Tuesday, August 24, 2010

MUSINGS AT MIDNIGHT: A CONVERSATION WITH GARY SVEHLA, EDITOR & PUBLISHER OF MIDNIGHT MARQUEE (PART 1)










Gary Svehla is the Methuselah of Monster Magazines, the Grandaddy of Gore(Creatures). Indeed, he is a singular individual in that he holds the distinction of having the longest running monster magazine on the planet. Begun in 1963 as a "scotch-tape and stapled" kitchen table fanzine called GORE CREATURES, the then 13-year old went on to become a professional publisher of not only the longest continuously published monster magazine, but a successful line of genre books as well. In this, the first installment of the Gary Svehla interview, he talks about the genesis of his life as a publisher. To paraphrase a certain Edward Van Sloan line: "Here you have his . . . mad dream!"

MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: You have been publishing since 1963. To what, or whom, do you contribute your long-term success?

GARY SVEHLA: Long term success… long-term devotion and passion is the better way to put it, but not necessarily success in the financial sense! The fact that my devotion has been a labor of love and something I just enjoy doing is what makes me continue. If my writing and publishing were based solely upon success, I would have ceased my fannish activity about 1964. I do it because I simply love the movies, love writing about them and love sharing my enthusiasm with the world by creating books and magazines.

MMW: When did the lightning strike your electrodes and you became a “monsterkid”? What was it like for you growing up during the era of the “monster craze”?

SVEHLA: In 1957, my father and brother took me (during a school night no less!!!!) to the Earle Theater, a neighborhood movie house, to see a double bill including BEAT GIRL (the movie they wanted to see) and THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (the movie that I fell in love with). I never saw a monster movie before, and if you remember, the movie contains about 3 really scary jump-out-of-your-seat sequences, and I most certainly did react in that way. When we arrived at the part of the movie where we came in (in those days you simply walked into the movie, beginning, middle or end), I begged to stay until the end again. I was hooked. About a year later I saw Hammer’s HORROR OF DRACULA and that sealed the deal. For me my love of horror movies and monsters was mostly solitary, as most of the gang at school did not love monster movies. Remember SHOCK THEATRE on late-night television was just getting started. The monster scene was in its infancy. TV horror movie hosts were just starting to appear. There really wasn’t a true monster scene until the early to mid-sixties, and that involved mostly purchasing “bubble gum” cards and buying comic books and Aurora model kits. Of course “Captain Company” from the back pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS allowed us to purchase gag gifts, posters and those beloved Castle 8mm condensed versions of classic horror movies. I can remember waiting day by day for the mailman to deliver those sacred treasures, and when they arrived, it was like Christmas. But back in the 1950s, there wasn’t a monster scene per se.

MMW: What were your favorite movies and TV shows back then?

SVEHLA: First of all, I loved all those movies I saw with my father, even the ones that are not so fondly remembered today. But when you were only 7 or 8 years old, movies such as THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS and THE VAMPIRE were great. Even RETURN OF DRACULA scared the hell out of me. But after the Technicolor world of Hammer exploded upon the scenes, with HORROR OF DRACULA and REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, I was transfixed. I was so horrified that I became sick the night I returned home from seeing HORROR OF DRACULA and my mother told me no more horror movies for a year. I was devastated! But she meant it. I could not see another horror film for a full year, and Hammer’s THE MUMMY was the first film that I was allowed to see after my night of vomiting and tossing and turning.

Television was easy. THRILLER terrified me. I remember one evening I was watching The Hungry Glass or one of the classics during a raging thunderstorm. We lost our power and the house went completely dark, and rain was pounding on the roof and windows. That was a defining night of terror that has remained with me to this day. Of course I enjoyed shows like THE MUNSTERS and THE ADDAMS FAMILY, but nothing touched me like the real thing, the serious horror programs. Not too many shows offered that high ratio of scares. Shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and SCIENCE FICTION THEATER came close, but they were more imaginative or straight science fiction. Sometimes horror elements were included, but THRILLER was the one that chilled my imagination, and perhaps some episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (such as Sign of Satan with Christopher Lee) managed to do the same.

MMW: You began publishing with GORE CREATURES. What type of material did you cover in the first issue and some of the other earlier issues? How many copies did you print, and how did you make and distribute it?

SVEHLA: I was 13 years old and loved reading CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN and FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. In the back of these magazines, in the Haunt Ad section, they sold “fanzines” or amateur versions of these professionally produced magazines. I bought a few, but one, HORROR OF THE SCREEN, created by fan Alex Soma, was simply fantastic. It showed that someone like me could produce his own horror film magazine and sell it through the ads in the back of the monster magazines. Most listings were free or dirt cheap, even for a kid.

Richard, my father, encouraged me. He helped me purchase a hectograph printing machine (typing on ditto masters and placing the impression on gelatin sheets, where copies could be printed one page at a time, with each sheet curling up). GORE CREATURES #1 had a print run of 20 copies, the first one purchased by Forrest J Ackerman himself. It was such an honor to have my mentor buy our very first issue. As demand increased, my father helped me acquire a mimeograph machine that could produce a larger print run. Messy as hell, the cylinder would be cranked and the black ink inside would print text in a rather crude and messy way. This went on for a few years until we started experimenting with professional offset printing at the beloved Arcade Press, under the guidance of Tony Lorenzo and Bob Gehrig, who worked closely with me, teaching me the ropes. We sold the issues at first from the ads we placed in the professional magazines, and then, as more fanzines appeared, we were reviewed in other amateur monster magazines and word spread and spread. In the first few issues we pretty much reflected upon the current AIP Poe movies or Hammer horrors. Not much original copy at first, it was more rehashing what we read in the professional magazines. But as I got a little older, I become curious in the mythology of horror, the connection between the literary works and the movies and the symbolism that I saw in Universal and Hammer movies. As I matured intellectually, the magazine also grew up.

