With this installment the MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD interview with Gary Svehla concludes. Gary speaks of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE PRESS and his book publishing, as well as discusses the trials and tribulations of both his career and publishing a monster movie magazine.
MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: When did you start publishing the MIDNIGHT MARQUEE line of books and what were the first titles that were released?
GARY SVEHLA: In 1995 MIDNIGHT MARQUEE became incorporated as MIDNIGHT MARQUEE PRESS, INC. to start our line of books, both hardback and trade paperback. We wanted to appeal to our niche clientele but we also wanted to offer more than fans were currently getting. For instance, McFarland Books never offered artistically rendered covers until MIDNIGHT MARQUEE appeared with full color covers. McFarland did not offer paperbacks for their film books until MIDNIGHT MARQUEE was on the scene with their trade paperbacks. I am proud to say that we made books affordable (our paperbacks do not cost $35 to $45 each) for the fans and fans responded by supporting our efforts. We are now the first small press book publisher to offer some of our books in FULL COLOR at affordable prices. Back in 1995 our initial books were BELA LUGOSI: FILM ACTORS SERIES; BITCHES, BIMBOS AND VIRGINS: WOMEN IN THE HORROR FILM; GUILTY PLEASURES OF THE HORROR FILM; MONSTERS, MUTANTS AND HEAVENLY CREATURES; CINEMATIC HAUNTINGS; BORIS KARLOFF: FILM ACTORS SERIES. Today, we have over 100 books in circulation and many more planned. We hope that people check out our website at http://www.midmar.com.
MMW: What has been your toughest challenge as a publisher? What’s in the future for MIDNIGHT MARQUEE magazine and your line of books? Ever consider publishing a book collecting your essays and articles?
SVEHLA: My toughest challenger as a publisher is trying to show horror movie fans they must think of their beloved magazines and books in an entirely new way, and to trust me that MIDNIGHT MARQUEE PRESS will not lead them astray. For instance, we presented issue 76 of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE as a digital PDF downloadable magazine in full color, over 100 pages long. For FREE! I felt it was one of the best things we ever published, both from the aspect of layout and design, but also from the quality of the writing. Fans immediately bitched. I do not own a computer. I want to download it to print out and bind, but in full color and with the cost of binding, it will be too expensive. It is too difficult to read online. So we decided to offer a minimal cost for readers to pay us to print out a copy that we had bound and would mail out. We then even went back and redesigned the entire issue as a smaller size black and white hard copy edition. You see, we were trying to drag fans into the 21st century, but they came back resisting, kicking and screaming, declaring that they must have a hard copy magazine that they can sniff, feel, turn the pages, etc. I understand this obsession, as I myself am a magazine and book collector. But times change and fans must change as well. The idea of e-book or e-magazine must not be met with burning torches and mob violence!
Fans must not only change by accepting digital magazines but they must change how they purchase their magazines. The days of going to a brick and mortar store and thumbing through a magazine before purchasing it are numbered. The ever-dwindling newsstand/comic/hobby shops carry fewer and fewer niche magazines. The fan must accept the fact he/she must purchase magazines directly from the publisher, that they must support the publisher without the interference of a middleman (a shop owner or distributor who takes a cut of the profits). Fans are becoming more and more afraid of subscribing to any small press periodical in fear that the magazine might fold before the subscription expires. And then these same people complain if their favorite magazine folds. And the magazine’s death, in their mind, justifies the reason why they failed to support the magazine by subscribing in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.
Besides dealing with the increasing economic pressures faced by all small press publishers, our biggest challenge is encouraging an increasingly aged population to join the 21st century by buying and using a computer and to be more open to the ideas of electronic media, online publications and downloading text. This is a hurdle that might be the death of the so-called niche publications, but publishers cannot continue doing business as usual and hope to survive. The fan must be willing to change. But the Catch-22 is the fact that not too many younger fans gravitate to the classics (1930s-1960s), and that the aging baby boomers will most likely die off before changing their mindset about electronic magazines. But once the dinosaurs have passed, who will be left to care about Karloff and Lugosi, Universal and Hammer, and Val Lewton and Monogram? I wish I knew the answer to that question!
What’s in our future, as far as publishing? Just keep checking the website. We publish at least six new books per year, as well as revising and updating older titles (frequently adding new covers). One of our forthcoming tiles is THE SHREIKING SIXTIES, which is a history of British horror films of the 1960s. The text, written by multiple writers, is intelligent, insightful, witty and filled with Brit slang that makes the text endearing. I think it will be one of our biggest sellers since HORROR 101, which rocketed out of the ballpark. But this is only one title, of which many, many more are forthcoming. And as parents, please don’t ask us which one of our many children we love the most.
I have considered publishing a collection of my essays and critiques, but that is project to address in my retirement, which after 38 years of teaching high school English is not too far off hopefully.
MMW: So far in your career, what has been your most memorable moment?
