the model base, giving them a nice "antique" appearance.

All in all, I had tons of fun on this kit as I recall fondly, and it was a very exciting few hours -- just what the folks at Aurora were banking on. Unfortunately though, I was a day late and a dollar short as they say, because I missed the deadline to enter my model in the Gilbert's Master Monster Maker Contest! But this minor disappointment didn't dampen my enthusiasm for making monster models and, like a loyal Monster Kid, bought and built each new Aurora kit as they came out over the years.

A Captain Company ad shown in the back pages of
FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #26 (Jan 1964) showing the
newly-introduced Phantom of the Opera model kit.

The Godzilla and King Kong model kits are advertised for the first time in
FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND (Issue #29 July 1964)

One thing that never came to my mind all that time was just exactly how did they actually make these models from start to finish? While I know the parts were cranked out by machine on "parts trees" (technically called "sprue") as they came in the Bama-painted box, I never really considered how they got to that point.

It wasn't until years later (and with the help of the Internet) that the secrets of model making were slowly revealed. Intrepid and loyal Aurora fans even went so far as to track down the producers of these kits, including the sculptors who were responsible for the creation of the figures and how they would look as a finished product.

Aurora Plastics is long gone, but thanks to other model companies like Polar Lights, Playing Mantis and Moebius the original Aurora monster model line was resurrected as well as introducing a few new kits to boot. They are also largely responsible for rekindling the art and craft of model making to a whole new generation of Monster Millennials.

Now at auction are two examples of the earliest steps in the making of the classic Aurora monster models. The prototypes are sculpts done in solid acetate plastic by Larry Ehling. An excellent description of the process is offered by the seller. As of this writing, the bid on the King Kong prototype is $1000 and the bid on the Phantom of the Opera prototype is $500.

Description of King Kong model prototype auction Lot #2301:

9.25" tall hand-carved solid acetate plastic master pattern for Aurora's King Kong model kit. HMS Associates (a product development company) of Willow Grove, PA, was hired by Aurora to create master patterns for two new kits in their expanding line of Universal Monster models (Phantom of the Opera and King Kong), which were introduced in 1964. Both monsters were hand-carved out of solid blocks of acetate plastic by well-known sculptor Larry Ehling, who was then sub-contracting w/HMS. Ehling would carve each piece, then precisely cut it along the "break line," the seams where pieces fit together. After the sculptures were completed (each took between 2-3 weeks to finish and cost $2,000-$3,000), the pieces were sent to another specialty company, Ferriot Brothers, who created the beryllium copper molds by using a pantograph machine which traced over the acetate pieces while a cutter on the other end carved the mold cavity. When completed, both the sculptures and the molds were shipped to Aurora. There, the molds were inserted into injection molding machines and the production process began. Meanwhile, these master patterns were assembled and painted by staff members, then used for catalog photography and other promotional purposes. Offered here is the master pattern prototype for Aurora's King Kong model kit. Underside of base has faint "33353" in black marker. Base has holes for the "King Kong" name plaque and broken trees, etc., but these separate pieces are not included. Kong's mouth is included, but a separate piece made from the same pattern material as the rest of this piece and was painted, just never put in place. Mouth cannot be inserted into opening as Kong's fangs prevent placement. Kong has interesting orange overspray paint job as does the separate small figure of the woman in his hand. This female figure shows a more heavily concentrated orange coating, w/one arm and legs having moderate flaking. Kong figure has some scattered small spots of paint wear, as does base. Still displays VF. A one of a kind piece for the Aurora collector. We sold this in our July 2014 auction for $3,233 and it has been re-consigned to us.












Description of Phantom of the Opera model prototype auction Lot #2302:

Offered here is the 9.25" tall master pattern prototype for Aurora's Phantom of the Opera model kit. Base is complete w/"The Phantom Of The Opera" name plaque, rat, lizard and prisoner behind bars. The Phantom's professional paint job closely matches Aurora's box art, though w/a healthier skin tone than the green-tinted box version. Model is complete w/separate mask but is missing right hand, however still holds mask (if carefully placed) for display purposes and a replacement hand could be easily substituted from a production model. Figure has scattered paint wear, mainly to shirt and on cape at shoulders. Still displays Fine, w/detailed eyes looking terrifying when mask is in place on Phantom's face. A one-of-a-kind piece for the Aurora collector. We sold this in our Nov. 2014 auction for $1,589 and it has been re-consigned to us.









Come back to MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD next week for more Aurora monster model history and nostalgia!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

THE CREEPS REVIEWED


Since Warren's original run of CREEPY from 1964 - 1983 (145 issues) there have been numerous attempts at reviving the spirit of the vaunted magazine-sized horror comic book. Dark Horse acquired the rights to the Warren title and branding, including the image of Uncle Creepy, as well as the rights to reprint the backlog. The resulting series of "Creepy Archives" is impressive, but disappointingly, the new version of the title was shrunk to a standard comic book size, exactly the opposite of Warren's work-around to the albeit weakening stranglehold of the Comics Code Authority which caused the self-immolation of many horror comic publishers in the mid-1950s who were either unwilling or unwitting enough to adapt to the new rules.

Another, indie-produced horror comic, BLOKE'S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR, uses similar design features and themes to CREEPY. Publisher/writer Jason Crawley (really!) and artist Mike Hoffman and Co. do a pretty good job of it, but don't quite hit the heart with the stake.

Then, from out of the blue (or the grave, as Unca' Creepy would probably say) comes THE CREEPS, a brand-new, magazine-sized horror comic that is an unapologetic, unabashed, near clone of CREEPY. Now in its sixth issue, THE CREEPS is the closest thing yet to a true homage to the original, so close in fact, that one could say it is a pastiche. It is obviously deliberate by design, and while other attempts capture the "look" of CREEPY, THE CREEPS not only accomplishes that, but it also actually "feels" like the old CREEPY.