MMW: How long of a run did GORE CREATURES have and for how many years? When did the idea for MIDNIGHT MARQUEE come about and why did you change names?

SVEHLA: GORE CREATURES never stopped publication. In 1963 it seemed like quite a fine name, but by the early 1970s people began to comment on the childish or overblown image that something called GORE CREATURES conveyed. My fandom friend Ronald V. Borst razzed me all the time saying you should change the name, that GORE CREATURES is simply too juvenile. So in 1976, after we published GORE CREATURES #25, issue #26 was renamed MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, so it wasn’t the case of stopping one magazine and starting another. It was nothing more than a name change occurring between issues 25 and 26. Of course a few years later the “gore” scene was born and, had we kept the original title, it would have most likely been a cool title to maintain.

MMW You have been quite active in the convention circuit over the years. What was it like going to those early gatherings? Any favorites? Amusing anecdotes?

SVEHLA: In my social group, other than pal Dave Metzler and Dave Ellis, loving monsters and horror movies was a lonely hobby, other than the contacts made in the mail with pen pals and other monster magazines all across the USA. So going to small science fiction conventions that catered to fantasy and horror movies as a sidebar activity was like finding a strange new society of like-minded friends. My father and I trained up to New York City to attend LunaCons once a year, and there I met fans like Robert Hancock, Mel Sobel, John Soister, Angel Marcano, Omar Torres, Chris Steinbrunner, John Nyman, Gene Klein (Gene Simmons of KISS), Forrest J Ackerman and Calvin T. Beck. It was wonderful to see that real kids loved this stuff, and then to go into a room and watch 16mm feature horror films together was magical. And during convention hours we could venture into the dealers room and see actual posters and lobby cards for sale. Leaving these shows was so sad, knowing that I would not see my buddies for a full year, and I would have to go back to the kids at school who did not care about this stuff was quite depressing. However, we often kept in touch with our long distance monster fans by writing long letters and trading audio cassette tapes, where we could talk our hearts out and share current musical and movie likes.

It was amazing to meet Gene Klein who published his own fanzine COSMOS STILLETO. We had written letters and traded our magazines, both very simple efforts, but Gene always criticized me for charging money for my fanzine. He felt fanzines should be given away for free and that I was a moneygrubber for charging 25 cents, at that time, for the issue. Remember, this criticism came from the man who would supervise “The Kiss Army” and find any excuse to profit from the KISS image, even to this day. The late Robert Hancock took me once on a tour of New York showing me the park where a recent Clint Eastwood film was made. We were just kids having fun going to the movies or simply walking around going out for lunch. Hancock was always obsessed with buying orange juice that was not watered down or sugared up. He was also adamant that mustard went on hot dogs and ketchup went on hamburgers. In those days such conflicts fueled our conversations. The camaraderie of knowing you were not so weird for liking horror movies and that you were part of the pack validated our interests.

(To be continued . . .)


 GORE CREATURES #1. Since the first few copies of GC #1 did not have any cover at all, I used the covers for #2 on what was left of issue #1. So this was the cover of our very first issue.



GORE CREATURES #7 and #12. We were still digest size, but about this time we started using heavy stock covers printed to make the magazine more impressive and bulkier.



 
GORE CREATURES #23. Artist Dave Ludwig, who also drew under the penname of M. Squidd, created most of our earlier covers and he remains one of horror film fandom’s greatest artists. He had a unique and eccentric style.

MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #26. The title GORE CREATURES was no more! This was the very first issue with our new title MIDNIGHT MARQUEE. It was printed on glossy stock paper, something that I never liked and never used since.


Forry and Rob Hancock. When I went to LunaCons in New York City in the mid- to late 1960s, Robert Hancock, editor of MYSTICATION, another horror/s.f. movie fanzine, and I were the best of friends. Hancock, who died years ago, disappeared from fandom circles by the mid-1970s. Here I snapped a photo of Rob as he was waiting around to have Forry Ackerman autograph something for him.


Forry LunaCon 1966. It may have been 1967, but this was the first show where I actually met the Ackermonster for the very first time. It was like meeting Santa Claus up front and personal.


Gary and Poster. My bedroom, in my childhood home at 5906 Kavon Avenue in Baltimore City, was a Monster Kid’s dream come true. Here I ogle a new insert poster from Hammer’s CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1966, when I was 16 years old. GORE CREATURES was in its third year of publication.


Gary and Stills. Again, from 1966, I stand below my ever-increasing black and white movie still collection, which I tacked up to the wall for an overwhelming display.


Gary Nov 1962. Here I posed with a “dummy” that sports the Frankenstein Monster’s head that I purchased from the back pages of an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS. I was only 12, but this was a scant SEVEN MONTHS away from publishing the very first issue of GORE CREATURES.

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