SVEHLA: Speaking strictly from the career aspect, I would say when my wife Susan and I sponsored the 1999 MONSTER RALLY mega-convention in Arlington, VA (our first mega show after sponsoring the yearly FANEX film conventions since 1986). Of course Christopher Lee was the major attraction, a personal idol of mine since the first night I saw HORROR OF DRACULA back in 1958. To meet Christopher Lee and ride in the limo from the train station with Count Dracula was a very cool experience that I will never forget. Then I had the first private meeting, with he and his wife, alone in their hotel suite, chatting about the heritage of the Svehla name and other personal concerns. We published Mr. Lee’s American edition of his autobiography and fans lined up to have it signed. Even though we took a bath financially on that show and it set us back for a decade, artistically, it was a defining moment for MIDNIGHT MARQUEE and that weekend brings a glow of pride to both our faces. We carried it off and brought Christopher Lee to a fan convention in America, something no one has done since. But we also sponsored many other wonderful guests that same year as well. Sue and I still don’t know how we pulled it off!
MMW: If you could wave a magic wand and change anything you’d like with MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, what would it be?
SVEHLA: If I could wave a magic wand, I would change all the red print in our accounting books, over the years, to black. All our losses would magically become profits!
MMW: Lugosi or Lee?
SVEHLA: Christopher Lee is an International Star whose horror film contributions are remarkable, but Bela Lugosi is simply the most memorable horror film icon, and whether the movie was worthy of his talent or not, Bela Lugosi possessed the personality, the persona that made his performance memorable. Horror movies and Bela Lugosi are synonymous.
Lugosi is simply the heart and soul of horror cinema. But when it comes to the acting, the performances, give me Boris Karloff any day. Karloff’s performances as the pathetic monster in both FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN are among the greatest performances in the history of cinema, period. Add to that Karloff’s superb subtlety in his performances from THE BLACK CAT, THE MUMMY, THE BODY SNATCHER, etc. Bela Lugosi might symbolize horror fandom’s heart and soul because we simply feel for poor Bela, but when it comes to acting credentials and iconic performances, I give the nod to Karloff.
MMW: Any words of wisdom for the aspiring monster ‘zine maker?
I just turned 60 last month, so I guess you can consider me a wizened writer, editor, publisher, more or less. My advice would be the challenge of creating a publication digitally, an e-magazine or something similar, a website, but something that can be done in such a way as to sustain the artist, the creator. Just like hard copy publications, the new entrepreneur must find a way to make electronic publishing profitable and worthy of one’s time and talent. Be creative, imaginative, passionate, and do whatever you do in your own style, your own way. Be influenced by and knowledgeable of the past, but cut your own path and be original. Do whatever you do for love and the money should follow. Keep your ego in check and listen to the thoughts and ideas of others. Respect those, either currently or in the past, who have traveled a similar path as the one you are now walking, and do not build yourself up by knocking down others. Remember, in failure there may also be success. Nurture and encourage those who will follow in your footsteps. Always remember to be kind.
MMW: Any last comments you’d like to make before we close?
SVEHLA: I want to thank those classic horror movie fans that have supported and followed GORE CREATURES/MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, both the magazine and our line of books, for 47 years. Please continue to support us by checking out our website and perhaps purchasing a book, magazine or DVD!
Thank you, Gary Svehla!
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #50. A milestone issue and the first slightly smaller full-sized issue, printed by Kirby, our current book publisher.
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #56. Thinking that the era of classic painted covers was passé, Sue Svehla started designing our covers using photos and Adobe Photoshop. While different from our painted covers, these photo-treated covers were extremely popular.
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #59. Our first all photo issue, this time featuring rare photos and captions from classic Universal horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s.
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #62. The sequel to issue #59, but this time we covered classic Universal movies from the 1950s and 1960s in photos and captions.
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #65. The first of our 7 x 10 inch perfect bound issues and formatted more as a “book-a-zine”!
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #73/#74. Sue continued growing as a graphic designer and she evolved from simply working with movie photos to incorporating photos and poster art into something quite visual and original.
Gary, Sue, Janet Leigh. For our megashow CLASSIC FILMFEST convention, held in Arlington, VA in 2000, we hosted stars such as Samuel Z. Arkoff, Roger Corman, Paul Naschy, Yvonne Monlaur, Kevin McCarthy and Janet Leigh. Here Sue and I pose with Ms. Leigh after she won her Laemmle Award at our awards ceremony the Saturday night of the convention.
Gary, Sue, Paul Naschy. For the same CLASSIC FILMFEST in 2000, we also hosted International horror film celebrity, Paul Naschy. Here Mr. Naschy poses with his wife and son as Sue and Gary look on.
Gary’s Bedroom. Again, 1966 when I was 16 years old. Notice the posters in the background. I have posters of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE alongside current horrors such as MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and BLACK SUNDAY. Strangely, the current and older posters cost about the same…about three dollars a piece, back then!
Gary’s Room July 1966. Here is my display of Aurora Monster Models that I displayed on a shelf. I was never very good at painting them up, but they were my pride and joy.
Rob Hancock, Omar Torres. Another shot from a LunaCon in the mid- to late1960s. Here good buddies Robert Hancock and Omar Torres are caught off guard by my snapping camera. Omar Torres, simply a fan of horror, still purchases books and magazines from Midnight Marquee Press even today. Horror film fans are usually lifelong fans.
Richard, Ann Svehla. Here, posing in our first home as a married couple, are my supportive parents Richard and Ann. The photo was taken during the Christmas holidays in 1985.