Granted, we will never again see the likes of a team of writers and artists that shepherded the early years of CREEPY. These consummate professionals were the crème de la crème of illustrators that had cut their teeth and sharpened their pencils over the drawing board for EC, the greatest line of horror comics ever, for chrissakes!

In this latest issue of Warrant Publishing's THE CREEPS however, one can see artists clearly under the spell of the aforementioned genius loci of horror comics. What you have here is a bullpen of artists like the Reed Crandall-esque Reno Maniquis, the Wally Wood-esque Jason Paulos, the Orlando-esque Mansyur Daman and the Brunner-esque Mike Dubisch, all combined to achieve a vague, but eerily (no pun intended) reminiscent appearance of the original. Even the mag's mascot, The Old Creep, is a blatant swipe of Uncle Creepy. Editor Rich Sala, writing as "Artie" Goodwin has brought aboard a capable stable of story scripters, including Warren alumni Nicola Cuti and Don Glut. And yes, the stories themselves have that old touch of the macabre and sardonic, with twist endings that hit the mark nearly every time.

I have to admit, I was a little leery with the first couple of issues, but the last two or so have shown a significant improvement in the writing as well as the art moving in the direction of more traditional draughtsmanship as opposed to modernist comic illustration. Issue #6 even sports a Frazetta cover! And I would be remiss to mention the anti-tobacco ad on the letters page as was seen in the original Warren 'zine?

I'm looking forward to more of THE CREEPS. Now that it's selling well enough to be put on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, it is hopeful that a new wave of readers will catch on to the entertainment found between its covers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

ULTRA RARE "HORRORSCOPE MOVIE VIEWER" UP FOR SALE


Promoted as “one of the most sought-after monster items of the 1960s”, the “Horrorscope Movie Viewer” is currently up for auction. With a current bid of $500, the ultra-rare, complete kit is expected to realize a final bid of $1,000 to $3,000. A photo of the projector was always depicted in ads during its heyday in the 1960s, but the box it came in is rarely seen.

The Horrorscope was first advertised for sale by mail order in FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND # 29 (July 1964). FM’s “Monster Mail Order” (products later to be sold under Captain Co.) began in the second issue, and a manual, hand-cranked movie projector and 8mm film of Lon Chaney’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was offered in issue #4 (August 1959). The “Magnajector”, a gadget that was placed over photos and projected the image on a wall or screen, appeared in FM #8 (September 1960).




The Horrorscope was another gizmo that used a series of flip cards, that, when the hand-crank was turned the cards gave the illusion of a moving film. Flip books and other “flip” media were popular during this period.

The Horrorscope seemed to sell well as it appeared in FM for many issues. And why not? At only $2.98 plus 50 cents shipping a Monster Kid could watch 4 of his favorite movie monsters in action as many times as he wanted!

Here is the seller’s description of the auction lot:

12x20x3-3/8" deep illustrated cardboard box contains 9" tall hard plastic viewer. Multiple Products Inc., 1960s. This is Canadian issue w/French text on box sides. Box shows scattered wear w/edge/corner creases including crease across Frankenstein's face and aged tape residue by Dracula's collar and across Creature's face w/some scattered surface paper lifting above. Colors remains bright and vibrant. Fine/VF. Viewer boasted "No Bulbs, No Batteries, Hand-Action Complete With 4 Full Edition Films" and comes w/the four issued films - Frankenstein and Dracula and Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon. "Dracula's Return" features images from "Dracula" w/Bela Lugosi and "Frankenstein's Revenge" features images from "Frankenstein" w/Boris Karloff. Each of the included double-sided film cards have two images from respective films on each side. Frankenstein/Dracula includes cards 1-128. "Death Of A Werewolf" features images of Oliver Reed from the 1961 Hammer film "The Curse Of The Werewolf" and "The Creature Strikes" features images from the 1954 film "The Creature From The Black Lagoon." Wolf Man/Creature includes cards 1-9, 13-16, 33-40, 61-84 and 95-96. Some of the Frankenstein/Dracula cards have been placed within the viewer as intended. Flip cards exhibit little wear and are VF-Exc. Viewer has some scattered wear in the form of rubs/melt marks to edges of crank handle w/some aging along center seam w/some melt marks. Back of viewer has 3" skipping streak of aging/melt marks and sticker on front is reproduction. Fine/VF overall. One of the most sought-after monster items of the 1960s.









Monday, June 20, 2016

VIC PREZIO AND THE ART OF THE STEAL


Forty years after the illustration by an unknown cover artist appeared on the cover of the third issue (June 1926) of the famous pulp, AMAZING STORIES, a sinisterly similar image found its way on to the 18th  issue of CREEPY.

The scene depicting a sea serpent (and a giant turtle in the lower right-hand corner) menacing the three-man crew on a raft was illustrating the second part of Jules Verne's serialized novel, "A Trip to the Center of the Earth" (aka "Journey to the Center of the Earth"). The caption on the contents page reads: Our Cover - illustrates an episode in this month's story, "A Trip to the Center of the Earth", by Jules Verne. Here we see our intrepid explorers almost perish at the agency of one of the great sea monsters roaming the great Inner Sea.

The cover of the January 1968 issue of Warren's CREEPY (issue #18) shows a swipe of the AMAZING STORIES cover image from 42 years earlier. Artist Vic Prezio is the culprit here, updating the image to include a damsel in distress. Sadly, our friend, the turtle, is no where to be seen, however. Perhaps after four decades he ended up "in the soup"?




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